Mobile broadband is a big growth opportunity for the wireless industry. Up to 2 billion subscribers are predicted to utilize mobile broadband services over the next five years, making mobile broadband very important to the wireless industry as a significant contributor to mobile data activity and to top-line revenue growth.
Mobile Broadband versus "Traditional" Mobile
Mobile broadband is an extension of current wireless services, with both similarities to and differences from traditional mobile services.
First, the similarities. Mobile broadband services, like many other advanced mobile services, require advanced networks with significant bandwidth and lower latency to operate well. At a minimum, mobile broadband services need at least a 3G network, preferably an enhanced 3G or 3.5G network such as HSPA or EV-DO. However, the 4G networks rolling out now, including WiMAX (News - Alert) and LTE, will provide the best service with the highest speeds and the lowest latency while extending overall network capacity for these bandwidth-hungry services. As with all network rollouts, these capabilities will be available first in areas with high user demand and density, and service providers will use the increased bandwidth and lower latency of their offerings to differentiate themselves-and to drive mobile broadband demand-in these markets.
Another similarity is the growing sophistication of mobile broadband devices. Initial mobile broadband service deployments have been underpinned by simple USB and PCMCIA modems, which are separately inserted into laptop computers to provide broadband access. Going forward, mobile broadband modules embedded into sophisticated notebooks and netbooks will become more prevalent, and these types of devices will become the most significant areas of mobile broadband device growth.
Now the differences. First, unlike traditional mobile services, the mobile broadband segment has no reliance on voice - at least not on circuit-switched voice. Many of the devices providing mobile broadband capabilities will not/do not support traditional mobile voice services. And SMS is peripheral to mobile broadband services. In addition, mobile broadband encompasses a broad spectrum of device types that vary greatly in form factor and capabilities - from laptops, notebooks and netbooks with embedded broadband capabilities to PCMICA and USB modems, as well as 'traditional' mobile handsets and home/business hub solutions. Finally, a number of the key suppliers for mobile-broadband-enabled notebooks and netbooks will come from the computing industry rather than the telecoms industry.
In many respects, mobile broadband market dynamics are now starting to mirror the more traditional mobile market landscape. There will be an increased need for remote manageability, due to several trends.
First, the value of both the devices and operator subsidies of those devices are increasing by orders of magnitude. With the introduction of embedded mobile broadband in notebooks, netbooks and other mobile Internet devices, the value of these devices is now several hundred dollars each. Operators will be subsidizing these devices at very significant levels, with an increasing proportion of long-term and even multi-year contracts. These two factors make it imperative that the devices work properly and can be supported/managed effectively over the contract lifetime to maintain customer profitability. With USB and PCMCIA devices, the value of the asset is smaller; although not ideal, it is possible to replace the asset while still maintaining overall customer profitability. This is not really feasible with significant subsidies on the higher-value computing devices.
Next, mobile broadband devices and subscribers are rapidly becoming a proportionately larger part of an operator's subscriber base, adding to the absolute number of devices operators must support. Situations are already arising where customer care staff is not equipped to support the broadband service and where average call lengths for mobile broadband devices are long. To support a good customer experience, networks and call centers urgently need better diagnostic tools to assess and resolve issues with the growing volume of calls about mobile broadband devices and services.
Finally, operators have traditionally had only one supplier for their USB modems and PCMCIA cards. With market growth, the number of vendors in this space has expanded significantly. The traditional USB and PCMCIA vendors such as Huaweii, Option, Sierra Wireless (News - Alert), are being joined by traditional mobile handset vendors like Nokia and by computing manufacturers/OEMs like Dell, Compaq, Acer and more to bring a range of mobile broadband offerings to a variety of market segments. With this multi-vendor environment comes significant complexity - service providers require tools that can help them ensure that all of these devices can be set up and optimized during their lifetime. In a multi-vendor environment, it is not practical to run multiple point solutions - service providers need a horizontal solution that can manage all of the different types of devices. In addition, as this market grows, we expect it to become more open, with broadband-enabled notebooks moving/churning from one operator to another. When a broadband-capable notebook user churns to another service provider, that service provider needs to be able to quickly set up the device to access their network and services.
Management of Mobile Broadband Devices
Mobile broadband will have strong underlying demand from both enterprise and consumer segments. For enterprises, it is another capability that supports ongoing enterprise mobilization efforts. For consumers, it supports a much more flexible mobile Internet access model. To ensure a high quality mobile broadband experience in both of these critical segments, remote management will become increasingly important to support mobile broadband devices and services.
Classic use cases for mobile device management include such things as: over-the-air and automated detection, activation and configuration of devices to ensure that they are correctly set up and operational; the ability to collect detailed inventory information from devices, from device make/model to OS, firmware, and embedded module version information; the ability for call-center agents to troubleshoot and resolve device and service issues over the air; security for the devices and the data on them, particularly if they are lost or stolen; policy management for interactions between the embedded modules, the connection manager and the host operating systems of notebooks/netbooks; and monitoring of the performance and availability of mobile broadband services to ensure quality.
Mobile broadband is an exciting new high-growth area in mobile. The mobile broadband market is evolving rapidly, with many new classes of devices being rolled out by a range of both incumbent mobile device providers and new manufacturers. As with traditional mobile markets, manageability will be increasingly important for delivering services and supporting mobile broadband customers. With the right manageability tools in place, operators will be able to leverage the opportunities available for advanced mobile broadband networks and services.
Matt Bancroft, Chief Marketing Officer at Mformation Technologies, writes the Mobility Matters column for TMCnet. To read more of Matt's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Kelly McGuire