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 GSM technology.
“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 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 the organisation.
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 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 reality.”
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 standards.
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.” 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 2011
Rob Conway quits as CEO of GSM Association 07 Jun 2011
Focus on customers, not bankers, says Bernabè 30 Mar 2011
MWC claims 60,000 visitors as dates shift 17 Feb 2011