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December 21, 2010

Hi All,
Rather than the usual "predictions" column, I decided to do something a little different this year - see my "wireless industry wish list": a little serious, a little irreverent. READ HERE.

Also in this eclipse/solstice (first time since 1638 but it's snowing in Boston so we won't be able to see it!) Lens: my initial impressions of LTE - great service, "soft launch"; and highlights of last week's webinar on Google's Mobile Strategy.  Happy holidays to you all, and best wishes for a healthy and productive 2011.
In This Issue
Wireless Industry Wish List
Highlights of Google Mobile Strategy Webinar
Initial Thoughts on LTE
December Shorts
Wireless Industry Wish List
This month's Fierce Wireless column features my Wireless Industry Wish List, representing what I'd like from or wish for some of the industry's major players. Hope you agree with some of the "asks", and also find it a little amusing.
Highlights of Google Mobile Strategy Webinar
Google event
We had a terrific Webinar last week, on Google's Mobile Strategy. Lots of ground was covered: Android roadmap, and experts commenting on Google's activities in advertising, local, search, commerce, enterprise, video, and the cloud -- all as it relates to mobile. The full webinar is available, including all audio and presentation materials. CLICK HERE to see it. Lens subscribers enter keyword earlybird for a discount.

A few key highlights:

Mark Lowenstein led things off with a strategic overview. Main points:
  • Google does not really have a distinct mobile strategy. It is woven into just about everything they do. As such their strategy is distinctly different than that of Apple, RIM, and other major wireless players. 
  • Local and contextual advertising is a key area of focus. Maps is a differentiator on Android devices and is an area of keen investment.
  • Google's competitive field is widening -- not just the "usual gang" such as Apple and Microsoft, but increasingly Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Comcast. 
  • I believe Google will enter into closer relationships with select operators in 2011 -- leveraging mutual assets around location, analytics, and apps -- toward creating a differentiated experience on Android devices.

Greg Sterling, Opus Research, on Search, Advertising, Local:

  • Key initiatives to "remove the friction" in mobile search, focusing on the UI. Instant, Speech are two examples.
  • Growing the display ad business is a priority - an area where Facebook has had great success. YouTube is one avenue, as is cross-platform ad buys.

  • Expect significant moves in local

Will Richmond, Editor and Publisher, VideoNuze, on Video and Google TV

  • 4G networks will be a catalyst toward a richer YouTube experience for mobile, with more direct monetization opportunities

  • YouTube mobile is becoming its own ad opportunity, and will increasingly be leveraged across Android devices
  • Google TV: a serious bet, just hired key Netflix exec...but the content universe is wary
  • All that said, Google does not have a centralized "video strategy" and does not have a point person a la Marissa Mayer for local

Bob Egan, Sepharim Group (ex-Gartner, Tower), on Commerce, Enterprise, Cloud

  • NFC is a major bet for Google, but it's a very fragmented space. He predicts big noise for m-commerce in 2011, but tiny transaction volumes
  • Cloud bet is part of effort to be "cross platform", with thin devices being a key aspect of the "cloud entry point"
  • Android is starting to get taken seriously in the enterprise, but is 6-12 months behind iOS.
For more, the full archive version can be accessed HERE. 
Initial Thoughts on LTE
As you know, Verizon Wireless launched 4G LTE in 38 markets on December 5. Have played around with it a little, and others have done more comprehensive 'road tests'. Initial impressions: the performance lives up to the promise, at least at this initial unloaded network stage. I and others who have tested LTE are consistently achieving download rates of more than 10 MB, upload in the 2-4 MB range, and latency of sub-100 ms. This is true broadband, folks, akin to what many people get on their wired networks at home.

Also impressive is their coverage in markets launched. This is no "swiss cheese" approach. They have provided a detailed coverage map on their Web site, and 4G coverage in available markets hits the core areas very well.

Pricing is conservative. Verizon wants to maintain its historic position of "premium price for premium network" and does not want to set a low bar, initially. Despite the "temptation" to think of LTE as a replacement for home broadband, Verizon is deliberately pricing its service to not go down that road. Even with the improved economics of LTE, there's not a lot of margin for wireless operators in the 15 GB a month (and growing) used by the typical wired broadband household.

On the enterprise side, one little known and little talked about aspect in this initial phase is the plan for existing Broadband Access customers. These customers can upgrade to 4G at the subsidized device price, as long as they are prepared to sign another two-year contract. So, no penalty for termination, and a nice incentive to upgrade. Still, users might want to hold off till early 2011 when there are more device options and additional markets are launched.

Also, many had expected some form of tiered, or usage-based pricing. I think elements of this plan are still being worked out. Expect to see more options early in Q1, particularly in conjunction with new device introductions.

That said, it has been a pretty quiet market launch. VZW wanted to fulfill on the commitment to launch LTE this year, but it seems to me there's a certain "soft launch" aspect to this initial wave. Reasons:
  • December is a huge month for Verizon and the other wireless operators -- mainly they are focused on selling lots of phones and service plans, and are holding off the big 4G push until 2011
  • Initial launch devices (USB dongles) are a little big and bulky. They have lots planned for 1Q-2Q 2011, starting with CES, which is where you'll see a bigger splash, in conjunction with some key partners. 
  • A 4G MiFi type of device is eagerly anticipated. That's when aggressive selling into the enterprise really begins, in my view. 
  • Current devices do not work on Macs yet. Apparently this is a couple of weeks away.

There has been some national advertising but the main activity has been more focused on the blocking and tackling in the 4G launch markets. The service is prominently featured in stores, and my checks have found store employees to be well-trained and knowledgeable about the service. 

December Shorts
Follow-Up to the M&A Predictions Piece
There were lots of comments on last month's piece predicting possible M&A transactions and themes. A few additional thoughts, based upon further reflection, plus feedback:
  • Good Technology, which has been a good success story, could be in play as I expect some consolidation in the messaging/enterprise solutions market.
  • More deals in the commerce space, such as Card Star
  • Syniverse - interesting company, just did Carlyle deal, could see some action involving them next year

Also, a couple of oversights: 724 Solutions was acquired by Mobixcell in 2010, and Packet Video by NTT DoCoMo. 

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