Numbers on Enterprise 802.11n and FMC Growth

A recent survey of over 200 IT professionals worldwide performed by BT’s Consulting Group says:

While many new technologies take years to be adopted, 802.11n appears to be exceeding the typical adoption curve. In fact, nearly one-third (31 percent) of respondents plan to migrate to 802.11n within the next 12 months, and another 20 percent plan to do so sometime beyond this timeframe.

The report says this speedy uptake indicates that the benefits of 11n are urgently needed. Unfortunately the survey didn’t appear to question respondents about their plans for 5 GHz operation.

The report delivered some other surprisingly optimistic numbers concerning FMC: 9% of respondents claim to have already implemented Fixed-Mobile-Convergence, and 32% plan to within the next 12 months. The report doesn’t specify how “Fixed Mobile Convergence” was defined in the survey. Since the survey was about WLANs, presumably it didn’t simply mean PBX extension to mobile, but I doubt that 9% of worldwide enterprises have implemented call continuity between WLAN and cellular.

The report has a lot of other interesting information – well worth a read.

FMC success factors

An excellent blog posting by Alan Quayle discusses the reasons for the failure of FMC services from Korea Telecom and Deutsche Telkom, and the relative success of Orange’s Unik.

He concludes:

The critical lessons are: keep the service as transparent as possible with respect to user experience; keep the saving as simple to understand and as significant as possible for the customer.

Quayle thinks that FMC will come in the form of femtocells bundled into single boxes from converged consumer service providers like Verizon. His comments are spot-on, for example concerning who benefits from network off-load:

Femtocell enables mobile broadband traffic to be off-loaded in the home and office, this is an important benefit for the operator not the customer.

Quayle mentions “and office,” but while Wi-Fi FMC seems to compare unfavorably to femtocells for consumers, the picture for offices is more ambiguous. Businesses that want PBX features on their phones have two choices when it comes to FMC. They can keep their PBX and extend its features to the mobile phones, or they can use a Centrex/hosted PBX service from their mobile provider. In both cases, particularly the first, dual-mode phones will be preferable to femtocells for many customers.

There are several reasons for this. First, Wi-Fi in cell phones is becoming common – IDC predicts that by 2011 30% of phones sold will be smart phones, and Wi-Fi is fast becoming a must-have feature in smart phones. Second, handset Wi-Fi technology is improving, particularly battery life. Third, Wi-Fi coverage good enough to support voice is becoming more common in businesses. Fourth, many companies prefer to maintain control over their internal voice networks and network client devices. Put these together, and the motivation to spend on femtocells is weak.

Personal Navigation Devices: the end is nigh

Garmin announced today a cut in its revenue and earnings forecast for 2008.

It blamed a challenging macroeconomic climate and intense competition. One bright spot was that “The automotive/mobile segment gross margin continued to be sound at 39% as PND pricing declines moderated.” But this will prove to be a transient plateau in a precipitous decline in the PND market.

Although we continue to earn industry-leading market share, the sector is not growing as rapidly as earlier anticipated and consumers appear to be more cost-conscious than ever.

Garmin may have many strong business opportunities (for example lifestyle-oriented market segments like fitness), but the generic PND is not one of them. The reason is that PND functionality is being built into smartphones. The incremental cost to the phone manufacturer is just a few dollars. The new iPhone is a case in point. It has great mapping software from Google and the screen is large and high-resolution; this PND functionality is effectively thrown in for free.

But it gets worse for PNDs. GPS in phones is intrinsically superior to GPS in PNDs, because the data connection through the cellular service dramatically speeds up time to first fix and can also improve location accuracy.

Garmin appears to have recognized that smartphones will eat its PND lunch, and has embarked on a smartphone development, the Nuvifone. But this is a very, very challenging gamble. The handset business is brutal, not just competition-wise but because of the complexities of regulation, certification and network validation. Garmin must have expected this, but it was still surprised:

The nüvifone will not be available in fourth quarter as previously announced. While we had hoped to have carrier launches in the fourth quarter, we have found that meeting some of the carrier specific requirements will take longer than anticipated.

