This is the first in a series of GigSky “reports from the road” as we, the GigSky team, travel to various conferences across the globe. We’ll bring you the latest industry news, insight on what we see, how it might impact you and any future developments to keep an eye on. Our first report is from our VP of Business Development, Rich Neville, who recently traveled to Barcelona with our CEO, Ravi Rishy-Maharaj.
Mobile World Congress 2016
Total Miles Walked – 34.52
Pro Tip: First look to see where your partners’ stands are before booking your meetings. Otherwise you’ll be running from hall to hall all day long.
Ravi and I hit the road this week for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. MWC is the premier event for mobile operators and vendors from around the world, and a great chance to keep up with the rapidly changing nature of our business. The GSM Association (GSMA) estimates that 95,000 people descended on Barcelona for the event. If you’re in the industry, it’s well worth attending. Barcelona is one of the world’s great cities and the GSMA does a great job organizing it – everything from a free public transit pass for the week to tons of helpers directing you where to go. Plus it’s an executive level meeting, so you’re likely to meet your partner’s CEO at MWC.
Our week kicked off on Day 0 (Sunday) with the launch of the Samsung S7. Their new phone is a nice upgrade to the S6 (my personal phone) and targets a lot of the criticisms that the S6 received. The look is almost exactly the same as the S6, though the S7 is a little bit bigger (5.5 vs. 5.1). Samsung clearly aimed the camera upgrades at the iPhone and most of its comparison slides referenced the iPhone. New features include the return of the memory slot, an expansion of the features on the edge display and a return of the water resistant feature.
The coolest part of the conference was the virtual reality headset. Each seat had a Samsung VR headset and
part of the launch was done in VR. It was my first time using a VR headset and I was impressed with where the technology is. During the video, the floor fell away at one point and I definitely felt the sensation that I was about to fall. It’s amazing how much of reality is predicated on what we see. Samsung showed some cool 3D videos to advertise their 360 camera. One of the sample videos was taken by a surfer riding a wave. It’s amazing to be able to look in all directions while you’re zooming along the water. Samsung also has a traveling theatre with motion chairs to really give you the feeling of being on a ride. The lines were always too long at MWC, but Samsung does bring them to cities around the world, so keep an eye out in your town.
I’m on TV!
Day 1 (Monday) kicked off with my roundtable interview with David Pringle of the GSMA’s Mobile World Live and we were joined by Jean-Christophe Tisseuil, who heads the SIM program at the GSMA and Claude Achcar, the managing partner of Actel Consulting. The discussion covered the future of the two-year contract, and how MVNOs and eSIM will impact that relationship. The session played throughout the MWC venues during the show and was broadcast into some 84,000 hotel rooms in Barcelona. You can watch the full interview here.
eSIM on the Samsung Gear S2 Watch
Despite the blowout launch event, Samsung said nary a word about their new Gear S2 watch, which featured the first deployment of the GSMA’s new eSIM spec. The new spec will allow a user to have a separate service plan for their devices, in this case a connected watch, and allow users to connect their devices to any compatible network. The spec uses vouchers to accomplish the task of linking the wearable device to your mobile operator.
The eSIM spec is a poor design compared to what Apple does on its Apple SIM product. Apple uses a pilot operator to do the initial location ID and then a discovery server displays the networks available in that particular country. The customer can then just compare plans and select one. Clearly, the big operators are fearful of having to compete for customer loyalty, so a less useful standard was approved. The standard also lacks a central platform that all device manufacturers and mobile operators could connect to. That would significantly reduce the time and effort for both operators and manufacturers to launch services, but might put a dent in the revenues of the SIM providers, so that was scrapped. Now each operator will have to connect to every device manufacturer’s platform in order for their network vouchers to work. So expect a long time to wait if your operator is not one of the world’s largest! So far, only Vodafone Germany is available for the Samsung Gear S2.
The GSMA also announced that the eSIM spec for smartphones would be released in June, but there are still numerous points to work out. With the various entrenched interests of the operators, manufacturers and SIM developers not aligned on what to do, that date might be optimistic. The newest eSIMs are unbelievably tiny and should free up a lot of space for larger batteries and new features. The day when you’re able to buy a voice plan and data plan separately from different networks will be the day that the consumer regains the upper hand in dealing with the operators. Forcing operators to compete more aggressively for your business will drive down rates and increase features. The release of the eSIM spec will really herald a new era in phone design and consumer choice. I can’t wait.
Network Coverage and Speeds
As you would expect at the largest mobile gathering, the Spanish operators went all out to highlight their coverage and speeds. Our GigSky service was mainly on Vodafone Spain and they launched 4G+ using carrier aggregation (CA) to improve the throughput. Without CA running, we were averaging about 2.5-3 Mbps download on Vodafone’s 4G network. That’s not terribly fast, but when the CA kicked in, the speed shot up to over 20 Mbps both up and down. That’s great especially considering it was in a high traffic area near the port.
Best in Show
Huawei’s new MateBook took best in show for a new computer. The Surface Pro competitor features a 12-inch screen with detachable keyboard and pen running Windows 10 under the hood. The pen supposedly is 4x more sensitive than the Surface Pro pen. Huawei also sells a companion connectivity pack so you can hook the tablet to HD, VGA and USB A/B devices. The Matebook starts at $699 and runs to about $1599 depending on processor speed and memory. Huawei only had the high-end models on display and they were lightening fast moving across programs. I wish this had come out a few years ago when I was lugging a 5 pound Lenovo laptop around the world.
The most popular item at the show was definitely the VR vendors. While the technology still has a way to go, we’re not that far off from the holodeck days. Next year, I’ll better plan my meetings to cut down on the walking and always take the very efficient metro to the Fira. I always love coming to Barcelona and can’t wait for next year.
Look for my next report from the MVNO World Congress in Amsterdam in April. I will be giving a talk on eSIM and participating in two panels.
If you’re interested in attending MVNO Congress, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to provide a 25% discount on your registration.