Mobile Finally Saturates the Enterprise: MobileCON 2012 Recap

MobileCON 2012 Entrance

When I started working in enterprise mobility in late 1993, “mobility” meant replacing field workers’ pagers with cell phones – and since I worked for Nextel Communications, that included merging cellular and two-way radio technologies so that white-collar and blue-collar employees within the same firm could keep in constant contact.  Then came our 2G mobile data network, mobile browsers and WAP (wireless application protocol), empowering field workforce management and mobile customer service applications – though a worker’s location was determined by advancing a work ticket status to “at customer location” instead of by GPS, which didn’t enter mobile networks until early 2003.

Between 2000 and 2002, mobile operators were scrambling to find ways to monetize their new mobile data networks, and the best path forward was not clearly known.  Messaging?  WAP apps?  J2ME?  My February, 2001 presentation from the Internet Wireless East conference in NYC (available on SlideShare) describes how wireless data could jump “across the chasm” Evel Kinevel-style by focusing providing “uniquely valuable mobile data access, when and where it has the highest value” – meaning enterprise solutions with ROI-provable business value generated through improved customer service and operational efficiencies.

So this year’s Mobile MobileCon 2012 felt like an installment of “Back to the Future,” but with a twist:  enterprise CIOs and business unit managers were there in droves, actually attending sessions and talking with vendors about how they can capitalize on mobile data to improve their operational and financial performance.  Mobile enterprise solutions are finally beginning to saturate the enterprise.  The show’s exhibits, Keynotes and “Thought Leadership” sessions presented a wide swath of opportunities for enterprise CIOs to consider, including BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), M2M (machine-to-machine communications), mobile payments and location-based workforce management, auto insurance and asset/people tracking.  Finally, enterprise mobile data has gone mainstream.  Hooray!

Highlights from the show:

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device):  Even BlackBerry, the enterprise mobile device often pushed into employee hands as their “work phone” (whether they want a second phone or not), has jumped onto the BYOD bandwagon.  RIM’s CIO Robin Bienfait, made this important statement during her Keynote address, “Employees want choice and freedom.  This may not always be easy for us that are CIOs, but this is what employees need to be successful and it’s our job to find the balance.”  BlackBerry, fighting for relevance in an increasingly BYOD world, is promoting the “BlackBerry Balance” features of its BB10 operating system (now delayed until March, 2013) as the solution to BYOD, though as described, Balance may fall well short of the goal.  BlackBerry Balance segregates enterprise data into a protected partition on the smartphone, which can only be viewed when the user is logged in.  The solution, however, hits a snag when it comes to apps that actively share personal and enterprise data, including calendar and contacts.  When a user is logged in, both personal and enterprise contacts and events are viewable.  But when logged out, only personal information can be seen – meaning that users who move between personal and business activities frequently are likely to leave the enterprise side of Balance logged in all the time… causing the “protection” provided by Balance to be bypassed by user practice.  BYOD has attracted a lot of companies anxious to provide tools to solve the conundrum, including giants IBM Global Services and SAP and emerging companies such as Absolute Software.

M2M (Machine-to-Machine communications):  The “M2M Zone” was bustling as usual, with manufacturers announcing new machine-to-machine modules, chipsets, devices and services in practically every booth.  The M2M Thought Leadership stage drew a big crowd on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  RACO Wireless, an M2M reseller who managed to acquire T-Mobile’s entire M2M team last year, announced a “significant” investment from private equity firm Inverness Graham Investments that should put them into a growth spurt including acquisitions in the M2M space.  The M2M Zone also buzzed about AT&T’s announced 2017 shut-down of their 2G EDGE network, and how that will impact M2M in the U.S.  Since they generally carry small payloads, most M2M devices that use cellular connection are on 2G networks.  Upgrading to 3G can be costly:  not only do the devices need to be retrofitted with new wireless data cards or modems, which are slightly more expensive than their 2G counterparts, monthly service for 3G vs. 2G service is significantly more costly.  Many in the M2M space wonder whether the AT&T 2G shut-down provides an opportunity for wi-fi and other non-operator-based mobile services to gain greater market share in M2M.

LBS (Location-Based Services):  Mobile app and platform providers have created a seemingly endless set of uses for location data now that mobile phones know where they are, including mobile shopping, mobile enterprise workforce management, asset and people tracking and oh-so-much more.  Now LBS providers are looking for new ways to monetize their experience and the huge datasets they have accumulated.  Touting themselves as a “location-as-a-service” provider, Locaid Technologies provides mobile location data accumulated from mobile operators, IP addresses, wi-fi and landline phones to provide location data for financial services (to verify a cardholder’s location at purchase), digital signage (displaying ads related to nearby purchases) and mobile gam[bl]ing (verifying the gambler is in Nevada).  In contrast to competitors Location Labs and LocationSmart from Technocom, Locaid focuses on the enterprise market, and is able to locate devices in 200 countries.  Omnilink Systems, best known for offender ankle bracelets, is leveraging their well-developed backend platform to bring connectivity and device management to an expanding set of markets including consumer automotive (in partnership with Audiovox) and shipping container tracking.

