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Getting The Full Download On DataOffload: Pre-MWC13 Exclusive With Birdstep Technology

www.birdstep.com

In the run-up to MCW 2013, we interviewed Lonnie Schilling, newly appointed CEO of Swedish software company Birdstep Technology, that provides smart mobile connectivity and security solutions.

CTOIC: What do you see as the key theme for MWC in 2013?

Lonnie: Well as in previous years, there are going to be many themes in 2013, but a reoccurring theme, and perhaps the greatest challenge for operators is keeping up with subscriber demand, staying ahead of the bandwidth curve driven by more video rich content and ensuring a compelling user experience for a wider demographic customer base.

CTOIC: How have operators been responding?

Lonnie:  Not always in the best way! It seems that data caps have come back into play, but this is wholly counterproductive and fails to take account how customers want to use their mobile phones. Mobile subscribers are consuming more and more data and watching longer forms of video but these caps are self-defeating in such that customers believe that consuming data implies incurring punitive charges or data throttling which make the service non-compelling. So the real challenge for operators is to come to grips with complementary technologies like Carrier WiFi and Smart Data Offload solutions, and align this with their business needs to meet the requirements of their subscribers.

 CTOIC: But hang on, I thought LTE/4G was supposed to solve this bandwidth crunch?

Lonnie: Yes LTE does bring efficiencies over 3G and certainly more bandwidth, but the business case for the necessary coverage and density is prohibitively expensive. Here too Carrier WiFi is being used as a cost efficient solution for offloading. MNO's are now beginning to take advantage Smart Data Offload solutions to selectively offload non-premium data, perhaps a YouTube video, to WiFi while keeping premium data, such as a video subscription service like Netflix or Webex on the cellular core to leverage existing Subscriber Management services. In addition to smart selective offload, the MNO is interested in using subscriber analytics to better understand the Customer Experience from the perspective of the handset. The analytics give insight into what services are being consumed over WiFi and cellular, where the subscriber is when they consume the services and the quality of the service is, both objective and subjective. This resolves a key concern MNO's have had with WiFi; the operator now has complete visibility of the subscriber and service whether the user is on cellular or WiFi.

CTOIC: Presumably you agree LTE/4G does at least scale to the higher bandwidths required for emerging services, even if the costs are high?

Lonnie: I would argue that LTE has not kept up with the bandwidth curve. Just look at how smartphones are being used to consume more video. Did you know that it is expected that 2/3 of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2016 or that globally, the average mobile connection will generate 1,216 megabytes of mobile data traffic per month in 2016, up 1,221% from 92 megabytes per month in 2011, a CAGR of 68%! This trend shows that the rate at which data consumption is growing, continues to outpace the rate at which mobile technology, including LTE, can deliver bandwidth. So here’s the telling data point, LTE gives us roughly 12x increase in bandwidth over 3G, but bandwidth growth over the period since LTE began development has gone up 30x. And, according the Cisco, the problem further exacerbates over the next few years. LTE is behind the curve when the market is demanding greater bandwidth.

CTOIC: So what is the answer?

Lonnie: I believe MNO’s must be more pragmatic about augmenting their mobile service offering with Carrier WiFi, in conjunction with Smart Data Offload solutions. By deploying an intelligent offload solution, the MNO can become much more innovative in how they package and tariff the service and effectively compel their customers to consume more instead of less. By associating network policy with the intelligent offload solution, the MNO decides which applications will be transported via cellular or WiFi determined by time-of-day, location, quality of connection or user policy profile. The point is that the MNO can be completely agnostic to the access medium for a greater aggregate RAN capacity, or develop innovative business models for maintaining premium traffic on the cellular and non-premium traffic over WiFi. Standards such as Hotspot 2.0 and ANDSF enable the automated network discovery, selection and security, as is done today in cellular networks. Then link this to the ability to have real-time active / passive analytics for the MNO to maintain a very clear perspective of the customer experience, even when using WiFi, and the MNO maintains the control of the experience associated with their brand and offering. It is not a huge leap in faith to foresee in the very near future that a customer can globally roam and handoff between cellular, WiFi and back to cellular based on a defined network policy.

CTOIC: How quickly do you anticipate this happening?

