The vast majority of the reports on the Mobile World Congress are usually on new and shiny mobile devices and also on the show floor, booths of device manufacturers usually draw the biggest crowds. But in overall terms, new mobiles are only a tiny little island in the vast sea of innovation shown each year at the MWC.
Case in point: Have a look at the list of interesting discoveries Ajit Jaokar has made over this year's congress in Barcelona. Not only the list but also his categories are interesting. He groups the things he mentions in three innovation categories:
- Practical Innovation
- Radical Innovation
- Incremental Innovation
Second case in point: Here's a 60 seconds video of how I experienced the Mobile World Congress, being more interested in things that are a bit less main stream from a general population point of view. Thanks to my publisher, John Wiley & Sons, for putting the clip together.
There we go, it's the last day of MWC 2010 and time to give an update on how the 3G networks fare on the Fira in Barcelona. As reported at the beginning of the show throughput on the day before the exhibition started was around 450 kbyte/s with a Cat 8 stick (for details see the earlier report) and there was still respectable throughput once the networks started to see some load on the first day between 150 – 300 kbyte/s.
Throughout the week I used one of the 3G networks heavily on the Fira not only for testing but also to get background information and of course for e-mail and the experience was always excellent. The 150 – 300 kbyte/s I experienced the first day was pretty throughout the other days as well. In other words the networks were quite capable to absorb the voice and data traffic of the 35.000 simultaneous visitors.
Some more numbers: While I focused on hall 8 in the first report, let's look at the setup in hall 2: On the ground level, there are 5 UMTS cells each operator has deployed. Some operators have deployed 3x 5MHz carriers, some 'only' 2. In total there were 4 (operators) x 5 (cells, freq 1) + 4 x 5 (freq 2) + 2 x 5 (freq 3) = 50 carriers. In addition there are two cells per operator on the smaller first level of the hall. That's another 10 carriers. Separation between them is quite good so bandwidth per carrier should be around 4 MBit/s. 4 Mbit/s x 60 carriers = 240 MBit/s of potentially available bandwidth over the 3G networks in hall 2 alone. Subtract from that some bandwidth for voice calls from mobile devices not using the deployed GSM network there.
For the whole of the exhibition ground I counted + estimated around 30 independent cells per operator, each with 2 or 3 carriers each. That would be around 300 carriers in total used to cover the ground there. That's well over 1 Gbit/s of available bandwidth over the air, plus, of course, the capacity provided by the 2G layer. And even that's probably only little compared to the total available bandwidth when you count all the Ethernet based Internet access used on the stands to connect the exhibitor equipment there to the net. Breathtaking!
In general, Skype works great over the 3G network I am using here at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. However, there's one little glitch I've observed that has nothing to do with the 3G network here that Skype might want to take a look at:
Already some years ago I have wondered if interconnection would become an issue with the rise of VoIP based PSTN alternatives. And indeed I can see signs these days of not everything working as it should. Case in point with Skype: I am not able to call my VoIP SIP line at home. Whenever I try I get a "call refused" while just before or after I can call the line just fine from my mobile phone. Looks like wherever Skype connects to in order to reach German fixed line numbers the system is unable to route to a ported phone number. Some room for improvement here!
One thing I really like about the Mobile World Congress is that while the news is obviously dominated by the big players like network vendors (think Ericsson, NSN, Huawei, etc.), mobile device vendors (think Nokia, HTC, Samsung, etc.) and software companies (think Microsoft, Google, etc.), the majority of companies being here in terms of numbers are small companies and start-ups with specific products to show them to their potential customers. And the customers are not necessarily in the mobile space as I have learnt today so probably quite a good percentage of the visitors are not working in the mobile domain.
An example: By chance I ran into Jon Arne Saeteras today, whom I met a couple of weeks ago when presenting at Mobile Monday Oslo. Here in Barcelona, he's the one on stage presenting the mobile web publishing products of Mobiletech, a company out of Norway and with a couple of dozen employees, so quite small compared to the tens of thousands of employees of the big players in the mobile industry. And an international stage is just what the company needs. Their customers, newspapers and other content produces looking to expand their reach to mobile, are not only from the nordic countries, but also from the US like the Washington post and other parts of the world. To me, it's always amazing how technology today enables even smaller companies today to compete on a global scale.
I can remember Mobile World Congresses or 3GSMWorldCongresses in the past in which future network developments were marketed quite aggressively. Long before HSPA networks were launched, the technology was heavily promoted, marketed and discussed during the event, sometimes a bit too obsessively for my taste. Fact and fiction were often very close. CEO's and other high ranking people were running around with prototype mobiles only to appear on the market years later to show them of. On the network side, vendors were spending big time money to praise their 3G network developments on big banners.
On this year's MWC it seems to be a bit different to me. With LTE at the doorstep I was a bit surprised to find that there isn't really much of a hype around it. Sure you can find demos if you look for them, and the technical background of them are quite impressive as well. However, most companies are far more interested to show you their latest and greatest stuff to be in the stores tomorrow. Some realism setting in I suppose and a sign that HSPA networks in general with maybe a few exceptions carry the current data traffic well.
So to me it looks like MWC has arrived from the future to the today.
