Feature Article

March 05, 2009

4G Focus � Interview with Crossfire Media

One of the most promising additions to last month’s ITEXPO in Miami was the debut of 4GWE – 4G Wireless Evolution. TMC has done colocation events before, but 4GWE was their most ambitious to date for the wireless market, and it bodes well for how they see wireless becoming more integrated in the business communications landscape.
The wireless market is at a pivotal point in its evolution, and 4GWE was launched to explore this, as well as to help operators stay on the right of the curve. 4GWE was put together in conjunction with Crossfire Media — probably better known to you by their principals, Carl Ford and Scott Kargman. From what I saw at the ITEXPO, they’ve hit the mark very well, and I’d expect to see 4GWE back on a larger scale at the ITEXPO West in Los Angeles, September 1-3.
With that preamble, let’s move on my Q&A interview with Carl and Scott. With the 4GWE event still fresh in our minds, I thought it would be a good time to devote a column to their views on the wireless market. There is a lot going on in this space now, and what follows is a pretty good snapshot of what I think service providers need to be thinking about.
JA: I’ve been attending VON events since 2001, and we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well since then. The conference business is cyclical, like any other business, and I wanted to first congratulate you on getting 4GWE launched, especially in such a difficult market. Tell me a bit about why you’ve chosen this particular market space for your debut under the Crossfire Media brand? Teaming up with TMC for 4GWE strikes me as a very savvy move on both sides. How did this come into being? What kind of synergies did you see from this combination at the show?
SK:  While producing the VON events for Pulvermedia, we had a very good relationship with TMC. They were competitors in many ways. TMC’s events were competitive to VON, but VON focused on somewhat different segments of the IP Communications industry. Additionally the market was large enough at the time to accommodate two successful events. When Carl and I launched Crossfire Media, we wanted to combine our strength for developing content and bringing in the right speakers with a strong online infrastructure and news reporting capability. We knew that by joining forces with TMC, we would be able to build a brand that would provide not only a meeting place for the industry, but an educational forum for the industry 24/7. I want to personally mention the strong support that we have received from the TMC team, especially Mike Genaro and David Rodriguez . Rich and Nadji Tehrani have built a great team at TMC and it’s a pleasure working with them.
JA: I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the healthy turnout at ITEXPO as a whole, and your sessions, in particular. What’s your takeaway from this, especially in terms of your future plans?
SK:  There are many ways to measure the success of an event, especially a launch event. This event, and the feedback received by our participants, confirmed our belief that the evolution to 4G Wireless technologies is the single most significant business and technology issue for the communications industry. It is where all future innovation and growth with emanate from. Based on attendee feedback and turnout, it is obvious that our launch event was successful in offering attendees access to critical 4G information and to the industry’s thought leaders.   
We were very excited with the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received all around. We will continue to build the 4GWE brand and serve the industry with not only with our face-to-face events, but with a strong online presence that has been created at our Web site. Additionally, we recently announced a partnership with Supercomm to provide a pre-conference workshop on White Space Initiatives. Our team has the thought leadership and capabilities to provide our community with the information they need to succeed in monetizing 4G opportunities. 
CF:  I agree. 4G will provide our industry with a many good opportunities. The state of the economy makes it more important than ever to stay ahead of network trends and to reach out and network with the industry participants. We have some friends flourishing and others looking for work. I am an open networker, and my expectation is that you have to do more networking than ever to find the right opportunity for yourself. I can’t chase it for everyone, but feel free to use my network to make contact.  
JA: I’d like to focus a bit now on the wireless space itself. Let’s start first with the need you were looking to address with 4GWE. What are you doing to stand out from all the wireless shows out there, especially in the shadow of MWC this month?
CF: Our history is in creating shows that support new dialogue. VON was successful because we combined Jeff Pulver’s net vision with my background in the Bell System. We are at a point now where the applications that were driving VON are moving into the mobile, nomadic nature of our lifestyles. We are providing a forum for the technologists, application developers, and service providers to find common ground to deliver these services.
Mobile World Congress and CES are shows where companies announce their plans for products and services. The goal of our events is to provide a forum where these high level deployment plans are explored and the intricacies of launching them are examined, from both a business as well as technical perspective. Our event focuses on how these initiatives will be rolled out through the Internet, and we explore the different technology platforms, as well as compare vendor options. 4GWE is where we explore how these applications will achieve market adoption; it is where business “gets done.”
JA: There were so many distinct themes and issues in your sessions – 3G/4G, LTE, WiMAX, handsets, business models, content distribution, social networking, etc. I’d like to get your thoughts on a few of these in terms of what mobile operators should be thinking about today. Let’s start first with wireless network evolution – what do you expect to see unfold this year in terms of deployments of 3G versus 4G, as well as the adoption of LTE versus WiMAX?
