Mobile Trends: RIM, Capex, and Vendor Challenges

The mobile industry is still digesting the fall of RIM, and today there are suggestions that range from RIM getting bought by Microsoft as their handset arm to RIM adopting Android to join the mainstream.  I even heard one story that says that Apple was going to license iOS!  Good luck betting on that one.

RIM as we knew it is done for, because the conditions that made RIM great are gone forever.  Corporations had a different appetite for mobile-beyond-voice than consumers did when Blackberries leaped off shelves and into corporate hands, and now consumers are leading business in adopting non-voice mobile apps.  RIM ignored the trend, as incumbents usually do, and so now it pays the price.  I think any talk of rehab by licensing some other OS is just wind too, because all that would do is to put the “new RIM” on the same track of the rest of the industry and two years behind it.  Even Windows 8 is too much of a risk because surely Microsoft won’t risk buying RIM and won’t give them an exclusive either.

The question now is where business buyers of smartphones will go.  The BYOD trend, created largely because people didn’t like having two phones and in no small part responsible for RIM’s decline, will surely continue.  Does that mean that there won’t be a “business market” for smartphones?  I wonder.  The problem is that as we move toward more empowered workers, to that mobile/behavioral synthesis for productivity, we need an architecture that brings cloud and handset together, and it’s hard to see how that arises by having every worker bring their own devices and run their own apps.  It may be that the cloud’s DevOps movements, which I’ve been blogging on, will emerge as the path to sanity here.

UBS is joining some (perhaps most) of the research firms in predicting that mobile/LTE will drive capex more than expected.  This would be very good news for Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and NSN and considerably less good news for Cisco.  For Juniper, it would be REALLY bad news because if LTE is driving capex then only players in the RAN and IMS space really have much chance of strategic engagement.  Cisco has been improving its engagement for the last year, recovering from a real slump, and if it can’t figure out how to ride the mobile wave better it may risk that recovery.  Juniper has been slipping steadily in influence, and is at risk for falling below the threshold that would keep it in play as a trusted infrastructure partner in mobile.

The problem for Cisco and Juniper is that mobile equals metro because of backhaul and WiFi.  We’re clearly moving toward a more unified model of mobile backhaul and wireline broadband, and that continues to favor the RAN vendors but also those with strong access credentials.  Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson are tops in that space (and Ericsson just bought a startup to improve its WiFi position).  Can Cisco and Juniper pull something out?  In mobile, we don’t think either can improve their position in the next year.  It’s going to be a matter of cloud and content.  These two technologies are entwined in any vision of next-gen infrastructure, and even mobile trends will involve both of them.  We’ll be looking at vendor strategic influence trends as part of our operator survey, which we’ll publish in July in Netwatcher.

Speaking of Netwatcher, our April issue is going to include a survey of CDN players and their alignment with the content needs of the operators, as well as a look at OpenFlow and DevOps in more detail.  We think that CDNs are the foundation of any content strategy, and we think that DevOps and OpenFlow are the most important elements of the cloud/network fusion.  In May, to round out our editorial plans, we’re looking at the notion of a next-gen OSS/BSS for “real-time” services, and also at the issues that enterprises say are making the building of private clouds complicated.