Thursday, April 25, 2013

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the prestigious AllThingsD: Dive Into Mobile conference. The conference examined a number of global trends in the mobile space that are shaping our industry, such as services and technology, mobile advertising platforms, growth in Android devices and Facebook’s new Home.   The discussions were driven by leaders in the industry, and I wanted to share some of the key highlights and trends discussed at the forum.


The conference kicked off with outgoing Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs discussing the soon-to-be released FireFox OS. Mr. Kovacs addressed how the mobile web - including HTML5 and JavaScript enhancements - has matured over the past few years, allowing developers and companies to expand and enhance the mobile OS space. Kovacs says that the time is right for more options in the mobile space, whereas in the past, the technology and APIs weren’t advanced enough to provide end-users with the best experiences.


Later in the day, we heard from two non-US companies, Xiaomi and Movile. Xiaomi is one of the fastest growing handset makers in China, selling over 7.19 million devices in 2012 and expecting that number to double in 2013. Bin Lin, co-founder and president of Xiaomi, laid out his vision stating, “We believe the future of the mobile Internet is really about services.” MTS has long imported branded low-cost handsets from China, and in addition to higher-priced offerings from Samsung, HTC and others, we offer a wide range of options to suit most budgets, as smartphone sales will increasingly drive further data penetration.  CEO and founder of Movile, Brazil’s largest mobile services company, Fabricio Bloisi Rocah, echoed the sentiments of Lin and Kovacs on services and technology. The two big trends Rocah sees are Wi-Fi penetration in Latin America and HTML5’s continued growth. Likewise, MTS believes that a total data offering to our customers will increase the opportunity to offer better services for customers.


An interesting area of discussion centered around Google’s Jason Spero and Millennial Media’s Mollie Spilman, as they examined the mobile advertising space. While still in it’s early stages, mobile advertising is steadily developing into a real ecosystem and platform. Continued enhancements to location and tracking offer this space a bright future.


On the second day of the conference, Google’s Eric Schmidt was the highlight of the event, as he spoke on Android’s growth and success, his upcoming book The New Digital Age, and the recent launch of Facebook Home for Android. Speaking of Home, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer opened up about Home’s development. Schroepfer shared that Facebook had originally developed Home three different ways: its current “skinned” Android form, a standalone app, and Facebook’s own forked version of Android.


During the afternoon session, I joined Carlos Domingo of Telefonica as we spoke to Ina Fried, senior editor of AllThingsD, about the Russian and Latin America mobile markets. Carlos and I dove into handsets, operating systems, and whether carries are just “dumb pipes.” 


Carlos Domingo (left) and Michael Hecker, photo by AllThingsD.com


Going into the conference, most people in the audience didn’t know much about the telecommunication world outside of the US. This gave Carlos and I the opportunity to act as ambassadors for our respective regions and educate the audience. When asked about handsets, I explained that Russia acts like both a developed and developing nations, with higher penetration of smart phones in places like Moscow and largest cities and feature phone in other areas of the country.



There is also a negative connotation in the US that carries are nothing more than dumb pipes. However, we don’t necessarily see this as a negative. We are happy with being “pipe” as long as this “pipe” generates significant profits which MTS can invest in other areas driving growth, like M2M, cloud and financial services.


Opportunities for operators in financial services has become a hot topic in the emerging “unbanked markets” with low penetration of credit products - from Kenya to Latin America to Russia, but this concept is relatively unknown in the West. Using as an example MTS’s recent acquisition of a 25% stake in MTS Bank, I explained to Ms. Fried and the audience how operators can leverage their brands, their retail networks and subscriber’s data and payment history to bring compelling offerings to the market. We believe that the relationship we have with our subscribers enables us to offer them products beyond traditional mobile communications, like payments and other financial services. 


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