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Mobile execs agree on cooperation, disagree over WiMAX, LTE

Posted: 15 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:WiMAX? LTE? cooperation? mobile executives?

Cooperation emerged as the theme of Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers' Feb. 12 keynote at the Mobile World Congress. Chambers sought to direct the world's biggest mobile phone conference toward a broader view of the industry's future.

But Chambers and another wireless executive each touted separate wireless network technologies as a future standard.

"How this market grows depends on community, collaboration, interdependencies," said Chambers. Without an unprecedented level of cooperation among handset makers, network operators, service providers, technology developers, regulators, governments and the other players in the industry, it faces the danger of turning into a "dumb pipe."

"It's not about devices, not services, not technologies, but networks," the network equipment vendor said.

Chambers said the increasing data available via PCs, phones and other devices make intelligent Internet Protocol networks not just necessary but inevitable. He noted that mobile data traffic doubles every year and that video loads are increasing at a rate of 200-300 percent annually. The power of the Internet and its shift onto wireless mobile devices will allow consumers to live "a connected lifestyle in communities" that have no geographical proximity.

Cooperation is key
This future will require the contentious forces that compose the mobile industry to cooperate at levels previously unheard of. "Partnering will be difficult," he said, "but I think it has to be done."

The rapid transition of the mobile phone industry also emerged in remarks by Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone of the United Kingdom. Sarin noted that Vodafone's operations in emerging nations, which were concentrated almost entirely on voice communications as recently as 2006, last year moved radically toward voice and data. In Turkey last year, he said, 26 percent of Vodafone's traffic was voice and data. The same figures for Egypt totaled 37 percent, and for India 56 percent.

"Finally, there is demand for these new services," said Sarin. "In the last 12 months, we've got all the piece parts lined up." While he was enthusiastic about the movement of fixed-line Internet services into the wireless mobile world, Sarin called that development already "old old."

The next challenge, said Sarin, is higher speed data transmission. High-speed data packet access "will be inadequate in three years." He said consumers will insist on longer battery life in devices and the sort of touchscreen capability introduced in Apple's iPhone. "iPhone raised the bar and taught us that user interfaces are important," said Sarin.

GSM Association CEO Rob Conway underscored the rapid evolution of Internet traffic away from fixed lines to wireless and from voice to data by stressing the development of mobile broadband devicesbigger than an iPhone or handset, but smaller than a laptop and, according to Conway, approaching a price point of only $500. He announced that the GSMA had given its first mobile broadband device design award to Dell for its Inspiron laptop.

But, as Chambers said, it's not about devices. The challenge for the industry, said Sarin, "is how to bring it all together and serve it, in interesting ways, to our customers." One route to this goal would be collaboration "to narrow the range of operating systems."

"Instead of 30 or 40, if we have three, four or five operating systemsyou'll notice I didn't say one" operating system, Sarin said. "We've seen that movie before. But we can't have 30 or 40 operating systems out there." Sarin was careful not to suggest which of the industry's numerous proprietary OS would have to willingly expire.

Another issue likely to affect the partnering movement is the competition between the Intel-led WiMAX camp and Long-Term Evolution (LTE), sometimes referred to as 4G. Chambers predicted that by 2011, WiMAX will account for 10-15 percent of wireless traffic.

Sarin, whose GSM loyalties run deeper, said, "LTE has made real progress in the last year. Resources in the industry are finite and the number of R&D engineers is finite. If we split them two or three ways, we'll be diluting what we can do in the future." Speaking of the future, Chambers offered one last forecast: that wireless mobile data communication will soon be as old hat as talking on the phone. "It's not about voice or data anymore," he said, his image projected behind him on a 12ft screen. "It will be about visual networking."

- David Benjamin
EE Times

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