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Clouds on the Horizon … Mobile Operators Look Out …

October 9, 2011

I attended and spoke at the ETSI Business Innovation Summit held in London last week. The focus was on the wireless network of the future. It was an interesting event all in all. It was mainly attended by industry. I think there may have only been one other academic there.

There were two major themes in various presentations. The first was the theme of traffic growth and how to handle that. The second was all about M2M.

Many of the presenters made various different projections about how traffic will grow and spoke about how the smart phone is hugely driving that growth. For example I heard mention that in 2020 Mobile traffic will be 1000 times what it is today. A presenter from Google has some interesting stats re download of apps. Apparently over 6 billion apps have been downloaded onto Android phones. The first billion took TWENTY MONTHS to download. The second billion were downloaded in THREE MONTHS. The third billion in ONE MONTH. As we all know the Smart Phone and iPAD and other tablets are really making a mark in the mobile Internet world.

The message from most speakers was very much that every action that can help deal with increasing user demands should be taken – using small cells, off-loading effectively, getting more spectrum, being more efficient with spectrum etc. Nothing very new there. Though a few suggested that no matter what we do, we will never keep up with demand!! [There was a counter view that came up too though – the idea that traffic might not increase that much on the mobile network and that off-loading would naturally take care of things – i.e. that most of the heavy traffic would occur over the home network and that demands on the move would even off eventually. Though I only heard one person mentioning this.]

Overall though it was really clear that the future for the mobile operator is tough though I suppose this can be said for many sectors within the telecoms space. It is very clear though that the business models that have worked to date are increasingly not working. You can try and ‘price’ offerings to encourage the kind of traffic patterns that you can cope with … but in my opinion that is only fire-fighting.

Kim Larsen from T-mobile, Deutsche Telecom made interesting predictions. I think it is brave for people to make predictions in general. He predicted the following:

  1. In most countries in Europe there will be a maximum of two operators and I pan EU mobile LTE network including s-band and white spaces.
  2. Most MNOs will have spun-off their mobile networks – leasing their infrastructure to global service providers. These global service providers could be a Google or an Apple for example ….
  3. Cognisant (Kim’s terminology) networks will become standard –  massive data mining will take place– massive interconnect to smart devices will happen – off-loaded to cloud storage etc
  4. Smart device and application oriented business models will rule across all platforms and channels.

I think the predictions about the number of operators and the leasing of infrastructure to a global service provider are very interesting.

Our ideas about Cellular Clouds can be seen as this kind of sentiment taken to an extreme.  Tim Forde in CTVR has been working on this a lot. We have been looking at how control and ownership of the network has been continuously changing.   We see new technologies (e.g. dynamic spectrum access, cognitive radio, cloud computing) and new mindsets (collaborative consumption approaches) pushing this change even more. This has also led to the moving around of functionality – from the edge to the core, from the operator to the user, from the core to the basestation etc. All of these changes in the more traditional ways of controlling and owning the network and the changes in where functionality is residing herald a very different future.  We see the operator owned and mediated network as disappearing and new mediators arriving on the scene. From a cellular perspective, everything now become a service – hence the Cellular Cloud – and services are combined to make offerings to users. From a more general network perspective, the user may become a network builder or indeed from a cognitive radio perspective, the radios may mediate themselves!   Some of these ideas are in the presentation I made at ETSI which can be found here.



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