LTE (Long-Term Evolution Wireless Networks):  Verizon Wireless CTO, Nicola Palmer, announced in a Day 1 press conference that the Verizon Wireless LTE network is already carrying 35% of their mobile data traffic and is live in 417 U.S. cities.  Verizon also promised Voice-over-LTE service by late 2013/early 2014 which should give them a continued lead in the U.S LTE space.  Sprint and AT&T are also aggressively building out LTE, but it’s likely that Verizon will dominate the U.S. 4G landscape for some time.

Automotive:  The standing-room-only crowd on Day 3’s Thought Leadership panel on pay-as-you-go auto insurance indicated the high level of interest in connected vehicle solutions amongst MobileCON 2012 participants.  Companies attending the show in this segment included BlackBerry subsidiary QNX, M2M MVNO’s KORE, Aeris, nPhase, Numerex and Omnilink, Progressive Insurance, Audiovox, antenna and cell signal booster providers Wilson Electronics and Taoglas LTD, and even Zipcar, whose in-car and mobile app strategy was described in a Day 1 keynote by CEO/Chairman Scott Griffith.  Verizon’s purchase of Hughes Telematics, a rival to OnStar, may signal future deep integration of telematic services into carrier service/pricing offers.

Mobile Payments:  Day 3’s panel on mobile commerce was, in my view, the most compelling presentation of the show.  Senior executives from MCX (a coalition of major retailers that claims shoppers visit a participating locations multiple times per week), Intuit, Mozido, BarclayCard and Isis (a coalition of U.S. mobile operators) shared a lively discussion about how the “wallet wars” will shake out, who will win, and why.  Big issues to be addressed before mobile payments become generally adopted include whether they address a real customer pain point, what partnerships are needed to succeed, whether mobile shopping and other in-building technologies are friend or foe, and how the mobile payments sector will overcome fragmentation in methods, standards and retailer adoption.  Several other mobile payments and mobile marketing firms prowled the exhibit floor or press rooms telling their story, including Bango and mBlox, with whom I got to sit down for a full briefing.  More on those soon.

High-end handsets:  While I’m not generally a handset junkie, the rash of highly capable smartphones announced or introduced at the show turned my head.  Compelling new handsets include the first Windows Mobile 8 handset, Nokia Lumia 810 as well as HTC One VX, and LG Optimus G.  I got to play with the Optimus G at LG’s launch party, and was impressed with how it takes advantage of its quad-core processor for visual multitasking and its 13 megapixel camera (Sprint model).  The Optimus G launch party also provided a rare opportunity for Lamberth & Associates to hold an informal teambuilding session:  thanks to (from left) Rob Chamberlain, Christine and Stephan Cooper, (me) and Tracey and Bill Soucy for making the Optimus G launch party a memorable event.

Wireless Hall of Fame:  Held the night before the show, the Wireless Hall of Fame banquet was a highlight.  This annual awards event, presented by the Wireless History Foundation, provides the best senior-level networking opportunities of the conference, with senior executives from mobile operators and technology providers in attendance to present awards to the visionary technologists and business leaders who created the mobile industry.  Honorees this year were:

  • Wayne Perry, former McCaw Wireless President, AT&T Wireless Services Vice-Chairman, NEXTLINK Communications CEO and CTIA Chairman from 1993 to 1994.
  • Richard Lynch, Executive Vice President at Verizon Communications, and CTO of Bell Atlantic Mobile where he built one of the largest early wireless data networks in the country based on CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) technology.
  • Raj Singh, Founder of mobile network engineering firm LCC International.  Singh designed early cellular phone networks in more than 30 countries and co-founded Appex, one of the first wireless roaming clearinghouses in the United States, which was subsequently sold to Electronic Data Systems (EDS).
  • Amos Joel (posthumously), AT&T Bell Labs engineer and the “father of switching” who designed and patented automated mobile switching that made cellular telephone service possible.

If you’re attending MobileCON next year, don’t miss the Wireless Hall of Fame banquet!  In additional to gilt-edged networking and an audience restricted by the high ticket price ($250), it’s a highly entertaining and informative view of how far the mobile industry has come in a short time and a celebration of those brilliant minds that made cellular possible.

This summary only scratches the surface of the interesting and exciting developments coming out of this year’s MobileCON, and I’m looking forward to next year’s show.  Feel free to reach out if you’d like to discuss any of these findings, or other impressions from the show, in person.  It would be my honor.

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