Samsung gets aggressive as rivals sit in 5G purgatory

With MWC 2020 quickly becoming a dud, Samsung didn’t hang around to unveil three new 5G smartphones, a foldable device and its latest earbuds.

If there was ever a time for Samsung to go big and noisy with a product launch, now is it. Huawei’s smartphone division is sprinting into the realms of irrelevance while Apple is unlikely to make waves until the end of the year. Aside from a few outliers, Samsung effectively has a monopoly on the consumers attention when it comes to tier-one smartphone launches.

At its ‘Unpacked’ event in San Francisco, Samsung released the Galaxy S20 series (S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra), a foldable device known as the Galaxy Z Flip and the new Galaxy Buds+, as well as a number of interesting partnerships.

“Samsung has a huge start over rivals in 5G with a broad range of devices,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“There has been no better time for Samsung to increase its market share given Huawei’s current woes and Apple yet to release a 5G iPhone. Support for sub-6Ghz, mmWave technology and dynamic spectrum sharing ensures that its 5G devices will appeal globally. This is paramount as mmWave is being positioned as the ‘best’ of 5G, a topic that will emerge as a strong theme throughout 2020 as telcos roll out networks.”

As with many of these launches, there isn’t a huge amount of innovation in the phone aside from incremental change. Sure, it has 5G which is faster than 4G, 8K which is better than 4K, an AI-supercharged camera which is better than a normal one, but it is bells and whistles which would more likely fall into the ‘best in class’ category as opposed to innovation.

That said, you have to give credit where it is due, the team has launched a series of devices which beat rivals to the punch, look good and are generally receiving positive reviews. In the absence of genuine innovation, Samsung seems to have created an excellent product, an adequate substitute.

Looking at the development of the ecosystem, there are a number of interesting announcements, including Netflix and Google.

“In the coming months, Samsung mobile users will have access to a whole host of new and exciting bonus content based on some of your favourite Netflix Originals, accessible through Samsung Daily and Samsung channels,” said Netflix’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jackie Lee-Joe.

“Thanks to 5G, the video calls are higher quality, and that makes you feel more connected to the person you’re talking to,” said Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of Platforms and Ecosystems at Google. “Also, with Duo built right into Galaxy’s native apps, we can help people connect much more seamlessly, without interruption.”

Neither of these partnerships will create a buying position alone, but this is all about the incremental gains. An excellent camera, 5G, 8K video, original and unique content, and a better software experience all add-up to make a compelling product. Another interesting element is the focus on gaming.

“Another key emphasis for Samsung on the Galaxy S20 is gaming performance. The new devices are using a display with an extremely high refresh rate of 120Hz with a 240Hz input sensor which, when coupled with 5G, would give gamers the quickest reactions of any mobile gaming solution,” said Daniel Gleeson, Principal Analyst, Consumer Technology at Omdia.

“Samsung is so confident in the gaming capabilities of the new Galaxy S20 that they have announced a partnership with gaming company, Forza Street, with cross play with PC gamers enabled.”

Gaming is quickly becoming mainstream as more immersive and complex titles are moved onto or designed for the mobile platform. The segment is growing rapidly, and OEMs and telcos alike have to be paying much more attention to how experiences can be customised for gaming.

While there are incremental gains to consider across all areas of the device, 5G included, interesting partnerships and a homage to the rising popularity of gaming, this does not appear to be a product launch which is out of the ordinary. We imagine Samsung’s competitors will create a product which is incredibly similar. The difference will be marketing dollars.

The ‘Unpacked’ event is a marketing exercise learned from Apple to cultivate the brand, while Samsung also has an opportunity to capitalise on the Huawei woes and steal Android customers. Xiaomi and OnePlus might have something to say about this, but thanks to an early launch date, Samsung has an excellent opportunity to make a march on market share and consolidate its market leading position. It just has to be clever and bold with marketing campaigns. Money speaks more than innovation currently.

BT seeks stickiness and diversification through Google Stadia partnership

UK ISP BT says it’s the first European network to partner with Google over its Stadia cloud gaming service, which it will bundle with some broadband offers.

The press release features a needless amount of banging on about ‘moving the cloud gaming industry forward’, and ‘initiatives designed to build awareness, access and availability of it in the UK,’ as if cloud gaming is some kind of philanthropic initiative. But the long and short of it is that BT is offering Stadia for free with some bundles for a couple of weeks and then from 7 February will bundle Stadia Premier Edition with special cloud gaming add-ons to some of its fibre packages.

“We continually look to provide our customers with the most exciting products and experiences, and by partnering with Google on Stadia, we’re able to help them push the limits of gaming,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s Consumer Division. “We’re also investing in the UK’s fastest 4G, 5G and fibre networks, so our superfast home broadband service is the perfect accompaniment for those wanting to make the most from this innovative streaming gaming platform.”

“We’re excited to continue our cross-product partnership with BT in the UK to further drive the cloud gaming industry forward,” said Michiel van Eldik, General Manager of Devices & Services at Google EMEA. “BT has an established track record of leading the industry in delivering next-generation services and products to their customers. Through today’s announcement, we are able to make the best gaming content even more accessible, and to continue to change the way people access, play and enjoy their favourite games.”

Exciting times then. BT seems to think gaming is where the smart ISP diversification money is at these days, having recently announced its sponsorship of the Excel Esports team. How excited BT customers will be with all this, however, remains to be seen as initial reviews of Stadia concluded it’s a bit rubbish.

Mobile games account for the majority of all global gaming software spend

Mobile analytics firm App Annie has published its latest annual state of the market, which reveals the mobile gaming market is going from strength to strength.

