Anne Bouverot: One of the things we have to do to be effective
is to focus on a small number of priorities
As the industry enters what Anne Bouverot calls "the third wave
of mobile", operators are going back to their roots and working
together as they did in the early days of the development of
"We're at the end of the growth phase and we have become a
large industry," says Bouverot, who took over as the director
general of the GSM Association at the beginning of September
2011. "The mobile industry has gone from zero to everywhere."
Based on European statistics, the industry is on a par in
economic terms with aerospace or pharmaceuticals - a vital part
of the economy. The industry is undergoing a transition,
because of mobile broadband and the arrival of mobile-enabled
services, and the GSMA sees that it has a continuing role as
Bouverot is the successor as executive head of the GSMA to Rob
Conway, who was at the top of the organisation for 12 years
until he resigned in mid-2011. Conway joined the industry's
trade association when there were just a few hundred million
customers and left when there were close to six billion, of
whom 300 million had mobile broadband.
As CEO, Conway saw the first 3GSM congress in Cannes in 2001
and announced his departure not long after Barcelona attracted
a record 60,000 visitors to Mobile World Congress - the biggest
telecoms event in the world. Conway is now a senior executive
Bouverot is not CEO. When her selection was announced in August
2011 the organisation let it be known that director general was
a title used by most trade associations, so that is what it
would be - indicating a subtle change in emphasis for the
She is speaking to Global Telecoms Business in the GSMA's
London headquarters - a suite in a modern block that shows due
respect to the pioneers of telecoms. There are meeting rooms
named after telecoms pioneers Bell, Marconi and Tesla. The
Berners Lee room honours the inventor of the world wide web.
And, perhaps surprisingly, given operators' sometimes wary
attitude to Google, there is a Brin & Page
France Telecom vice president
Bouverot is no newcomer to the offices, having been a member of
the GSMA's board for two years as France Telecom's executive
vice president for mobile services, "and France Telecom is in
30 markets, so I don't come with just experience of France".
Indeed, she began her telecoms career - after a PhD and two
master's degrees from French universities in maths and computer
science - at Telmex in Mexico 21 years ago. She then developed
IT services for Equant, the company that is now Orange Business
Services, and moved on to international business development at
France Telecom, working on projects in Kenya, Armenia, Tunisia,
Portugal and the UAE. She also chaired the board of France
Telecom North America.
So she has successfully run a significant part of what has
become one of the world's successful industries during its
period of growth. Now "it's a more mature industry", and it's
an industry surviving through a difficult economic time. "When
the economy doesn't grow it's more difficult for the industry,"
Now, "operators want to work together more than ever." It is
"the story of GSM" all over again, she notes - harking back to
that era, not much more than 20 years ago, when the European
Union, its member states and its telecoms industry backed the
development of a single standard for digital mobile, to replace
the mishmash of incompatible analogue systems that had gone
The first wave of the GSM era was voice and text. The second
wave came with 3G, producing an unexpectedly high demand for
mobile data. "Every prediction we've ever looked at has always
been wrong, on the conservative side," she smiles.
A key role for the GSMA today is to help lobby governments for
more spectrum and to work with the International
Telecommunication Union to ensure that spectrum becomes
available in a harmonised way.
Spectrum for mobile
"We're lobbying hard," says Bouverot. "Our tagline is: 'Say yes
to future spectrum for mobile'."
It's important to get government ministers involved in the
campaign, she notes - and she's pleased with the results of the
GSMA's efforts to invite telecoms ministers to the 2012 Mobile
World Congress in Barcelona. "We're expecting 130-140
delegations," she says - making the event one of the world's
largest in terms of ministerial attendance. "We're there to
make sure they get advice which is independent," says Bouverot.
The GSMA, representing almost 800 mobile operators worldwide,
"is not a national operator pushing a particular line".
But "we need efficient use of the spectrum", she notes, so a
high-level working party - with group CEOs represented - is
taking up complaints that much bandwidth is used up by
excessive signalling by handsets running apps.
