We hope you'll bear with us this month as we thought we'd try out something a little different. It seems time to stop and take stock of what happened in Cannes this year at the 3GSM show, as evidenced by our team of reporters (ie Keith Dyer).
No one big theme
So, to the question we most feared being asked at the show itself, "What are the big themes and stories of the show so far?"
Eschewing the true answer, "Well, to be honest as it's 5pm on the second day and I have had nothing substantial to eat since dinner on Sunday (note to certain manufacturer -- when inviting a boat full of journos out for dinner, it might be an idea to actually feed them dinner) and attempting to address the issue seriously, the answers have to be, HSDPA, IMS, and convergence -- both fixed/ mobile and digital media/ mobile.
If you have responded to this list with a weary shrug of the shoulders or a feeling we have bought the hype then do read on, there's a lot more than where that list where that came from.
One answer to the "what's hot" story is to look at last year's common themes. Last year's big flyers at 3GSM were push-to-talk and HSDPA. Well, there seems to have been some progress on HSDPA, which was still largely at the concept stage last year, but the silent button seems to have been pressed on push-to-talk, at least as far as the operators concerned.
None of the major operators presenting nor any we spoke to more informally had much to say about PTT at all, with the very occasional exception.
Orange is the most notable case, seeing as it has supposedly launched a PTT solution based circuit switched, rather than data channel, technology, from Kodiak Networks.
Of the major vendors, last year Siemens, Nokia and Motorola were all hailing PTT over Cellular (PoC) --- the standard being finalised for the technology over GPRS. Ideally, this year, you would have thought, there would be handsets galore and service deployments.
But instead, the service has been bundled in with those that will benefit from IMS, which is itself still some way off. It may be that the reasons are more cultural than anything else. Motorola has plenty of PTT contracts, but very few it can talk about in Europe.
So, the following few pages attempt to draw a few themes out of the news at the congress, and catch up on a couple of less-publicised approaches that caught our eye.
Three major vendors
Of the big equipment vendors, perhaps Alcatel and Nokia had most to say, and Siemens was very honest about quite how much trouble its handset business is in
Major Releases made:
1. Collaboration to put Windows MediaPlayer on Nokia phones and OMA DRM and AAC codec support as a plug in for Windows Media (Also launched a mobile music platform for operators with LoudEye); 2. Customisable 6101 clamshell camera phone (emphasising new strategy), and 6680 and 6681 imaging smartphones. 3 Third Edition of Series 60 with focus on enhanced multimedia and enterprise functionality 4. Licenses Microsoft's Exchange Server ActiveSync.
Nokia came to the show to deliver certain key messages, clearly understandable by the emphasis key speakers placed on key words.
First among these was, "opportunity". Here, the network equipment, handset and mobile services giant has decided that opportunity lies in emerging markets, which is fair enough, but also in mobile music, multimedia convergence and peer to peer video "sharing."
One indicator of how hard Nokia has been thinking about stitching this together is the announcement of a partnership with Microsoft to integrate its Windows Media Player PC technology with Nokia's OMA DRM and mobile compression technologies. It was just as well that by this stage the picture of the handsome gent with what looked suspiciously like iPod headphones, used to illustrate the wonders of mobile music, had been erased from the big backscreen. Because, of course, the success of the iPod and, more importantly iTunes, has shown that mobile music download services are chiefly accessed and managed from PCs (and Macs). So now the (still, just) leading handset vendor and the PC giant have buried several hatchets over mobile OS to attack the problem of differing formats and systems between the online and mobile world.
This opportunity, the chance to crack mobile music, is proven, Nokia says, by the success of 3UK's video jukebox service, which saw 10 million full track downloads in the six months since its launch. 3, of course, is a Nokia customer.
Another "opportunity" that has been giving Nokia plenty of pause for thought is customisation. Scoring well over a dozen mentions in a speech from the head of the handsets division, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, customisation means Nokia giving operators the chance to brand phones, and the software and applications on them. Of course, this "opportunity" for Nokia has also been a huge bloody problem, as ODMs fully geared only for customisation have been the provider of choice for many 3G operators, including within the hallowed smartphone market. So Nokia is addressing this "opportunity" by providing one-off customisable versions of new generic phone releases. Example, the 6101, a new release from Nokia has been provided to China Mobile as the 6102, with the words China Mobile written on the plastic cover of the phone, as well as offering a branded user interface to China Mobile's own specification.
It kicks against the grain a bit to see Nokia as an ODM, and that is because of course it isn't, but it is making the move towards the customisation "opportunity" that it sees only after years of resisting precisely that move. The process was set in chain last year when Nokia announced it would be producing Vodafone live! themed handsets, the lack of which had kept them off that operator's roster for 3G handsets. This trickle seems to have become a flood, and now the message of the moment is that if you are an operator and you want your own bespoke handset then why, the boys in the backroom will be only too happy to knock one up for you.
