Feature Article

August 25, 2009

Fall 2009 4GWE Preview - Q&A with Carl Ford

For this Service Provider Views column, I’m focusing back on mobile. Why? Mainly because the 4GWE conference makes its second appearance at next week’s IT Expo in Los Angeles. The event is being driven by Crossfire Media partners Carl Ford and Scott Kargman, and I caught up with Carl to get a preview of what to expect at next week’s 4GWE event, as well as why this space matters so much to service providers.
JA: Your upcoming 4GWE - 4G Wireless Evolution - conference builds on a successful debut from earlier this year at the Miami IT Expo. With a full three day lineup, there’s a lot to talk about, and there a many important issues facing service providers. Before we get to that, why do you think your event has grown so quickly - what does this say about the mobile space?

CF: Mobile is going through the transition that wireline did when the Internet first became commercial in 1993. We have gone through the equivalent of the early years with WAP, and email only devices. Now comes the age of massively mobile computing. The carriers see voice as saturated, but their data strategies give us a new world. The growth shown by the iPhone’s traffic numbers indicate a great opportunity.

JA: With a broader agenda this time around, what would you say are the top two or three new themes that weren’t on the table last year, and what implications do they present for operators?

CF: We are trying to reflect the trends in the space.  Right now the base stations are being built out to support data and these cell sites need better support for backhaul. That’s what is happening at the core. On the edge, everyone is App Store happy. 

JA: In terms of the major trends you’re addressing at 4GWE, where has the most progress been made in 2009?

CF: Lots of ideas for apps flying around video and gaming. It will be interesting to see if the apps stores create exclusivity, (the concern the FCC had in inquiring about Google Voice to AT&T and Apple), or if the app store is inclusive. For me personally, I want my computer to be mobile. I have found the iPhone to be a great browsing gaming device. I have yet to think of it as a great phone.

JA: I’d like to focus a bit on a key 4GWE theme that has to be on the minds of mobile operators – mobile applications. We all know how the iPhone has exploded this space - what kind of perspectives will 4GWE attendees be hearing about this?

CF: During the Verizon Developers Conference, the story was all about J2ME and how to build apps particularly for the RIM Blackberry, and Brew was on the side. In the press, though, the story was about Verizon being an exclusive for the iTablet. What is funny is that Verizon already does a better job of supporting the Macs than AT&T with their USB solutions. I’m not sure if this based on something internal to the companies. Meanwhile, the Sprint/Palm Pre and the two T-mobile Gphone devices struggle to gain market share. It may be that the market is all about customer satisfaction with their devices.

JA: What are the prospects for mobile apps in the enterprise and SMB markets, and how ready are mobile operators to jump in?

CF: It’s a scary time to consider the security issues of mobile computing and hard to imagine this market opening too quickly, given the concerns. I know several IT people who are out on the street because they could not answer the questions about security for mobile computing and the Enterprise. And for most companies, mobile phones are employee selected and expensed, making provisioning of security on these devices problematic. For now, expect the business apps side to be more web-centric. RIM will probably own the email centric view for another few years.

JA: Are viable business models in place yet? 

CF: I know of a few carriers who are willing to bend over backwards to capture the business. Sprint and Clearwire have been focused there, but everyone has offerings. The question is, does this represent just a price war or are there real differentiators in 4G services that can be monetized?

JA: How about the stimulus program? Most people think about broadband for the home, but mobile broadband to me is the ultimate killer app. What will your focus be on this topic at 4GWE? For example, in what ways can mobile operators take advantage of this, and how soon can they expect to benefit? What will this mean for enterprise or SMB end users?

CF: The stimulus program is supposed to go to unserved and underserved areas. In New Jersey, I heard that RUS dollars used to be provided for places like where Bruce Springsteen lives. I am certain that is not the intention for these dollars. I have applied to be a BTOP reviewer, and am hearing that filling out the online application systems is very buggy. E-government is probably a good topic for a webinar in the future, and I personally hope that the added connectivity gives a boost to the creativity available to everyone.

JA: What about social media? You have a session about this on Day 1. We all know how addictive this is for the Internet generation, but what will that panel be addressing in terms of its applications for mobile business users?

CF: There is no doubt that the Millennials are changing the expectation for communication. Many of them use Facebook and My Space as their messaging platforms. While these sites are not the end point, I expect they represent the functionality we will need in the future. People don’t expect perfect connectivity; they can accept a little delay for more casual communication. On the other hand, person-to-person communication is going across media - text, video, voice. We will expect our 4G devices to do it all and to hold it until we are ready to respond.

JA: Are there any other key issues or opportunities that service providers should know about that will be part of the 4GWE program next week? 

CF: I have not mentioned the M2M summit and the General session that talks about devices beyond the App Store. In talking with Clearwire and Verizon, I know that they are looking to deliver services to more machines than people. Sensors and smart products are going to be the bread and butter of wireless broadband clients. You are running the Smart Grid event, which is also going to be looking for those same services. 

JA: Looking ahead to 2010, what do you see as the hot new themes you’ll be addressing in the next 4GWE? 

CF: By January we should either have our first LTE market trials by Verizon or at least the announcement of some devices designed for the LTE, including the Apple relationship. So, how long Apple’s long tail will be, and how far will it extend will certainly be part of the agenda.

JA: Finally, what would your overall message be to service providers in terms of how the whole mobile communications market is evolving?

CF: Test your network, test your devices, and be prepared for a new future. When Twitter and Facebook went down by denial of service attacks, the problem started with a specific site. These types of content-specific problems are going to be new for almost every carrier, and avoiding the congestion problems they represent will be a new world. It’s nothing that your ISP has not already seen, but for the wireless operators, it will be a new world.  

Likewise, 4G technology, OFDM and MIMO represent new network planning and application/ device delivery opportunities. For these to succeed, though, a lot of testing is needed to ensure the operator can deliver what the customer wants. 

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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 Stefania Viscusi

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