CF:  First, LTE is the great hope for a global telecom standard. The 3GPP has done a great job at bringing part of LTE into release 8 and they should be commended for advancing the standards work. Secondly, Verizon is pushing to have the LTE infrastructure available at the end of this year and they will succeed in showing us a rollout that gives us an advanced look at the future in a couple of select areas. Finally, I think WiMAX has a home in niches, and should reconsider its unlicensed vs. licensed world. Alvarion is doing great business in this mix because the technology works in both arenas. No one would provide unlicensed LTE, you do LTE for 3GPP participation. Also, I expect that fixed WiMAX will be part of the backhaul strategies for most LTE deployments and, as a result, WiMAX will be integrated into LTE.
JA: As a mobile service provider, has the balance of power permanently changed with the iPhone? Will operators ever be able to put the genie back in the bottle and dictate the ground rules about which services can run on which handsets?
CF: Now here comes this disconnect. No one has the working capital that was available in the late ‘90s for a Field of Dreams vision of the world. The Internet is the home of applications. No offense to Apple, but the App Store is a fool’s paradise for many friends who think this solves their distribution problem. IMHO, the apps that really have legs with the iPhone are the ones that are built for the iPhone. The rest, as David Jodoin puts it, are “technocrud.” They attached themselves to the long tail, but have not found the App Store to be the answer. 
That means there is more opportunity. For more devices, and if we are going to see integration of applications and devices, I vote for WiMAX to have a healthy market. The selling point for 3GPP/LTE is the harmonization of standards for the service provider. The selling point for WiMAX is the ability to build for Internet and not for the network. More Kindle-like devices are likely. Tom Evslin thinks this is a place for GPS; I like the idea of new cameras that post to Web immediately.
JA: Should mobile operators view social networking as an opportunity or a threat? Do they really want subscribers chewing up all the bandwidth just to have some fun, and are there any viable business models yet to make this worthwhile for carriers?
CF:  We have lost the concept of a directory. Ironically, the global connectivity of the Internet has reduced the general information available to us reaching out to people. Without Social Networking the amount of phone calls will be further reduced. We always talk about the reduction of landlines, but the real story is the asynchronous nature of communication. Jeff Pulver’s voice mail application from FWD is a great example of that. I expect that async VoIP will be a trend for us to follow in about three years. If anyone wants to demo this to me, I am ready now. But, I think it’s in the future; I may be wrong, eComm may have this, but right now contextual communication is the message from Lee Dryburgh and the application community.
JA: I’d have to think that with the right combination of technologies, services, and marketing focus, there are some great opportunities out there now for MVNOs. How does this look to you, and where do see the best niches for MVNOs?
CF:  I think you are right. My expectation is that MVNOs will be application oriented in the future. The Nikkon Network will probably be behind the scenes - no need to block you from FLICKR. You will find the devices more open.
JA: Given the state of financial markets and subscribers becoming more cost-conscious, how well do you think mobile operators are adapting, given the strong growth wave they’ve been riding the past few years? How do you see this impacting their plans for network deployments as well as their commitment to services innovation in 2009?
CF: One thing I hate to hear is “work smarter, not harder.” Technologists and industry leaders are working hard to fund initiatives and it will not be easy to find the funds to build. I believe market trials are going to be more important than technical trials for a while; deploying services that are going to drive revenue will be critical in the next couple of years. Enabling apps will be the sweet spot for carriers, but will the answer always be in the edge device like the iPhone? That feels very limiting to me. The bottom line is we are going to watch a lot of baby steps of innovation.
When revenue drives decisions, supporting services may take a hit, but that is the environment in which we find ourselves. The result is that enabling apps is the sweet spot; for carriers to be smarter, the problem is the decision on how to make these relationships is incredibly hard work. Will a Verizon Wireless ever offer an EC2-like interface? It’s not what the Open Development Initiative is about yet, but they consider these possibilities every day.
SK: That’s what I love about the opportunity in 4GWE, it’s not about a technology; it’s about opportunities to capitalize on technology.
JA: We could go on all day here; I just want to tap your views on a handful of big issues. There’s a lot more to explore, and I’m sure you’re working on these now for the next event. Can you share anything yet about new topics you’ll be addressing, or things you’ll be doing differently to make the next 4GWE even more relevant for mobile operators?
CF: I expect we will include some additional sessions on advocacy. The impact of the Rural Broadband Stimulus Plan on wireless deployments cannot be overstated, so we certainly will be addressing these issues at future events. We will focus on the next wave of mobile Internet devices that will be out before Christmas, and how these devices will drive demand for 4G Services. We will examine the issue of White Space and how this will provide an alternative to licensed spectrum wireless offerings. Another exciting topic that we will cover in a full day pre-conference workshop at 4GWE in October is wireless backhaul, a very significant issue for the wireless carriers.

Jon Arnold, Principal at J Arnold & Associates, writes the Service Provider Views column for MobilityTechzone. To read more of Jon’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask

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