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July 17, 2009

Bridging a Mobile Lifestyle with LTE and WiMAX

By Amy Tierney
TMCnet Web Editor

Despite the economic downturn, the mobile industry is emerging as the strongest segment in the communications world, the head of a Mill Valley, Calif.-based a provider of carrier-class unified communications solutions told TMCnet in an interview.
According to Jon Doyle, vice president of business development for CommuniGate Systems, new technologies, especially mobile applications, will help users be more efficient. And with the largest opportunity for growth poised in Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific next year, users will have more choice to meet their growing needs.
“Mobile operators will take a much larger position in the market beyond the mobile handset; into business-focused value added services, right out of the high street phone shop,” Doyle told TMC President Rich Tehrani in an interview (printed in full below). “Gone is the computer store and ISP of the past, and booming is the local mobile operator store offering end-to-end services and hardware for prosumer to business subscribers.”
Doyle, who is participating in a session during ITEXPO West in September, called “Mobile UC Strategies for the Enterprise,” also said as users’ mobility increases, so too will their need for state-of-the-art technology, with the next “major upgrade” coming in the form of 4G technologies LTE and WiMAX.
Their full exchange follows.
Rich Tehrani: What has the economic crisis taught you, and how has it changed your customers?
Jon Doyle (pictured left): It has taught me to say a famous Californian phrase to many people; “The sun is still shining in California.” People often tend to forget to look toward the positive, and that is sad because that is one our fundamental strengths in America, looking forward and not dwelling on old or “possible problems.” We say this a lot here in California, even if there are earthquakes or your house costs five times more than it should, we like to remember this is the best state in the United States to live and work. 
Keep in mind at least two of the industry segments in the United States have seen extraordinary growth during these bad economic times, and have made huge investments in new technology; these are the telecommunications and the energy sectors (the former obviously being most relevant to this discussion, and all of us in this market). We have seen in the last 12 months a long needed expansion of 3G services in the United States, in particular the HSDPA+ upgrade at AT&T and the announcements of 4G/LTE from both AT&T and Verizon in 2010. While we are very excited about what is happening here, we also point to the release of 3G licenses in China and world wide growth of IP services in general. This is good for all of us, whether you are a vendor, carrier or user.
The ubiquitous nature of IP connectivity for users is fundamental for IP communications and the evolution to Web 3.0. From what we see today, the time when you can plug a SIM card into your car infotainment system and use the same service you would on your PC or Mac at home or in the office or while mobile on your handset is rapidly approaching. 
Providing seamless communications services across the subscriber’s lifestyle is the fundamental strategy of CommuniGate Systems (News - Alert) to have one account for ubiquitous communications.
RT: How is this down economy affecting your decisions to reinvest in your company or market, if at all? Where will you invest?
JD: Many of our end users are small businesses, and while most have been feeling the impact, many are investing and preparing for the recovery. In doing so they are becoming leaner and more efficient, demanding more from their communication solutions – a challenge that our products are very capable of living up to.
We have heavily invested in growth markets like Asia and new technologies that help our users be more efficient and effective; especially mobile applications. In many ways we see a shift in the ways businesses will use communications and where they purchase these technologies. SaaS, (also known as “Software-as-a-Service”) or cloud computing, is becoming a proven way to reduce expenses and actually gain value because the technology can be monetized more effectively across a larger scale subscriber base.
The workforce has changed from the desk, pen, and chair, to the mobile laptop, and a “comfortable corner,” wherever that might be; in a Starbucks, or on a park bench watching the kids. These changes mandate that software companies like CommuniGate Systems adapt, and provide solutions that bridge our mobile lifestyle.
RT: With the rise of smartphones and netbooks, many wireless technologies, such as WiFi (News - Alert), appear to be poised for rapid growth. For example, we’re seeing more and more airlines add in-flight WiFi. In general, how widespread should WiFi be, in your view?
JD: I am not sure WiFi is the answer for ubiquitous connectivity. WiFi is very useful in certain locations like the home or small office network, or in a hotel. Bluetooth is even useful in smaller areas like a car, or in a meeting room. But the user is much more mobile than these confined spaces, and I believe 4G/LTE and WiMAX in some topologies will prove to be the next major “upgrade” in terms of technology for mobility and also for the “user experience.”
