7 things to look for at Mobile World Congress

by Junko Yoshida and Dylan McGrath , TechOnline India - February 03, 2011

We've put together a list of some of things that are likely to be highlights of Mobile World Congress 2011:

In two weeks, the curtain will rise on Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. According to conference organizers, more than 50,000 people from 200 countries are expected to attend.

As always, the show rolls around at a time of rapid transformation in the turbulent world of mobile communications. A flurry of new devices and technologies are emerging that will change the way that human beings communicate and access information.

We've put together a list of some of things that are likely to be highlights of MWC 2011:

1. The $150 smartphone
2. Mobile payment over NFC—finally
3. Spotlight on LTE
4. Rising tide behind femtocells
5. Tablets, tablets, tablets
6. The China factor
7. Western bias?

 

1. The $150 smartphone

The hottest smartphone debate of 2011 is no longer on iPhones. It's all about $150 smartphones.  "That's the new sweet spot for smartphones," said Gideon Wertheizer, CEO of Ceva. "Pre-requisite for that is a single-chip solution integrated with a baseband and an application processor, rather than two pricey components."

The founder and principal analyst of The Linley Group, Linley Gwennap, agrees. "I expect the biggest growth in smartphones this year to come from low-cost models in emerging economies. To build a smartphone with a BOM cost of $50 to $100, you need a single chip that integrates both application processor and cellular baseband." He said, "At MWC, watch for companies like Broadcom, Marvell, Qualcomm, and ST-Ericsson to promote their low-cost integrated smartphone solutions."

Will Strauss, principal analyst at Forward Concepts Inc., however, remains skeptical of $150 smartphones. He expects them to be shown off, but said he is not sure how quickly they will actually be available. The concept is being pushed by mobile operators, who want to sell more phones, Strauss said.
Strauss added that the introduction of the $150 smartphone is likely to blur the line between a smartphone and a feature phone. The handsets will have touchscreen displays, Strauss said, but not the range of functionality of a top-of-the-line smartphone.

"You can call them a smartphone, but they won't be quite as smart as an iPhone," Strauss said.

Strauss said that he suspects that Indian handset maker Micromax Mobile will be among the first to offer $150 smartphones.  

Entry level smartphones are expected to get even less expensive. According to a new report from Juniper Research, pricing of low cost smartphones will come down from $150 to $80 in 2015 due to increased competition and the availability of lower cost chip sets. Juniper predicts that shipments of entry level smartphones will exceed 185 million in 2015.
 
Strauss added that the introduction of the $150 smartphone is likely to blur the line between a smartphone and a feature phone. The handsets will have touchscreen displays, Strauss said, but not the range of functionality of a top-of-the-line smartphone.

"You can call them a smarthphone, but they won't be quite as smart as an iPhone," Strauss said.

 

Strauss said that he suspects that Indian handset maker Micromax Mobile will be among the first to offer $150 smartphones.  

Entry level smartphones are expected to get even less expensive. According to a new report from Juniper Research, pricing of low cost smartphones will come down from $150 to $80 in 2015 due to increased competition and the availability of lower cost chip sets. Juniper predicts that shipments of entry level smartphones will exceed 185 million in 2015.

 

Mobile payment over NFC—finally

 

(Photo credit: Courtesy of NFC Forum)

 

Expect Near Field Communications (NFC) in your mobile handsets—at long last. The Linley Group's Gwennap believes NFC is starting to take off in many places, "mainly for point-of-purchase transactions."

Gwennap noted that a few phones offer NFC today, but said several vendors are rolling out the chips that will be needed for next year's phones to add this capability.

IMS Research concurs. In its latest report, the firm said NFC has "finally come good."

It also added: "Aided by companies such as Samsung, Nokia, Google and Apple, over 40 million NFC-enabled handsets are projected to be sold in 2011. The long-deferred commercial volumes will finally be shipped."

Key players on the market and security technologies used in mobile payments are detailed in the January issue of EE Times Confidential.

 

Spotlight on LTE

"Expect to see 'real' LTE devices at this year's Mobile World Congress," advises Mario Rivas, CEO of Anadigics. Of course, LTE was already the talk of the town at last year's show in Barcelona. But then, the pitch was more "trust-me-this-thing-works," Rivas added.

In contrast to the last year's LTE solutions (many of which were more or less slapping an LTE card on top of a 3G base station, thus adding more complexity, heat and size to a base station), "the landscape for the LTE base station is finally settled this year," observed Ceva's CEO Wertheizer. Driving the new trend is a host of second generation chips that handle both LTE and 3G on the same chip in the same system. The key players include: Texas Instruments, Freescale and Mindspeed.

As for end-user LTE equipment, there will be lots of new LTE data cards in a USB stick including those by Samsung and LG. At this point, they are based on chips internally designed by big OEMs, rather than off-the-shelf chips.

When asked about LTE-integrated mobile phones, Wertheizer said: "No, I wouldn't buy LTE handsets now. You need to plug into power everywhere you go and you have to let the phone take a nap before you make a call."

Bluntly put, "I wouldn't expect the wide deployment of LTE in handsets before 2015," Wertheizer said.

IMS Research described LTE as eventually "accounting for much of the cellular installed base." The market research firm said: "Look to 2014 before even 1 percent of the world's cellular installed base uses it. In the meantime, most carriers will seek to recoup their existing investments in the W-CDMA (UMTS) and HSPA networks to meet increased consumer demand for data."