Lonnie: It’s already begun! But fact is that it will happen much faster than it did for the cellular industry, which took 30 years to get to where we are today with transparent international roaming where subscribers are unaware of all the transactions between operators taking place in the background. All that complexity is completely shielded from the user even though their own handsets are participating in the transactions. I believe the “Law of Accelerated Returns” tells us that it may be up to an Order-of-Magnitude less time than it took for cellular. Besides, the hotspot infrastructure is already there or under construction, and of course the industry understands well how to develop and negotiate roaming agreements.

 CTOIC: Presumably cellular operators will not offload all their data. What data will they keep on their own infrastructures and how will that decision be made?

Lonnie: That will vary between service providers. But one thing they will all want is the ability to make intelligent decisions in real time over what data to move according to business rules and perhaps traffic conditions. Those decisions will be made by policy and executed in Smart Offload software that understands the subscriber, the data, the location and time-of-day and can offload according to specified rules.

CTOIC: What might those business rules be?

Lonnie: A service provider network might be getting a lot of You Tube traffic that is filling up the cellular network, and that could be offloaded to Wi-Fi. But say that operator has a contractual relationship with another OTT provider like Netflix that requires guaranteed QoS and the ability to monitor the activity. Then Netflix traffic would be kept on the cellular network and use the subscriber management capabilities there.

CTOIC: How will Wi-Fi be integrated with cellular?

Lonnie: That is still subject to debate. There are various options on the table, with some advocating running Wi-Fi in parallel with the cellular infrastructure and others who believe cellular and WiFi to be converged in the Packet Core. Regardless of the level of integration, I think it likely that operators will want to adopt a hierarchical structure where WiFi is implemented into the small-cell architecture and provides bandwidth and coverage in high-density venues and in-doors.

 CTOIC: Thanks Lonnie, let’s see what MWC 2013 has to answer in this debate.

During Mobile World Congress 2013, Birdstep is located in hall 7, E80, within the Swedish Pavilion

Lonnie Schilling
Chief Executive Officer, Birdstep Technology

Lonnie Schilling

Schilling brings 20 years of experience of equity investment, strategic business development, architecture sales and marketing within the international communications market. He was most recently Director, Mobile Service Provider Sales & Business Development at Cisco and he has also held leading management positions in other global companies such as Motorola, ITT, Worldview Technology Partners, Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN). Schilling holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland. He completed graduate and postgraduate studies at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, the International Institute for Management Development, INSEAD and the Marshall School of Business at USC.

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Take one from the IBC 2010 conference

Despite numerous visits to the exhibition, this was my first time at IBC's conference - overall the quality both in terms of logistics and level of speakers was topnotch. I only caught one sales-pitch, much better than most trade shows. If you are going to choose one source, IBC is a good candidate. The only problem is that there is just too much going one to be able to focus as my notes below show. Also once the trade-show opens there's too much pull there to stay at the conference. Going the day before seems the only way for me.

Snippets from the social media session

I caught the wrap-up of the BBC speaker: we are looking to help people find other people already talking about their programs. I expect a TV station to cater to a community created around their content, but was surprised to see one so actively looking to actually create one. The beeb’s innovative attitude is impressive. I’m curious to see if they can be successful sustaining this new mindset.

Android based tablet should bring the true democratisation of tablets device for this year’s Christmas season.

The MTV guy said that talking about social media now is 6 yrs too late; I wonder what he was talking about 6 years ago.

Scheduling is recommendation by a brand you trust that is telling you “we think you’ll like to watch this content at this time”.

On BBC iPlayer navigation is still basically by channel. So maybe TV stations won’t die after all.

The Music industry is several years ahead of TV. What Spotify does with Facebook is showing the way. Facebook isn’t as much social recommendation as social validation.

Recommendation is content coming to you, whereas search is you going out to content.

Scheduled content is often the beginning of a recommendation chain. If scheduling looses its importance, how will broadcasters promote shows that are not scheduled?

Is there really wisdom in the crowd: probably not always.

It now seems clear that Social-TV will be multi-screen so connected devices are key. Who will own this value chain, Samsung or Sony Bravia have a head start in terms of brand positioning.

Social TV ain’t easy: Scandinavian broadcaster had to close down Facebook trials around football matches as tempers rose out of control.

BBC: setting up any kind of forum requires a lot of effort to manage. One can’t simply put up a system. Moderation costs will soar.