The Opera Mini fan boy I am due to its superior web browsing experience compared to pretty much anything else, I had to go over to Opera's stand and pay them a visit. No, they didn't show OperaMini running on the iPhone so I guess Steve did not show up at the airport. Anyway, what they had at their stand was a very impressive real-time display of where and how much Opera Mini is used around the world. Since Opera Mini uses network side compression servers, page hits are easy to count. The picture on the left shows what's going on in Europe when I visited the booth at around 5 pm yesterday. Lots of hits per second in the UK, Germany and eastern European countries, much less in Spain and France though. I wonder why that is so? No agreements with network operators there to pre-install Opera Mini? Here are some stats from a couple of semi randomly selected countries:
- UK: 90 hits/s
- Germany: 37 hits/s
- Russia: 3000 hits/s (according to Opera, one of their biggest Mini markets!)
- Egypt: 48 hits/s
- South Africa: 422 hits/s
- Nigeria: 150 hits/s
When I look at these stats it looks like in western European countries, even those with a strong Opera Mini use compared to Spain and France, network operators and users totally underestimate the power of server side compression when it comes to mobile web surfing speed and the bill at the end of the month.
I was glad to see NTT DoCoMo USA labs showing a remote home control demonstration today, with Z-Wave connected power plugs to control appliances (think lights, coffee machines, etc.), a control center connected to the outside world with a 3G module and an app on mobile devices. Either from the central control server or from the mobile device you can check the current state of different appliances and switch them on or off.
Yes, the concept is certainly not new but so far practical implementations have not been very far spread. This one looks a lot closer to real life than what I have seen so far. Sorry for the somewhat blurry pictures on the left, need to bring a better camera or hold it more steady next time. And for all of you who wonder why I report on this seemingly quite off the beaten path topic, well, I think remote home control is an important ingredient in future network operator supplied service bundles.
In what I personally see as a big step in the right direction, Intel and Nokia today announced that they have decided to combine their efforts in the mobile Linux landscape and merge Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo platform. The new OS will be called MeeGo.
From a Nokia point of view I think it makes a lot of sense. While it was laudable to have a Linux based open source operating system running on their mobile devices starting with the N900, I guess I was not the only one wondering how they would manage to garner widespread developer support. With Intel and Nokia now walking the open source path together, MeeGo opens the door for other device manufacturers to come along. Who those will be was not announced today but the initiative will rise and fall with this support.
I hope the initiative will bear fruit because, as the Nokia spokesperson said, this is a "no walls no fences" thing. I expect that means, among other things, that developers and users will not be restricted to app stores for application downloads. Not that I don't like app stores in general.They are great to easily deliver applications to consumers but they also limit creativity as developers have to get the blessing of the app store owner. So with MeeGo hosted at the Linux Foundation I hope applications can be installed by any means as we go forward just like today.
Qt shall be the application development platform of choice and Nokia and Intel promise easy cross platform development across Symbian and MeeGo. As Nokia has so far preferred ARM processors I assume the partnership means MeeGo will also support the Intel platform. Unless, of course, if Nokia's first MeeGo device is Intel based. For native code that means that two different compiles of an application might be necessary to run on all MeeGo devices, plus an additional compile for Symbian.
The Ovi Store will be used as app store and the OS targets not only smartphones but also netbooks, tablets and other larger screen devices yet to be invented. It's a whole mouth full, let's see how they execute. The right stuff for me anyhow!
Here we go, day one of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and I've joined the crowd. The halls are filling up and the super heavily deployed 3G networks on the Fira are seeing their first heavy traffic of the day. Throughout the week I'll have a look at how Vodafone's network performs in different spots to get a feeling how much capacity is needed when tens of thousands of mobile enthusiasts meet in just a few exhibition halls. Why Vodafone? Because I bought a local prepaid SIM for Internet access and I expect their network to be one of the best.
When I was on the exhibition ground yesterday with 'only' exhibitors on site to get their booths ready I could get downlink data rates of around 450 kbytes/s in one of the cafés. The network was only lightly loaded. A good throughput but it's a bit low, I would have expected a bit more with a Cat 8 3G stick. Anyway, nothing to complain about really in the downlink. In uplink however, I could only get around 50 kbyte/s, an indication that HSUPA has not been activated in Vodafone's network yet!?
Today I am in hall 8, the main hall with the biggest stands and the biggest names in the industry all in one place. In total there are 4 UMTS cells of Vodafone in this hall with 3 carriers on the air. I assume the other 3 operators have similar setups but I'll have a closer look at them later. It's about one hour after the show has opened and the hall is already packed. At the Telefonica stand, my Vodafone network throughput ranges from 150-300 kbyte/s during a download. A good indication that there is some load on the carrier frequency my 3G stick has been assigned to and that the scheduler in the base station works on balancing the data bursts of the different users. Uplink speed is again at around 50 kbytes/.
And finally the web surfing quality is good, pages are instantly downloaded and VoIP calls over Skype just work fine, both in uplink and downlink. Very good!
Here I am in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2010. I picked up my badge today to save myself the hassle of waiting in an endless line tomorrow morning and also to get a glimpse of what's going on inside, how everybody is scrambling to put their booth together. Later, I went for some sightseeing up the Montjuic, a hill between parts of Barcelona and the seaside. In the years back I noticed that while signal levels were quite high up there, data speeds were very slow and voice calls had very bad voice quality.
At the time I thought it was a temporary glitch by the network operator I was using. This year I had a bit more time to investigate. I was quite surprised, to say the least, that it wasn't a temporary glitch but it seems to be the normal state there. I tried with two network operators, both 2G and 3G, and while the signal level was strong, it was just noise. It seems the cells below "leak" up the hill and there is no decent dedicated coverage on top to ensure at least one noise free carrier. Make no mistake, this is a main tourist area!?
So go there for the view, it's magnificent but don't count on being reachable while enjoying the view.