"Lots of applications create huge signalling traffic that
really load the network. We're working on application
efficiency, producing development guidelines" that are designed
for all major platforms, including Apple's iOS, Google's
Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile.
But what Bouverot calls the third wave of mobile takes the
industry into new sectors, "using the phone to do physical
things - pay, board an airplane, and so on", she says. This
encompasses technology such as NFC - near field communication -
in which an identity chip embedded in the phone can be tapped
onto a boarding gate, a payment terminal or other device.
NFC "is really promising", says Bouverot. "One country where
it's becoming a reality is South Korea." There are 50 million
inhabitants "and in the past few months KT and SK Telecom have
sold five million NFC phones".
She praises Korean vendor Samsung in particular for this role
in promoting NFC: "The Galaxy S2, I have one. I really like it.
Samsung has been one of the companies really supporting NFC
from the start. Samsung has been in the lead from the start.
You can link an NFC phone to a credit card. It's becoming
At the end of 2011 three Japanese operators, KDDI, NTT DoCoMo
and SoftBank moved towards harmonising their own
Sony-originated standard, FeliCa, with the international NFC
NFC on the digital agenda
"Part of our role is to work with the regulators," says
Bouverot. "In Europe than means the European Community. We're
working to put NFC on the European digital agenda."
There's a clear change in the GSMA's role - perhaps since
Bouverot took over, perhaps partly responsible for her
selection - to focus on a relatively small number of issues
where international coordination can make a difference.
Alongside NFC there is the Connected Life project, "which is
about understanding health providers and seeing how to work
with them", and a project with the car industry - longer term
because the design cycle for cars runs up to 15 years "and
they're not looking at mobile prices over the next few months".
That's why she's pleased that Bill Ford, the great grandson of
Henry Ford and the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company,
will be speaking in Barcelona.
"One of the things we have to do to be effective is to focus on
a small number of priorities," she says, in the middle of the
process of going through next year's business plan.
Bouverot will not reveal details of the GSMA's budget. "We
don't share that." Income comes from fees from its operator
members and more than 200 associates, described officially as
coming from "the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset
makers, software companies, equipment providers, internet
companies, and media and entertainment organisations".
It's clear that a substantial income comes from the success of
MWC - which has more than doubled since the event moved out of
Cannes after 2007, where the accommodation limited attendance
to around 28,000. This year, speaking before news came of an
expected transport strike in Barcelona, Bouverot was hoping for
attendance to be "the same or better" than 2011's 60,000 or so.
This will be the fifth and last at the old Montjuïc site
in central Barcelona. After seeking a new venue - and looking
at bids from European cities from Amsterdam to Milan - the GSMA
decided to move a few kilometres towards the airport to Gran
Via, a site run by the same Fira organisation.
Space to grow at MWC
"There'll be a lot of space for people to grow," she says of
the new home. At the same time - as part of the five-year deal
- the GSMA has named Barcelona the Mobile World Capital, giving
the city the opportunity to show off mobile applications all
the year round. Does that include NFC payment on the metro?
"We're trying to see what we can do with that," she smiles.
The competition between Barcelona and its three rivals was
"very tight", says Bouverot, who was a board member but not
director general when the decision was made. A colleague,
sitting in on the interview, says she herself "had flights
booked to all shortlisted cities" so she could be in the right
place for the announcement when it was made in late July 2011,
some six weeks before Bouverot's arrival.
Does that mean the GSMA itself is likely to move its
headquarters to Barcelona? "No," says Bouverot firmly. "We have
to be based somewhere. We are in London." She herself commutes
regularly on the train between Paris and London. "I love
London, but I'm in a plane or a train for most of the time."
Further reading from Global Telecoms Business:
Ex-GSMA head Rob Conway joins
VimpelCom 01 Sep 2011
Orange exec to head GSM
Association 11 Aug
Rob Conway quits as CEO of GSM
Association 07 Jun
Focus on customers, not bankers, says
Bernabè 30 Mar 2011
MWC claims 60,000 visitors as dates shift
17 Feb 2011