Best of Barcelona

Best of Barcelona

BARCELONA

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the biggest European show in the mobile industry. This year the buzz was all about the issue of decreasing network capacity, increasing data content, the arrival of femtocells and other ways to boost bandwidth, network management, and ever sexier smartphones for all ends of the market, including the advent of a new race of devices specifically designed to be more affordable than the likes of the iPhone. Heather McLean reports.

Mobile World Congress this year was a flurry of mobile phone announcements, with all manufacturers worth their salt investing the smartphone arena. However, there was a strong slant towards smartphones for the masses, as this growing but still small market segment is pushed down and out to increase mobile broadband use.

 

Smart masses

The most interesting announcement in this area was from HTC and O2. HTC and Telefónica have announced an exclusive partnership to sell the HTC Smart, an affordable and easy to use smartphone, in the UK, Ireland and Germany this April. The HTC Smart is a smartphone for the masses, offering easy to use widgets, browsing and connectivity, at an affordable price. It is based on Qualcomm’s Brew mobile platform, which is a lightweight platform, perfect for bringing the web to the youth market, which is where this handset will be aimed.

HTC also announced the HTC Legend and HTC Desire, both very sexy handsets running a new version of HTC Sense, the company’s user interface overlay on top of Android. Legend will be out in April exclusively on Vodafone, while Desire will be available at the same time to all operators.

LG showcased its new LG Mini (LG GD880), the world’s first feature phone to support 3-Way Sync service. The LG Mini is mostly about the company’s 3-Way Sync service, called LG Air Sync. This enables users to continually sync the data on their phones with information stored on their PCs and their browser history over a wireless network, ensuring that contents such as photos, video clips, calendars and phone books can be updated and accessed at all times.

And then there’s ever more phones from the likes of Samsung that announced the Wave, its first handset based on its own operating system, bada. The Samsung Wave benefits from a 1GHz processor that offers users the best graphic performance available today. Its speed makes the touchscreen user interface incredibly responsive and intuitive and, more importantly, means that the 3D and memory-intensive graphic and video performance is unsurpassed.

Toshiba unveiled two new mobile handsets. Expanding Toshiba’s mobile handset range, the TG02 and K01 will offer capacitive touchscreens and fast internal processors, joining Toshiba’s TG01 Windows phone, which launched in 2009.

 

Made in China

Huawei showcased the world’s first HSPA+ smartphone powered by Android. The U8800 smartphone will be commercially available in the third quarter of 2010. The U8800 uses the Android 2.1 operating system, and integrates HSPA+ capabilities to support downlink speeds of up to 14 Mbps. This speed allows users to download a 400Mb feature length movie within thirty seconds. The smartphone will feature a 3.8-inch wide screen, providing users with a broader field of vision and allowing them to take full advantage of a multitude of features and Internet applications.

Wu Sa, director of mobile device operations at ZTE, said the company is moving from its pure OEM approach to handset shipment in the UK, to going to the market as itself. While the OEM business is booming – ZTE handset shipments in 2009 were up seven times year on year – the company is looking at Android-based handsets to gain marketshare and give more users freedom of the mobile internet.

Altogether, 3% of handsets shipped in the UK in 2009 were made by ZTE. The manufacturer is looking to increase that to 6% this year and potentially doubling its seven-fold shipments of last year over the next 12 months. To that end, it began a marketing campaign aimed at 16-25 year olds to introduce users to the ZTE brand late last year.

Sa comments: “If we provide a reliable product that gives users a similar experience to known brands, but at a more affordable cost, more people can get mobile broadband. It’s about quality, the internet and good design. We are currently in the top five for handset shipments globally but we intend to be in the top three by 2015; to do that, we have to develop beyond the carriers.”

 

App attack

Talking of getting more people into mobile broadband, Twenty four operators announced they have formed the Wholesale Applications Community, an alliance to build an open platform that delivers applications to all mobile phone users.

América Móvil, AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, mobilkom austria group, MTN Group, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Softbank Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, SingTel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, VimpelCom, Vodafone and Wind announced they are committed to create an ecosystem for the development and distribution of mobile and internet applications irrespective of device or technology.

