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
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 its voice.
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 at VimpelCom.
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
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 room.
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," she says.
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 before.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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." GTB
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