Bubbles Precede Build Outs

Just got back from a 5 city tour in Europe, with a two day stint at 3GSM World Congress.

For those that don’t know, the 3GSM conference brings together the world’s mobile operators, technology and service companies, a sprinkling of policy makers and a throng of journalists for a frenzied few days in Cannes, site of the so-named film festival. This is the event’s last year in Cannes – 35,000 attendees (and an energy level officially sealing the coffin of computer tradeshows) is overload for the small beach town, to the point that companies rent boats in the harbor for lodging and exhibit space (the most impressive of which was definitely this one).

A quick run through of interesting events.

First, the humor: the pilot on my flight to Cannes walked up to me after our arrival and said, “hey, Solaris 10 is really cool.” I figured he was pulling my leg. And he said, “No, seriously, I just downloaded it.” Turns out he’s a developer in his spare time, and was running it on his laptop. Gotta love the internet’s reach. Here are the latest stats:


Total Number of Solaris 10 Licenses Downloaded Since First Commercial Ship:

SPARC: 191,107

x64/x86: 348,155

Total: 539,262


FANTASTIC! After we get to a million licenses (which on this trajectory, should be within the next 30 days or so), Solaris 10 goes Platinum. These figures are blowing by our initial estimates (and straining our download centers – my apologies to those having to wait while we get mirrors set up).

Solaris certainly wasn’t the focal point of my presence at 3GSM – and frankly, with a market this big, growing this fast, the only unifying themes are scale and security. Everyone, but everyone at the show has a different agenda – from the African operator, whose service expansion is gated by building and securing electricity generators colocated with cell towers; to the developer of one of the most successful new Java services, Virtual Girlfriend. Don’t forget her birthday, or all hell breaks loose (I didn’t check, but I don’t think she can lock you out of your phone). I’m sure Virtual Boyfriend is on its way (virtual Mother In-Law? I digress).

I met with executives from our largest operator customers, hosted a panel with our OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers, who embed everything from SPARC to Solaris to Java in all range of network equipment and 3G handsets), and some time with the media and new service developers. Discussions ranged from collaborating on very low cost handsets for developing nations (the African operator, above, believes they can double their 15 million subscriber base with a sub-$30 handset), to managing heat and power in network operations centers with our upcoming Niagara systems; the media was as different as the operators, from the traditional American business pubs wanting to know about Microsoft’s role in handsets (folks, move on), to the Asian and European journalists focused on next generation mobile services (in-car is hot).

Our OEM’s were really happy with the license we’d chosen in open sourcing Solaris – the CDDL deliberately avoids the viral attributes of the GPL (General Public License), and encourages intermingling proprietary intellectual property with Solaris without fear of being forced to divulge trade secrets, or price them at zero (two downsides of the GPL for OEM’s are the obligation to change the licensing and pricing of their IP in the event their code is mixed with GPL code). The big theme from OEM’s was convergence and control – the telecommunications world is moving to adopt the same general purpose infrastructure deployed in the enterprise, and our ability to help them accelerate that shift, while leaving them in control of their IP, creates an opportunity to dramatically lower cost and grow the market. We’ve also planted the seeds for an OEM led carrier grade Solaris (stay tuned), and a large-scale shift away from proprietary databases, toward open source alternatives.

There was a lot of talk about Liberty services, and interoperable network identity – the era of “MCommerce” (mobile commerce) is clearly well underway, and requires interoperability between institutions for the really interesting applications. Two examples: Mobile ATM allows you to check your bank balances, transfer money, charge up your pre-paid calling card, or send dollars to do the same for other subscribers, all from your Java enabled phone. Globe Telecom in the Philippines (a nation totally hooked on SMS text messaging), has deployed GCash, a text based service that enables commerce at the point of sale (your phone is your wallet, you use it to make purchases at any merchant’s cash register). Both are predicated on multiple parties being able to interoperate securely – this is a trend we’ll see accelerate. Contrast this to PC’s, where, lacking hardened security or integrated billing operators (DSL is a flat fee service, vs. a cellular calling plan, which is basically a micro-billing platform), identity islands are still the norm.

Java is continuing to grow, and accelerate – on both the devices (and SIM cards embedded within them), and in the network infrastructure. There are now over 500,000,000 Java enabled phones in the world, and more than 60% of all new phones will ship, from the factory, Java enabled. The rush of new developers we’re adding to the nearly 5 million Java developers are J2ME developers, folks creating the services (from commercial to social) through which the majority of the world will experience the internet.

And just in case you missed it, let me say it again: the majority of the world will first experience the internet through their mobile phones. We sometimes forget that 10 times as many people bought handsets last year as PC’s. Round numbers, there were a BILLION wireless devices sold last year, and around 100 million PC’s. To that end, the odds are much higher you’ll watch broadcast broadband content on your phone than on your PC – and now that Nokia (and their peers) are the world’s largest camera manufacturers (just think about that for a moment), the odds are far higher you’ll even create broadband content on your handset. Talk about change. Comdex is dead, long live 3GSM.

Another interesting meeting was with the CEO of Oberthur, who predicts we’ll see 1 GigaBYTE SIM cards by years end – that’s right, a Gig on an interchangeable SIM card. For extra credit, what happens when a significant portion of that memory is executable? That’s a mighty small computer.

The net of all this – bubbles precede the buildout. And the buildout’s clearly underway with mobile operators chasing revenue and value. With operators beginning to see a market driven by services and content, maybe there’s irony in 3GSM and the Cannes Film Festival having shared a venue for so long. How much longer before a first run movie premieres on a handset?

Laugh now, get it out of your system. Convergence doesn’t respect form factors.

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