10 Mobile World Congress Launches To Keep An Eye On

MWC Service News To Buzz About

Mobile World Congress is always a good place to see the latest and greatest mobile gadgets, but the annual Barcelona gathering is also about carrier news, service provider infrastructure and top-of-mind trends such as mobile data offloading and network intelligence technologies.

Here's a roundup of interesting vendor announcements, services agreements and service provider-oriented trends that stuck out from the week's worth of MWC notables.

Cisco Goes Small (Cell)

One of Cisco's biggest MWC-related launches was something small: a Small Cell Gateway based on its Cisco ASR 5000 Series Mobile Multimedia Core Router. The goal is to allow service providers easier management of subscriber information while integrating 2G/3G/4G LTE and femtocell networks with Wi-Fi networks, but the 60,000-foot news is Cisco's embrace of a technology that's been trying to find mainstream footing for years.

Small cells are getting a lot of play at MWC this year, it appears, with Alcatel-Lucent among several other companies to go live with a small cell offering at the show.

Quad Cores Abound

If there's an emerging theme around the many new smartphone and mobile device launches happening at Mobile World Congress, it's the apparent industry embrace of quad-core processors. Nvidia is out in force with a number of new phones -- HTC's One X, ZTE's Era and LG's Optimus 4X HD, for example -- sporting its Tegra 3 quad-core processor, which can run at speeds up to 1.5GHz. And mighty Huawei has come to the table with its own quad-core processor, the K3V2, which appears on its higher-end Ascend D Quad and Ascend D Quad XL phones.

Converged Devices Aplenty

Is it a smartphone? Is it a tablet? If the hype around so-called converged devices is to be believed, those definitions don't really matter, and several Mobile World Congress launches saw fit to blur the lines as much as possible.

Samsung and Asus, for example, trotted out their Galaxy Note 10.1 and Padfone products, respectively, the former a mix between smartphone and tablet form factor and functionality and the latter convertible from smartphone, to tablet, to notebook.

Video In the Cloud

Every major videoconferencing vendor is looking at ways to monetize the deployment of video-as-a-service, and Polycom -- which has been beating the mobile drum as loud as anyone in the field for at least a year now -- took two more steps toward that goal with its MWC announcements.

First, it expanded RealPresence Mobile, the mobile device version of its UC suite, out to smartphones. Second, and even more interestingly, it partnered with Ericsson to launch interoperable, HD-quality video-as-a-service solutions. It's the next phase of a move Polycom made in January around RealPresence Cloud, a wholesale video-as-a-service offering for service providers.

Alcatel-Lucent's Co-Creation Model

Is it a sign of overall greater carrier-vendor collaboration and customization to come?

Alcatel-Lucent said this week it is engaging four carriers -- China Mobile, Telefonica, Orange and Verizon Wireless -- in a new development relationship that Alcatel-Lucent is dubbing "co-creation." The relationship will let those carriers have more input into the design of certain products in its lightRadio wireless broadband portfolio. It isn't all marketing, not nearly; the engineers from those service providers will work hand-in-hand with Alcatel-Lucent's R&D teams on custom product development, it seems.

Samsung As LTE Challenger

Samsung is well-established as a mobile device vendor, especially in the Android community. But, according to one report, it has its sights set on becoming a Long Term Evolution (LTE) infrastructure powerhouse too.

I.P. Hong, Samsung's vice president of marketing, told Light Readingthis week that by the end of 2012, Samsung will have gained enough commercial LTE business to move past Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and ZTE and become the No.3 LTE infrastructure vendor behind Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks.

It'll take a few months to determine whether Samsung has the follow-through to back up that statement.

Much Ado About NFC

Near-field communications (NFC) has been a hot topic for years but thanks to the number of devices launched at Mobile World Congress that come with NFC capability, it may not be long before NFC is table stakes for new smartphone launches.

Samsung, Acer, Huawei, LG and Nokia were some of the big mobile device names at MWC touting NFC in their phones. And other major corporations had NFC-flavored announcements, too; Visa, for example, confirmed a new service that lets financial institutions and mobile operators securely download payment account information to a smartphone using NFC.

"In effect Visa is doing what it’s been threatening to do for several years and expanding its traditional intermediary role in payments to mobile. The fact that it is also supporting non-Visa payments shows that the payments giant recognizes that ubiquity is the key to success in mobile money systems," Catherine Haslam, an analyst with Ovum, said in a note to subscribers.

Metaswitch's Immersive Multimedia Telephony

Metaswitch caught our eye with Accession, an application suite targeted at service providers who want to provide immersive calling and flexible content sharing across multiple devices and infrastructures -- doing everything from moving calls in progress from 3G or 4G licensed spectrums to Wi-Fi unlicensed spectrums, moving conversations among PCs, phones and tablets, and elevating to HD voice and video as needed. One element, Accession MCS, is a cloud-based offering that service providers can brand and sell as a content-sharing application for both consumer and business use.

"Mobility delivers so much more utility than most fixed environments, and wireless operators know they have to move on from simple voice to keep subscribers happy," wrote Jon Arnold, principal of J. Arnold & Associates, in a blog post. "End-user expectations are so high now, and the smartphone explosion has put operators in perpetual catch-up mode to upgrade their networks and deliver the services that make these must-have devices so popular."

Mobile Data Offloading In Focus

Cisco's recently released Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update had some eye-popping stats on mobile data -- particularly that 22 percent of mobile data traffic by 2016 will be traffic that's been offloaded from mobile devices.

Alvarion, which focuses on optimizing wireless broadband connectivity and capacity for public and private networks, is among several broadband specialists looking to lick that problem for service providers. At MWC, Alvarion launched a mobile data offloading solution for areas of high data congestion in 3G/LTE networks, using carrier-grade, two-way beam-forming Wi-Fi technology for service enablement. According to Alvarion, the service is Hot Spot 2.0 and 802.11u-ready and can provide customers a "cellular-like" experience over a Wi-Fi network with no configuration hassles on the user's end.

Tackling Network Intelligence

The more put upon a complex service provider network, the more a proactive, granular system for network intelligence can pay off for customers, and that seems to be the motivation behind VSS Monitoring's new Network Management System (NMS). Unveiled at Mobile World Congress, the NMS integrates a variety of performance acceleration -- including aggregation, filtering, load balancing -- and security tools for monitoring all of a network's access points, from physical to virtual and cloud-based.

It's the fabric strategy applied to operating service provider networks, and in VSS' case, the NMS can provide everything from Layer 2 through Layer 7 filtering to software updates across various VSS network intelligence platforms and unified management of all those platforms as if they are one single network intelligence pane.