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ATLANTA  —  GSMA, an association of mobile operators best known for its massive annual Mobile World Congress trade show in Spain, opted for a more intimate setting this week. 

Rather that the  85,000 mobile industry stakeholders it attracts in Barcelona, the inaugural Mobile 360 North America conference here lured less than 300 attendees.The two-day event kicked off yesterday at the W Hotel in the Midtown section of the city.

Attendees included heavy-hitters in the mobile industry, include C-level executives from the likes of AT&T, Verizon, ZTE and Ericsson.

The theme of the conference, “Driving Innovation in Connected Living.” It was held to address the growing mobile ecosystem in North America — the world’s largest broadband market, as well as what we can expect in years ahead.

Why Atlanta?

So why would an internationally recognized organization like GSMA choose Atlanta as its first stop in the US? Alpharetta, Ga.-based Reed Peterson, global head of strategic engagement, head of North America, GSMA, said there is a significant global presence in and around Atlanta.

"In terms of global business coming together from a mobile perspective, you’ve got AT&T, a very big presence from Verizon, AirWatch ... there are a lot of mobile companies here," he said. In addition, he estimated there are 150 small mobile companies in the Alpharetta/Roswell area, north of Atlanta. He continued:

We’re seeing these little mobile hubs pop up all around Atlanta. You’ve also got the Mobility Task Force, which is a group of powerful business leaders who have decided that they want to make this a hub for mobile technology. Delta, Home Depot, Coke, Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia, Mayor Kasim Reed, all of these guys have come together saying ‘this is what we want to see for the future of Atlanta.’ We’ve recognized that. We’ve also recognized the penetration of LTE and the penetration of smartphones, there’s no question Atlanta is one of the leading mobile communities in the world today. The future is very, very bright."

GSMA will also hold Mobile 360 events in Dubai, Cape Town and Brussels in the coming months, building on what it earned in North America and addressing the specific nuances of the mobile ecosystems in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Keynote Worthy

The opening keynote, “State of the Industry – Growth Strategies in a Forward Focused Market” highlighted the robust mobile broadband architecture in North America and discussed what needs to be done to ensure the continued growth of the mobile industry. Speakers included Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobile & Business Solutions; Meredith Baker, president and CEO, CTIA and US Federal Communications CommissionerJessica Rosenworcel.

Net neutrality was top of mind. According to Baker, in the wireless world, "we should want competitors fighting to see who can manage the best network and optimize the most services for the most subscribers. No one wants a one-size-fits-all mobile Internet experience."

The second keynote session of the morning, titled “LTE – Creating New Opportunities for Innovation” looked at the challenges and opportunities of working with mobile broadband and the path beyond LTE. Speakers included Marcus Weldon, EVP and CTO at Alcatel-Lucent and president of Bell Labs; Anthony Melone, CTO, Verizon and Lixin Cheng, president, ZTE USA.

Mobile Commerce on Display

During the session “Spotlight on Mobile Retail”, Tom Daly, director of Global Connections, the Coca-Cola Co., Mary Clark, CMO of Syniverse and Manolo Almagro, managing director, Digital Retail Technologies, discussed the state of the mobile retail industry. Daniel Hodges, managing director if Consumers in Motion, moderated the panel.

The second session, “mCommerce: The Wallet Wars,” took advantage of the current interest in mobile payments, spurred by the announcement of Apple Pay earlier this month. Samee Zafar, a director at Edgar Dunn & Co. moderated a panel featuring Erica Bass, director of product marketing at VeriFone, Brad Greene, vice president of Mobile Payments at Visa and Kevin Brown, director of Global Mobile Products and Digital Innovation at Citi.

The panelists described Apple’s foray into the industry as the best chance for mobile payments to succeed.

According to Greene, Apple Pay is significant because "Apple focuses ruthlessly on customer experience, end-to-end.”

Bass noted that while Google Wallet launched with a good consumer experience, it "just didn't have the reach to impact mobile payments.” At the end of the day, they all agree there needs to be incentives attached to near-field communication (NFC) to drive consumer adoption of mobile payments.

Innovation Face-Off

Day one of Mobile 360 North America wrapped up with a session titled “Mobile Innovation – The Future is Here.” It gave three start-ups the chance to present their ideas to the audience and a panel of mobile industry investors that included Jon Potter, president and co-founder, Application Developers Alliance; Carlton Hill, vice president, Device Operations and Developer Services, AT&T and Dan Novaes, co-founder and CEO, MobileX Labs. It was moderated by Jefferson Wang, senior partner at IBB Consulting.

  • O’Neil Interactive pitched an app vending machine of sorts. It was created to serve as an advertisement for mobile applications within physical locations such as airports, which are then downloaded to your mobile device via barcode. The creator described it as a “Redbox for apps.”
  • Kanga pitched an on-demand local delivery service. Think Uber, except drivers are dropping off objects instead of people. These objects can range anywhere from a document to a helicopter.
  • Alii Healthcare pitched an on-demand physician service that allows consumers to schedule a visit with a doctor for minor illnesses like a sinus infection via mobile video.

The audience voted (ironically, SMS voting capabilities were inoperable, so participants voted the old fashioned way, by raising their hands in the air).

Alii Healthcare won, and earned a speaking slot at the 2015 edition of Mobile World Congress in March.