The Wholesale Applications Community aims to unite a fragmented marketplace and create an open industry platform that benefits everybody – from applications developers and network operators to mobile phone users themselves.

Together, these operators have access to over three billion customers around the world. The GSMA and three of the world’s largest device manufacturers – LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson – also support this initiative.

 

Broadband boom

With all these smartphones and new applications set to hit the market over 2010, carriers are set to have a mobile broadband headache that no Alka-Seltzer can cure. At a Femto Forum briefing, reporters were told O2 has seen an 18-times increase in data traffic recently, Vodafone expects network traffic to double year on year and 7% of its cell sites are hitting congestion (defined as up to 90% utilisation in the busiest hour), while in the US, AT&T say 3% of smartphone users generate 40% of the wireless data traffic.

Operators are already making moves to increase capacity on their networks; Steve Alder from Telefonica stated that O2 is going to roll out 1500 new cell sites in the UK this year. “Data consumption is accelerating and we have to stay on top; it’s very much the law of physics. We must get the customer experience right.”

While operators are all looking at increasing the number of base stations on the network to increase capacity, an area that definitely had an impact at this year’s show was femtocells. When deployed in a customer’s home, femtocells increase network capacity. Making a mobile phone call from indoors can use up to five times the amount of bandwidth that a call made outdoors uses, because of the issue of walls. A femtocell not only massively boosts the capacity and therefore call quality for the end user, but it frees up bandwidth on the operators network.

 

Increasing coverage

An alternative to the femtocell is a new product I found rather interesting, from Nextivity. Nextivity’s product, called Cel-Fi, works like a femtocell, but unlike a femtocell it connects to the mobile network directly and boosts the signal without a DSL or fibre connection. All the user needs is to hang out of a window to find that single bar of reception, and as long as they have that, the plug and play signal booster can very easily be deployed to exactly the same effect as a femtocell.

George Lamb, vice president of operations and support at Nextivity, stated: “We see this as a viable option for increasing coverage indoors. We’re already working with around 20 global customers, including Hutchinson 3G in Ireland.”

Werner Sievers, CEO at Nextivity, added: “The likes of Vodafone with its femtocell offering are putting tremendous pressure on other operators. To deploy one femtocell, you need to spend huge amounts on upgrading the core network, but our product needs no capital investment to deploy.”

Tom Forsyth, director of marketing at Telcordia, was also focused on the growth of mobile broadband and the pressure that places networks under. Telcordia has developed products to help operators smooth the management of their networks, so peak data usage does not result in bottlenecks and poor customer service. It offers Bandwidth Manager, Converged Application Server , Personalised Advertising and Converged Revenue Management to help operators keep customers, and their hair.

 

Enterprise service

Samsung introduced a range of new enterprise mobility solutions, demonstrating its strong commitment in the enterprise mobility market. Samsung enterprise solutions, delivered in collaboration with partners, encompass key mobile enterprise solutions such as enterprise email, enterprise IM, security, mobile device management, unified communications, CRM, sales force automation, business intelligence, and vertical applications.

Samsung is actively discussing with major mobile operators to commercially launch the solutions in 2010. Most of the enterprise solutions showcased at the show are expected to be commercially available by end of 2010.

RIM introduced BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, free new server software that wirelessly and securely synchronises BlackBerry smartphones with Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Windows Small Business Server.

The new BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express software will be provided free of charge in order to address two key market opportunities. First, the software offers economical advantages to small and mid sized businesses that desire the enterprise grade security and manageability of BlackBerry Enterprise Server, but don’t require all of its advanced features. Second, more and more consumers are purchasing BlackBerry smartphones and the free BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express software provides a cost effective solution that enables IT departments to meet the growing demand from employees to be able to connect their personal BlackBerry smartphones to their work email.

While Avenir Telecom announced a strategic partnership with Energizer, one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers, for the design, manufacture and distribution of a new range of mobile device chargers. Stuart Balhaam, sales director at Avenir, commented that Avenir was very excited about the deal, which is another strong step in the distributor’s strategy of providing the channel with accessories brands that are exclusively available through Avenir.

All in all a jam-packed show!