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NGN Magazine Magazine logo
March/April 2009 | Volume 1/Number 2
Analyst's Corner

Tapas, Paella, Sangria and NGN Evolution: MWC Roundup

By Ronald Gruia (News - Alert)

This year’s Mobile World Congress had a more somber buzz about it, given the ongoing global macroeconomic downturn. The current recession was one of the themes of the show, and a cautious tone was the norm, particularly when commenting on certain market segments. However, there were some silver linings among all the bad news. For one, despite a lower overall attendance figure, the quality of the interactions in Barcelona was much better than in previous years: the contacts were more relevant and the attendees were keener on developing business opportunities.




The 2009 edition of the show also marked a shift in innovation from mobile handsets to applications. Application stores were one of the hottest topics du jour, with launches from Nokia (Ovi Store) and Microsoft (News - Alert) (Windows Marketplace), with RIM expected to follow suit (perhaps in March). Nokia is pushing for apps to be developed to run on web pages (“web run time”) instead of on the OS of the phone itself. The advantage of this strategy is that it eases the porting of an application to different handsets. Devices will become more intelligent and allow the creation of new services by blending existing ones; for instance a music store could be meshed with a social networking application that will enable a user to check which songs a friend has just purchased.

Long Term Evolution (LTE (News - Alert)) is becoming a reality and at the MWC there were several demonstrations of LTE network infrastructure equipment, device and applications. Ericsson and Samsung (News - Alert) showcased both gear and device, Motorola demonstrated applications and LG unveiled a data card. Verizon CTO Dick Lynch confirmed the commercial launch of LTE in 2010 and announced the carrier’s choices for its LTE network in the radio access network (Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert)), IMS services (Alcatel-Lucent and NSN) and packet core (Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent and Starent). Vendors were showing their single RAN products (i.e. base stations accepting cards for all radio standards). The idea is for a 2G operator to replace the older 2G boxes with these newer multi-mode boxes in order to achieve OPEX (News - Alert) savings. However, most LTE rollouts will be in new spectrum and likely not entail the upgrade of existing boxes (LTE can only be a “software upgrade” if the current networks are switched off). The initial consensus appears to be that LTE will probably be initially deployed only in hot spots instead of in big national coverage rollouts. LTE based devices are still a work in progress, so that should push out the LTE timeline a bit more.

There is a positive trickle-down effect of the increased LTE activity among larger operators to the adoption of the IMS architecture, namely the advent of the 3GPP SAE (System Architecture Evolution), which is the all-IP network behind LTE radio access. SAE is the first mobile core network which is by definition IMS compliant. A more accelerated pace in LTE/SAE uptake (by operators such as NTT DoCoMo, TeliaSonera (News - Alert) and Verizon) will encourage the adoption of the IMS architecture as an interconnect/OSS specification although not necessarily any IMS-based services.

In order to achieve the proliferation of IMS-based applications, it is necessary to develop a sound ecosystem involving operators and NEVs. The WIMS 2.0 initiative being undertaken by Telefonica, Alcatel-Lucent and a variety of ISVs (Solaiemes, Unkasoft, and Kimia (News - Alert)) represents a positive step in that direction, by blending Web 2.0 capabilities with IMS enablers. The idea is to create a compelling end-user experience leveraging elements such as PoC, mobile browser, video sharing and presence. During the MWC, the group held a meeting sponsored by Genaker that also included Microsoft, Nokia (News - Alert) and Telefonica.

Without client devices, the IMS core is unlikely to generate much value, which is what the RCS (Rich Communication Suite) is all about. At the MWC, the GSMA (News - Alert) had a special track devoted to RCS which demonstrated some release 1 RCS phones and discussed trials for the second half of 2009. While RCS is a good concept, there could be a way to reach its goals without depending on monolithic, handset-native clients. In the future, innovation might be achieved via full-featured browser and web runtimes; such APIs could be made available via SDKs to third party developers who could help solve the IMS client conundrum.

Concluding, this year’s edition of the MWC was an interesting one, perhaps due to the uncertain times we are facing, which limited management commentary on near term trends and drove instead more focus on strategy. During show cocktail receptions, there were more opportunities to sample a few tapas as less time was spent on the endless washroom queues from previous years. Despite the turbulent economy, there has been some progress on the path towards the NGN evolution.

Ronald Gruia is Program Leader and Principal Analyst at Frost & Sullivan covering Emerging Communications Solutions. Reach him at [email protected].

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