Vodafone, ATandT See Smartphone Growth, LTE as Key Developments

Top executives from AT&T, Vodafone, America Movil, China Mobile and Telefonica discuss key trends for operators.

BARCELONA, Spain-The leaders of five global telecom players and the CEO of GSMA addressed the challenges and opportunities facing the worldwide mobile industry with keynote presentations at the Mobile World Congress here, citing the explosive growth of smartphones and resultant increase in demand for mobile data access as key developments for the industry to capitalize on.

GSMA CEO Robert Conway kicked off the event by highlighting the importance of machine to machine (M2M) connectivity and interoperability, the advance of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, and opportunities surrounding embedded SIM technology and rich communication services (RCS). "At the heart of the connected life is connected things, and embedded SIM will be critical," he said. "RCS allows consumers to be introduced to new services and enables seamless interactions with friends that have the same capabilities."

Randall Stephenson, chairman, CEO and president of AT&T, stressed the role cloud computing will play as mobile broadband usage increases. He predicted it will be the lynchpin of the mobile broadband ecosystem. Stephenson also called for increased interoperability between devices. "Customers expect seamless access to all content across all platforms, devices and operating systems," he said.

Due to the deep long-term investments required to advanced networks, Stephenson advocated for light-touch industry regulation and increased spectrum capacity, again stressing the importance of seamless access to content and applications, video in particular. "There's a tidal wave coming, carried by these 4G networks and cloud computing," he said. "We can try to control it, but consumers are going to demand this content."

The focus of China Mobile CEO and Chairman Wang Jianzhou concerned the use of WiFi networks to ease data congestion, as he urged handset manufacturers to supply WiFi connectivity on their devices and make it a default function. Wang said the mobile Internet requires an open business model, citing the 590 China Mobile customers using more than 9,000 different handsets.

The growth of operating systems and connected devices, notably tablet computers, was hailed by Vodafone Chief Executive Vittorio Colao as a positive development for the industry, and he argued for tiered data pricing, which he said allows operators to monetize high-usage customers and provides an opportunity to upsell as new devices create more demand for mobile broadband usage.

Competitiveness, openness and collaboration were the key themes of Colao's presentation, although he also highlighted the importance network operators play in the improvement of societies, pointing to the M-Pesa mobile payment program in Africa, which he said created 40,000 jobs, and the Vodafone Instant Network, designed to provide portable, near-instant network connectivity during a disaster.

Telefonica Executive Chairman and CEO Cesar Alierta addressed the challenge of heavy network investment required by the demand for video traffic and the corresponding growth of mobile broadband, calling for new business models to finance network investments. "Cooperation between industry partners is key," he said.

Mobile growth in Latin America, which has a population of 600 million people, and the social responsibility America Movil has to its citizens, was the key component of company CEO Daniel Hajj's presentation, who said the wireless market in Latin America is expected to expand by 150 million subscribers by 2014. "Over the next five years, people with access to data services will increase sixfold," he said. "The challenge is to manage this new infrastructure and make data services affordable. We have a responsibility to provide access to affordable data services to the vast majority of the population."