The Nuvifone may turn out to be a winner for Garmin, but it’s a long shot. It is possible to differentiate on commodity features in handsets, but not in the mass market. An analogy with cameras would be misleading. For GPS there is no essential technical requirement equivalent to a good camera lens in terms of differentiating value in a handset.

CSR 2Q08 results: in line. Company focusing on “Connectivity Centre”

CSR released its 2Q08 results today. Quarterly revenues are 13% down year on year ($188.4m vs. $215.9m), but in line with expectations and up 17% on Q1. The CEO blamed the decline on “macro economic pressures.”

The press release says that CSR has completed “repositioning the business around the Connectivity Centre.”

What CSR calls the “Connectivity Centre” was the topic of a report I wrote with the Linley Group last year and which we are in the process of updating for 2008. The idea of the connectivity chip is that cell phones have a multiplicity of radios in them these days: several cellular standards and frequencies, Bluetooth, FM radio, GPS, Wi-Fi and some other minor ones. The way it has shaken out so far is that cell phone OEMs have implemented each of the non-cellular radios separately on their phone motherboards, or with two or more of them mounted together on a multi-chip module, or “connectivity chip.” Recently many vendors have started doing single-die implementations of connectivity chips, like Bluetooth plus FM, or Bluetooth plus Wi-Fi.

CSR with its BlueCore 7 is the first to combine Bluetooth (plus Bluetooth LE, formerly Wibree), FM (transmit and receive) and GPS on a single chip. This looks like a winning combination, because these three technologies are the ones with the highest attach rates to cell phones, and CSR has managed to implement the GPS with a sufficiently modest silicon footprint that CSR doesn’t charge for it if the OEM doesn’t want to use it.

Also mentioned in CSR’s results release is the news that the low-power Wi-Fi chip that CSR announced in 2004, the UniFi 2, is finally shipping in phones: “our embedded Wi-Fi product will be shipping in six smart phones by the end of the current quarter.” Actually, one of their analyst presentations appears to indicate that it is already shipping in the Mio A702.

CSR says it is “the only ‘pure play’ connectivity company.” This is passably true, but each of the major cellular baseband companies except Freescale now has, or is in the process of putting together a suite of connectivity products. CSR also says it “is moving fast to create and lead this market.” It will have to move fast. Qualcomm has already swept multiple connectivity technologies into its latest cellular baseband offering. This is the likely end-game for all the cellular baseband vendors. The questions are: is this what the handset OEMs want, and if so, how long will it take?

Femtocell versus Wi-Fi

Rethink Research has published an interesting article relating the new Wi-Fi voice certification to the outlook for femtocells.

The idea of the article is that voice over Wi-Fi for cell phones is competing with femtocells, and that femtocells may win out. The article distinguishes between business voice and consumer voice, saying that service providers see femtocells as “an important stalking horse for greater control of corporate customers. ” This gives a hint of why femtocells may be unattractive to businesses: many of them would rather not yield this control.

Consumer voice service is controlled by service providers. They have three options in this space: do nothing, deploy femtocells or deploy Wi-Fi. Do nothing is the obvious best choice, since neither of the other options carries a revenue upside. But poor coverage in a home discourages usage and risks cancellations of subscriptions. So in areas of poor coverage something like femtocells or UMA (voice over Wi-Fi) is attractive to service providers. For both technologies the service provider subsidizes the wireless router, but femtocells will remain more expensive than Wi-Fi routers because of their lower sales volumes, so Wi-Fi is more attractive on this count. But UMA requires phones with Wi-Fi, while femtocells will work with any phone in the service provider’s line-up, including legacy ones. So the customers’ experience of femtocells is better – they can choose or keep the phone they want and still get improved coverage at home. This benefit of femtocells clearly outweighs the marginal price advantage of Wi-Fi routers. Femtocells may help subscriber retention in another way: a Wi-Fi router is not tied to any particular cellular service provider, while a femtocell only works with the carrier that supplied it.