Already 3G coupled with the iPhone, form factor and screen size have changed the way users view a mobile phone. Meaning, the usage models, people actually using the Internet on the phone, and the usage rates of Internet access on the iPhone alone are incredible, like 80 percent compared to less than 5 percent just two years back. Anecdotally, within four weeks of having my iPhone, my data counter totaled almost 1.5GB – quite a surprise to me, and that’s the point. I was just using applications that happened to be connected, I wasn’t thinking about “browsing the Internet on my phone.” It was just a user experience.
The proliferation of carrier-sponsored/branded netbooks, on the other hand, is a further expansion of the Internet to both a new group of users - these users now having access to more affordable devices, and a new usage model - mobility of the device beyond a LAN or WiFi hotspot. So, now you have people surfing the netbook using 3G while on the beach in Nice or in a taxi on the way to a meeting.
I expect the mobile operators will take a much larger position in the market beyond the mobile handset; into business-focused Value Added Services, right out of the high street phone shop. Gone is the computer store and ISP of the past, and booming is the local mobile operator store offering end-to-end services and hardware for pro-sumer to business subscribers. In a recent customer survey, we discovered that almost 50 percent of the respondents would turn to their mobile provider to provider office and collaboration solutions, while only 8 percent would turn to a local service provider or store.
RT: In what ways is President Barack Obama helping or hindering the technology markets? What more can he do?
JD: We need massive investments in our infrastructure as a nation; meaning fiber, transportation, and nuclear power. It is great that ADSL will be stretched to the rural areas in some of these stimulus plans, but we are behind in many ways compared to developing countries when it comes to broadband back-haul and energy supplies. It is amazing to me when you drive down University Boulevard in Berkley, the road itself is like a bombed-out runway from a war zone, or the ADSL speeds in Silicon Valley homes average 2mbps when in France that hover around 28mbps.
RT: What device or devices do you use, and what do you wish you used?
JD: I use a MacBook, an iPhone, and an iMac 24. I am so happy we have no Windows or PC in our lives anymore. Although I never smoked, it must feel like giving up cigarettes or alcohol; no excuses anymore we went cold turkey! The support you get for the Apple (News - Alert) products on the phone or even in the store is worth the change alone.
RT: What has the iPhone 3G taught us? I know it’s very new, but what about the Palm Pre? What are we learning from the smartphones based on the open source Google Android platform?
The BlackBerry (News - Alert) really brought “business e-mail” to the mobile market. The iPhone on the other hand really brought the internet to the mobile phone and the “mobile internet device” to reality. The iPhone apps store has driven all the Smartphone manufacturers to try and follow suit. For us, the Android, Pre, and recent announcements of BB and Microsoft App store is very encouraging as it moves the mobile operator market much more into the value added services ecosystem.
Before the iPhone, if you were to ask people on the street if they browsed the Internet on the phone, most would say no. If you asked them if they wanted to, most would say they weren’t sure why they would want to, and that they thought it was too expensive. The combination of the iPhone and the app store has been tremendously successful at simplifying these barriers to adoption, to the point where the user now understands exactly what it is they are getting and how much it costs.
One thing that still amazes me and provides a bit of a reality check, is you never know when a new player can enter the market and turn it upside down. This is exactly what Apple did when they introduced that iPhone. Can you imagine the board room discussions at Palm, Nokia or RIM in the months after its launch? The iPhone not just changed “how cool” and useful a mobile device could be, but how people use them; touch screens were not so popular two years ago. The iPhone and the operators here in the U.S. also pushed flat rate plans to the market. This changes the game on how monetization’s will work from now on.
RT: I understand you are speaking during ITEXPO West, to be held Sept. 1 to 3 in Los Angeles. Describe your talk and tell us what companies or people should attend.
JD: We will be talking about value added services that bridge our mobile lifestyles. I encourage both product managers, from mobile operators to MVNOs, to attend and stick around to meet all of the panel members. I will be there all day.
RT: Why should customers choose your company’s solutions? How do they justify the expense to management?
JD: The products and services CommuniGate Systems develops are of exceptional quality, performance and value. This translates into better productivity for the end user. We believe businesses must constantly leverage technology to achieve competitive advantages. One of the ways end customers can really gain value is by mobile enabling their workforce and reducing costs their technology costs by subscribing to our products in the cloud; using SaaS.

Learn more about CommuniGate Systems at ITEXPO West — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year. ITEXPO (News - Alert) West will take place in Los Angeles, Sept. 1 to 3, 2009, featuring three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Don’t wait. Register now!

Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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