At this stage an idea came to me that shut out the talking as I wrote it dow:

Back to the future: After the Internet enabled the long tail, is recommendation, be it social or otherwise, converging back towards front catalogue. Technology under the hood might whiz obscure back-catalogue or UGC items to the forefront in a flash. But as consumers, will we live in a world that will shrink back to hundreds of choices, not the millions the Internet once promised? Ouch, it would be like going back to the middle-ages!

Back to the session:

I heard talk of many devices at the IBC 2010 conference the three that show what a wide variety are on decision makers’ minds were: iPad, the iPad and oh yes, I almost forgot: an iPad.

Cisco #fail

Alex Balfour, is the new media guy from the excitingly named LOCOG A.K.A the 2012 Olympics organisation committee. In 20 dull minutes he mentioned the name Cisco four times and their product name 3 times, the session should actually have been called Cisco & Social media. A Cisco rep took over and when this became a clear sales pitch. I left. Come on Cisco & IBC, don’t let this sort of thing happen, your better than that. Some of the most interesting speakers in the industry work for Cisco, Yes you can!

I caught the last part of a Panel on “the way forward with online video”.

US TV networks are finding that when they promote alternative distribution channels as well as main broadcast feed, there is no cannibalisation. However movies are not available outside of the main feed and TV content is only available during small windows, so as to maximise syndication etc.

Connected TV

The last session I caught on my IBC conference day was on the Connected TV chaired by David Docherty

I was disappointed at how UK centric things were in the intro to this session. The “D-Book” that was described as some sort of holly grail is actually technical specs for UK’s DTT, what’s the big deal?

Ian Fromely from NBC Universal is an entertaining speaker, he had me smile a few times, but he didn’t seem at liberty to say much of significance, or if he did, I didn’t understand.

LoveFilm

The LoveFilm lady gave the same presentation as six months ago in London. The company is basically a UK based baby-Netflix (that Amazon now wants to buy – LoveFilm that is, not Netflix Doh!). LoveFilm is 6 years old, with 1,6M customers in 5 countries but mainly UK (1,2M). The main challenge is educating customer base for the move from mail order to digital. The digital service was launched in UK may 2009. Lack of figures on digital usage leads me to assume the take-up is disappointing. But the way Netflix is transforming its 1950’s style mail order business into an online on-demand business shows that it’s easier for these companies to make the transition than it was for Blockbuster. Consuming from home seems to be more important than having a huge choice …

Google – I’m still not convinced

The GoogleTV presenter was not giving anything away. She might as well have cancelled. Oh no she gave a scoop: GTV will be launched in US before EOY 2010! Oops we know that too.

Her presentation showed just how immature Google still is in its approach to TV: he key focuss was on 5 hrs a day average viewing (hmm I though Google was global not just a US company) – 70bn$/yr ad revenues– 4 billion TV users.

She did say something that caught my attention: “TV is reliable” to which I’d add just like fixed-line phones before VoIP. If that is really a USP of the TV then a company whose products are all branded ‘beta’ for several years after launch should stay away.

The Google spokesperson went on to say that the web needs to be a natural extension of the TV. So hooking with previous remark I take it Google is going to tame the web into being well behaved and reliable.

In response to an audience question she said “Google TV will be a free open source platform” finishing off with “If anyone can scale to support explosive demands on the Web from connected TVs, Google can”. Next time she should just take questions, cause that’s the only time she said anything of interest.

My song for Samsung

Despite prohibitive roaming charges the only talk that got me to tweet during the conference was Samsung’s. I tweeted “By saying their connected TV’s aren’t about disintermediation, but about bringing value, Samsung is coming an intermediary.”

Their site www.samsungsmarttvchallenge.eu shows they mean business and sales figures got me listening: 1 set in 4 sold in Europe is a Samsung.

On the down side Samsung’s connected TV is proprietary environment, but at least it’s built on open standards.

I’m still not actually sure what got me to sit up and listen to Dan Saunders. Maybe it’s that Google and Sony are pushing in so many directions at once in the connected TV space that I’m confused and think even their staunchest supporters will be too. Apple on the other hand is very focussed, but runs closed TV shop for now.

Samsung has the mix that feels right: aggressively pushing a single way to get TV’s connected with just enough control to keep things working, and enough openness to recreate the Appstore phenomenon that put the iPhone into orbit around the sun.