Final buzzword, and one intended to convey the new infrastructure which the new Multimedia services from the new customised handsets will exploit, is convergence. We had to stop counting the number of 'convergence" mentions during Anssi Vanjoki, Multimedia general manager's speech. But believe it, convergence is the key to the mobile future, and Nokia, from the handsets to the service platforms, is behind it.
For Vanjoki, the idea of convergence is an "opportunity", but it is still a problem for the mobile world, because there is an underlying assumption that the operators and their suppliers will be able to keep the Internet genie corked. But why should they, and how could they? Nokia and Microsoft can announce all the joint ventures they like to allow users to get exactly the same customer experience on a mobile as on their home PC, but the experience of internet service providers is that they then become access providers, providing and extracting little of added value. So converged, customised, devices and services may well offer a series of opportunities for Nokia, but more than a few headaches along the way as well, not least for their customers.
(Major releases: 1. Trials of an HSDPA data card; 2. WiMax base stations and modems 3.France Telecom testing IMS based service 4. Siemens push email solution
Last year Siemens said it was launching 30 handsets during 2004, as it sought to hit an ever-more segmented market with point products for gaming, messaging, corporate, and so on. This year, it said its handset division is losing around a million Euros a day, and it is looking at the sale of the division! If the division is not sold then the other three options are to carry on as they are, which seems unlikely to say the least, to find a partner, which may have some value, or to close the division entirely. In terms of handset releases, Pauly said there would be must two UMTS phones released this year.
"We admit publicly we are too late in the launch of 3G phones," he said " We are late but the phones will come out in 2005.
Rumours that LG and ZTE were both scoping the division quickly emerged, as did talk of a swap with Motorola, in return for the American company's mobile network equipment business. Clearly, this little titbit dominated much of the discussion, but Lothar Pauly, ceo of Siemens was also keen to emphasise the positive, which for Siemens is always on the infrastructure side of things.
On W-CDMA Pauly claimed that Siemens/NEC won 25% of the W-CDMA network deployment contracts made in 2004. He also said the vendor had the bases covered when it came to competitive radio access methods, through its OFDM partner Flarion and its newly announced WiMax base station and modem product line.
Siemens was keener to emphasise its HSDPA data card, built on a Qualcomm chipset, which it had on show at the event. All Siemens Node B's delivered by Siemens/ NEC since 2002 have been HSDPA-ready, Pauly said.
Finally, the company made a fair amount of noise around IMS. Pauly mentioned a few operators that were planning to build services on an IMS platform from Siemens. These included O2, which he said would use Siemens to build an all IP multimedia subsystem by 2007, and KPN, which "has chosen Siemens as its strategic convergence partner for its fixed and mobile activities in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
Another IMS customer was France Telecom, which will be pushing out services on IMS in its Orange UK and Wanadoo (ISO) subsidiaries.
IMS was the one area where PTT got a specific mention, but this year only in passing, rather than the headline item it had been last year.
1. SFR selects Alcatel's mobile Next Generation Network solution; 2 Alcatel and Intel join to expedite the delivery of 802.16e nomadic and mobile WiMAX solutions 3. Alcatel signs USD 685 million contract with Nigeria's Globacom for fixed and mobile multimedia services 4. Alcatel launches network infrastructure platform program based on AdvancedTCA 5.Orange extends successful mobile media partnership with Alcatel's PacketVideo Network Solutions 6ZTE and Alcatel sign OEM agreement for CDMA radio access solutions
Alcatel's chief contract announcement was for a EUR680 million deal in Nigeria. There was also much trumpeting of a core network deal with T-Mobile. Very big deals no doubt but of more relevance to Mobile Europe was a little line in the power point presentation "targets for 2005" that said, "Sign European UMTS reference customer." Hang on, we thought, haven't we seen that line before? Why yes, we have, at the same presentation this time last year.
So we asked Roland Thies, deputy vice president of products and services, if he thought we would be seeing the same target for 2006. Slightly side-stepping the question, Thies said that Alcatel had in fact made 3G announcements in Europe, and would be making more, especially in emerging markets. Perhaps it had just snuck in there by mistake, then.
Alcatel's chief message is that it is positioned across a very wide spectrum of activities, from billing to media platforms and content management, through core networks and radio access networks.
One thing it is proud of is that through PacketVideo and also its own convergent billing system it is behind Orange France's success with its Live TV service, which has proved so popular among its 3G customers. Indeed, its applications business is now up 50% year on year by revenues, and applications and software integration was named by president and coo Philippe Germond as one area of strategic focus. Of these convergent billing and video services were prime movers. There are over 20 customers using Alcatel video products, Germond said.
All such good news meant, "We're back to growth and back to profitability," Germond said. Indeed, if he were to show any appreciation of a certain rock group he might have told us he was "Back in Black"