The situation in businesses is different. They generally prefer to control their own voice systems, which is why they have PBXs. But a substantial number of business calls are now made on cell phones, even on company premises. These calls don’t go through the PBX, so they are not least-cost-routed and they are not logged or managed by the IT department. Femtocells don’t fix these problems, but Voice over Wi-Fi does. Not service provider Voice over Wi-Fi, like UMA, but SIP-based Voice over Wi-Fi from companies like DiVitas and Agito. What about phone choice though? Won’t corporate customers be stuck with a limited choice of handsets? The answer is yes, only a limited number of phones have Wi-Fi: less than 10% of those sold in 2008. But in the category of enterprise smart phones, like the Nokia Eseries and Blackberries, the attach rate of Wi-Fi will soon be close to 100%.

So femtocells are a good way for service providers to remedy churn caused by poor residential coverage for consumers, but Wi-Fi may be the better option for businesses that want to regain control over their voice traffic.

IT spending on wireless services to outstrip wireline by 2010

Instat published a report today, predicting that corporate spending on wireless voice and data services will outstrip spending on wireline services by 2010. The report is pitched at service providers, pointing out that corporate users are more profitable. Of course some service providers, like Sotto, already pin their strategy on this. The report also encourages corporations to unify their wireless spending, rather than have employees get their service piecemeal and expense it. I wrote about this in an earlier posting.

As cell phones get smarter and as they get more tightly bound into corporate networks, security becomes a major concern. This is the subject of two stories in today’s Wall Street Journal. The first tells how the iPhone is precipitating a standoff between IT managers who don’t want it on their networks, and users who want to use it as a corporate email client. The second explains how iPods, iPhones and any device with storage and a USB connector constitute network security threats.

My May column in Internet Telephony Magazine is about the Jericho Forum, which proposes a radical solution to the security concerns of the wireless enterprise.

Bluetooth and the Trough of Disillusionment

An earlier post in this blog discussing dual mode phones mentions the trough of disillusionment as a part of the technical product hype cycle. This article from 2002 gives an amusing view of Bluetooth from the bottom of that trough; industry experts warn that it could be 2012 before Bluetooth is pervasive. It turns out that in 2007 Bluetooth will be in almost half the handsets sold. In retrospect it seems so inevitable.

The article covered its bets in the final paragraph, quoting Instat predicting 690 million Bluetooth chipsets to be shipped in 2006. Actually, by the end of 2006 the run rate was 12 million units a week. Considering it was a four year out prediction Instat’s accuracy was remarkably good.

Dual mode phones taking off?

Instat came out yesterday with a report entitled “Portable Connectivity Driving Wi-Fi Chipset Market.”
The report says:

Although dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi handsets represented only 3% of total shipments in 2006, this category will be the breakout market segment in 2007, and will reach 20% of the total Wi-Fi chipset market in 2009.

A look at the database of smartphones and PDAs at reveals that of 343 phones listed, 192 have Wi-Fi; of the 96 phones released since December 2006, 76 have Wi-Fi. This confirms Instat’s opinion at the top end of the phone market.

Although the smartphone market is small relative to the overall cell phone market (4% in US, 9% in Europe according to Telephia), it is still big. With well over a billion cell phones being sold in 2007, the number of smartphones will be of the order of 100 million. In another report, Instat predicts about 400 million Wi-Fi chipsets to be sold in 2009. So the 20% number seems quite doable with smart phones alone.

If FMC takes off, Wi-Fi will also become common in non-smartphones, and the volume of Wi-Fi chip sales will be even higher. But mobile network operators remain tentative about FMC; rapid widespread rollout is not happening yet. Consumers rightly see little value in FMC the way that it is currently being sold to them. FMC is more likely to be led by enterprises deploying smart phones using third party applications to extend their PBX. The mobile and fixed operators have the power to thwart this use of their networks, and some will. But the benefits of this model to enterprises are clear and compelling, so it will eventually prevail.