MWC: The good, the bad ... and the Galaxy S5
Six things we learned at global mobile show
MWC 2014 Well, we're back from Barcelona - in various states of disrepair. Here's my highlights of MWC 2014 ahead of our web chat later this week.
1. Innovation is alive and well. You only have to look beyond the shiny
It's a shame that some pundits who declared MWC a low-"innovation" event couldn't see past the phones. For the most exciting exhibitor created quite a stir.
This was Kumu Networks, a spin-off created by a Stanford professor and his PhD students. Kumu promises to do full duplex radio, something that has defied radio engineers for over a century. The trick is to cancel the interference generated by transmissions, so the receiver can work simultaneously. From clever use of white space, to better Wi-Fi in dense areas, to more efficient backhaul, this has all kinds of practical uses, and more we haven't thought of yet. This is the kind of boffinry that's difficult, and puts the media luvvie's idea of technology (a teenager in jeans writing HTML) into perspective.
For more on Kumu, see our report here - and some must-read comments from readers on similar European research. I don't think Mark Zuckerberg paid Kumu a visit - but then why would he have to?
2. It's half a show without Apple and Google
Steve Jobs saved the new shiny things for an audience closer to home.
So does Tim Cook
A decade ago the mantra was "the smartphones are coming!" and "the services are coming!" Now both have arrived, the market leaders needn't show up. The richest and most influential phone manufacturer (Apple) and the biggest and most influential services company (Google) were nowhere to be found. For this, operators only have themselves to blame. It the networks who insisted the first wave of smartphones were gradually dumbed down - so by 2006 we were asking (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) "Whatever happened to the smartphone?".
Operators refused to make data services more attractive to us punters by bundling, unless it was with BlackBerry, until Apple made this a non-negotiable part of selling an iPhone.
Who can blame Apple or Google for not showing up? Even Microsoft, with a large hospitality area this year, didn't launch any products or services at MWC - even though many important announcements are five weeks a way. Why not bring them forward? It doesn't have to. It's a reminder that the industry marches to an American beat now.
3. Signal dropped in your dead zone? Better call WhatsApp!
It's probably just a tree
How much network infrastructure does $19bn buy you? Perhaps a complete network in a small, topographically friendly country? Almost certainly enough to raise the size of your data bundle wherever you are, by a little bit. The figure repeatedly cropped up this week as operators grumbled about the showbiz star of the show, Mark Zuckerberg. (Zuckerberg's interview on MWC TV screens around the venue drew the biggest crowds).
$19bn is what Facebook paid for a tiny derivative OTT company, that's essentially parasitic on networks' infrastructure. Zuckerberg's willingness to whip out the chequebook to splurge on WhatsApp contrasts with his unwillingness to invest in the infrastructure that runs WhatsApp. And he even went further - networks should give away their services, so that in developing countries the first hit of Facebook is free.
The GSMA, seemingly worried about looking fuddy-duddy, fobbed him off with an Official Initiative. What do you think the GSMA got out of that? What was less apparent was any evidence that the networks want to do much more than grumble about Zuckerberg. The GSMA's own answer to OTT services, RCS, didn't even roll up in corpse form. We didn't even get to see dinosaurs mating: AT&T's rumoured acquisition/merger with Vodafone wasn't announced.
The telcos may have a point: Europe is stiflingly over-regulated. But it is hard to make the case convincingly to the public: regulators love regulating (it's going to get worse, not better) and telcos have enjoyed this cosy relationship for years.