Last week I attended the LTE Asia conference in Singapore. This was an ideal event for 6WIND to participate in, for several reasons.

First of all, the conference organizers went out of their way to encourage and facilitate effective networking among the attendees. Everything from sending out a list of attendees ahead of time and offering to forward meeting requests (think LinkedIn on a very small scale), to organizing “speed networking” sessions. Modeled on the “speed dating” concept, service providers were coerced into spending 40 minutes having individual, two-minute conversations with a long series of vendors who had previously signed up for the opportunity to briefly introduce their products, hoping for longer, more detailed conversations later. I signed up for a session, found it to be a highly-productive experience, was exhausted at the end and walked away with a lot of follow-up opportunities.

Second, for a company like 6WIND this was a perfect opportunity to meet and learn from a large number of service providers, most of whom were from the Asia-Pacific region but some of whom have a global presence. For us, talking with our customers’ customers is an important part of better understanding the overall market needs and trends. Also, in some cases we’re able to influence the service providers to make sure that their equipment vendors (the TEMs who are our primary customers) understand the benefits that our software can provide for LTE infrastructure.

Finally, the conference included a fascinating set of sessions that highlighted just how much the hot topics have changed over the past twelve months. At last year’s conference, the focus was mainly on technology issues: spectrum allocation, TDD vs. FDD, WiFi offload, roaming etc. This year, however, the focus was clearly on how to monetize the technology and in particular how to turn around the steady decline in ARPUs and offset the continued increases in CAPEX and OPEX resulting from the on-going explosion in mobile video traffic.

Several sessions were dedicated to discussions of how service providers can provide true value-added services to their subscribers in response to the continued threat from the OTT providers. As always, Korea seems to be ahead of the rest of the world here with some truly innovative services (and what appears to be industry-leading adoption). That’s probably a good topic for another blog at some point.

For me, one of the most interesting sessions included a presentation by Infotech on new market segments for LTE. In his talk, Ravi Surapaneni pointed out that, while most of the industry focuses on the issues and opportunities associated with individual subscribers and personal usage trends, there are in fact a number of industrial market segments where the technology provides compelling solutions to business-critical challenges. These segments offer high-margin revenue opportunities for service providers, not constrained by the pricing and service expectations of individual subscribers.

The first of the four segments highlighted by Surapaneni was Oil and Gas. He described the need to connect remote locations, often far offshore, with reliable high-bandwidth connections, mentioning that today sometimes the only way for critical data to be delivered is by helicopter….. Current communication systems only support voice and low-bandwidth data, or are expensive satellite-based solutions, require multiple devices to achieve multiple functions and have no interoperability.

The second segment is emergency communications (police, fire brigade, ambulance, border control, coast guard, search and rescue services). Surapaneni explained some of the critical needs: accessing both real-time and non real-time video; email and file transmission of incident reports; remote access to databases; biometric data; digital mapping and location services.

The third segment is utilities and energy. Throughout the grid, there is a need for reliable, high-bandwidth communications in support of video surveillance, smart metering and multimedia operational communications.

Finally, there are major opportunities for LTE in transportation. Surapaneni described requirements for: real-time and trackside surveillance for trains; wireless broadband communication for both staff and passengers; video information for emergency rescue, surveillance and fault diagnosis; stable broadband wireless Internet access and voice calls during high-speed travel; improved security through remote monitoring.

LTE can provide an ideal solution to important challenges in these and other industrial market segments. For service providers, they offer opportunities to deliver high-value, high-margin services to a customer base where guaranteed reliability, bandwidth and coverage are far more important than minimizing monthly costs.

Were you at LTE Asia last week? What were some of the key messages and trends that you took away from the conference?