 

Rising tide behind femtocells

Messaging on femtocells has been confusing to many until now. Do we need a femtocell for residency? Or is it for enterprise? Are public femtocells a way to go?

LTE may make that vision clearer.

For LTE to deliver on its potential, carriers must deliver high-speed data with a lot of capacity—and that requires small cells, according to Picochip. "LTE by nature means small cells," said Andy Gothard, director of corporate marketing at Picochip. The Bath, U.K.-based company is pushing LTE products optimized for 'small cell' deployments.

Ceva's Wertheizer also sees the light for femotocells as more LTE rolls out. Public femtos will serve "better LTE distributions in neighborhoods," he noted.

But, Wertheizer said, "The vision behind residential femtocell gateways has also become clearer." He pointed out that after Broadcom's Percello acquisition, Broacom put Percello's engineering team into its DSL group, rather than its wireless group. With that happening, Broadcom's game is clear: integrating a femtocell in another box, such as DSL gateway.

The Linley Group's Gwennap pointed out last fall that the incremental cost of the femto function would be around $10. "This could ultimately require the femto processor to integrate Ethernet and Wi-Fi as well as DSL or cable-modem," Gwennap said. "Broadcom is the obvious company to develop such a chip."

 

Tablets, tablets, tablets

Media tablets were everywhere at last month's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where more than 100 tablets were showcased. Analysts expect more of the same at MWC, though Strauss noted that the demographics of MWC—buttoned up mobile industry businesspeople as opposed to CES's throngs of gadget lovers—means that the tablets showcased at MWC will be even further away from hitting store shelves.

"There were umpteen tablets at CES," Strauss said. "We should actually see a similar number of tablets at MWC."

"There was a lot of buzz around tablets at CES. I think that will continue on at Mobile World Congress," said John Horn, T-Mobile's national director of M2M (machine to machine).

Two things to watch at the show: whose modem chips are built into those tablets and what processors are driving them.

The Linley Group's Gwennap is expecting to see quad-core processors for tablets. "I expect at least two companies to announce quad-core ARM processors for tablet computers, including Nvidia's Tegra 3. In addition, Freescale will be promoting its quad-core i.MX processor, which it announced at CES. These products will help boost the performance of next year's tablet computers to exceed that of today's netbooks."

Horn, who is participating in a MWC panel titled "Regional Focus: Spotlight on the U.S.A." on Feb. 16 at 2 p.m., said that among the many industry dynamics that will be affected by the rise of tablets is the potential to impact M2M applications.

"The more people that are carrying smart devices—and the more apps that are available on those—I think it's going to have a great impact on M2M growth," Horn said. "A lot of the things we are seeing in M2M are industrial, but at the same time we are seeing this explosion of growth that affects the individual."

The China factor

Whether you are an experienced China watcher or not, you will sense at the Mobile World Congress China's broader and deeper reach into the mobile industry.

"China Mobile can't be ignored," said Ceva's Wertheizer. Armed with China's proprietary TD-SCDMA standard, China Mobile's reach (and by extension, that of TD-SCDMA) is no longer limited to China's domestic market, but spreading to other emerging economies, including India and Indonesia.

(Photo credit: Vladimir Menkov/wikimedia.org )

Last fall, it was widely reported that practically no "outside" mobile handset vendor (including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Samsung) was able to meet China Mobile's TD-SCDMA tender, which asked for a unit procurement price of below $150. The winners were all China's domestic handset vendors, using TD-SCDMA chipsets from companies like Spreadtrum, Leadcore and ST-Ericsson.

Aside from demanding TD-SCDMA, China Mobile has several other hoops to jump through. These include the use of China Mobile's own unique operating system (using a Linux core but not exactly Android) and the integration of mobile TV (based on China's CMMB standard) in every handset.

This isn't exactly what U.S. carriers are looking for, but China Mobile is dictating the specs for handsets that you must follow if you want to play in the TD-SCDMA market.

Western bias?

Has the focus of Mobile World Congress become unfairly skewed toward the western world?

(Google's Eric Schmidt, who spoke at MWC in 2010, is back in 2011)

Strand Consult, a Danish consulting firm, thinks so. In its annual show preview newsletter, Strand complained that  this year's MWC lineup has too much focus on the 300 million American and 300 million European mobile customers, and not enough on the 4.3 billion mobile customers in the rest of the world who use their mobile phones every day.

According to Strand, despite the fact that there are significantly more mobile customers in the Third Wolrd, most of the Mobile World Congress 2011 speakers are from Western Europe and the U.S. "In fact, it appears that it is the USA and especially Silicon Valley that has somehow managed to dominate the conference," the firm opined.

According to Strand, the U.S. accounts for only 7 percent of the global mobile market, but 85 percent of what is written in the media about the mobile industry is about the American market.  

"The American market has very little competition compared to the current market situation in parts of Europe, in Africa and in some parts of Asia," according to Strand. "Domestic mobile competition in the USA is simply very limited compared to the extremely tough competition many mobile companies are facing elsewhere."

The supposed western focus of MWC can be explained, at least in part, by the growth of the smartphone and potential growth of other high-margin devices and services, such as the tablet, in the developed world. There may be more users in emerging markets, but for a great many of them, even a feature phone is out of reach.  

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