Global spend on mobile games reached 56% of all game software in 2019, according to the report. Other notable findings include a forecast that mobile advertising spend will increase by 26% this year, 95% of spending on non-gaming apps coming from subscriptions and that Gen Z has 60% more sessions per user in the most popular apps when compared to older generations.

“In 2019, consumers downloaded 1.7 billion Business apps and spent over $500 million in them, up 10% and 25% year over year, respectively — an indication of both increasing demand for business apps and willingness to pay for the value they provide,” said Lexi Sydow, Senior Market Insights Manager at App Annie.

“In 2019, companies with mobile as a core focus to their business had an 825% higher average valuation than non-mobile companies. While many of the companies focused on B2C, the consumption habits are clear: consumers are spending 25% of their waking hours on their mobile devices each day — clocking in at 3 hours and 40 minutes per day. Mobile is a vital channel for interacting with consumers, and companies that succeed in mobile are reaping financial rewards.”

App Annie provided loads of charts and even an infographic (remember them?), so we’ll let them do the talking on both global and UK app trends.

2019 app economy: TikTok ran riot as Disney got off to a flier

The older characters in the room might not get the appeal of small(est) screen entertainment, but the app economy is real and generating some serious revenues today.

Although gaming is the most obvious segment of the app economy to act as the poster boy, apps are now spanning the breadth and depths of our daily lives. From healthcare to banking and messaging to shopping, if you can think of it, there is probably an app for it.

With 2019 now firmly in the rear-view mirror, Sensor Tower has completed its analysis of the final quarter and the biggest stories over the course of the 12 months. And starting with the top-line figures, the app economy is booming.

Across the 12 months, Sensor Tower estimates there were a total of 114.9 billion app downloads, a 9.1% year-on-year increase, with Apple’s App Store collecting 30.6 billion at 2.7% growth and the Google Play Store at 84.3 billion with growth rate of 11.7%.

Looking at the breakdown of where users are most interested, three areas dominate as most would have expected. Social media, in which we are going to include the messaging applications, video and gaming.

WhatsApp once again claims the title of most downloaded application throughout the year, though TikTok has completed a whirlwind year by claiming second place. While it is undoubtedly a popular application, there has been plenty of negative press to dissuade people from downloading.

In October, Republican Senator Tom Cotton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer requested a national security investigation into the app, while the US Army and Navy both banned the use of the device on government-owned devices. To make matters worse, TikTok then had to announce it had fixed a vulnerability which allowed hackers to manipulate user data and reveal personal information.

While all of these incidents tarnish the reputation of the app, it wasn’t enough to stop users downloading. Even for the final quarter, the period where TikTok’s credibility came under the spotlight, it was the second-most downloaded application on the App Store and the third most popular on the Google Play Store.

Another remarkable statistic is India accounted for 45% of the total downloads, while Brazil was the second largest market for TikTok. Revenues for the app are already on the increase, there was a 700% sequential increase for the final quarter, but the remarkable popularity in two of the worlds most attractive developing markets will make this app a very interesting proposition for marketers moving forward.

Looking at the gaming section, Call of Duty publisher Activision demonstrated it is possible to successful take a game from traditional gaming consoles onto mobile. The game led downloads during the final quarter worldwide with 30 million downloads in the US and almost 50 million in Europe.

Gaming will always be the poster boy of the app economy, perhaps because it is the most obvious way revenues are generated through apps. What will be interesting to see over the next couple of months is how many of the traditional gaming titles, those which were designed for gaming consoles, are buoyed by the success of Call of Duty and attempt to crossover.

The final area worth noting from the report is the continued success of video content on mobile, most notably, Disney+.

While there are still questions about the depth of the content library, it cannot compete with the Netflix breadth and depth, the Disney brand and the current assets have produced excellent results after the launch in the fourth quarter. The Disney brand is one of the strongest worldwide therefore there was always going to be good uptake, though it needs to capitalise on this momentum, investing heavily in diversified content, if it is to be a genuine threat to Netflix.

Looking at the downloads, it was the most popular app to be downloaded in the US with 30 million, taking in more than $50 million in revenue in the first 30 days. In Q4, Disney+ accounted for 34% of video content downloads, with Netflix and YouTube tied for second on 11%.

This success was also translated into the revenue share. Sensor Tower estimates Disney claimed 16% of the total revenues across the quarter, just leading Netflix which claimed a 15% share. What should be noted however, Netflix has shifted payment from the app stores and onto online channels.

However, one swallow does not a summer make. We suspect numerous subscribers were downloading the app out of curiosity, therefore a much more telling picture of Disney will be in 12 months’ time. Unless the current content assets are supported by new, and varied, titles, we suspect churn might be considerable. Netflix is still content king for the moment, but Disney could not have gotten off to a better start in its challenge.

Initial reviews of the Google Stadia cloud gaming system aren’t great

For just £119 you can buy a controller and a three-month subscription to Google’s new games streaming service, but is it worth even that?

We haven’t had a go on it yet, but it’s worth a look at what those who have are saying about it as a thriving cloud gaming industry could have significant telecoms implications. If, as has happened with music and video, people increasingly access games from the cloud rather than local storage then that will be another significant strain on networks, but possibly also an opportunity to upsell premium connectivity.

There’s no reason anyone should buy into Stadia right now,” advises The Verge. “Google has made sure of that, partly by underdelivering at launch and partly with a pricing scheme that sees you paying three times (for hardware, for the service, for games) just to be an early adopter.”

“Many Stadia-exclusive features that were supposed to set the platform apart also aren’t ready in time for launch, despite being discussed publicly since March,” laments Ars Technica. “Maybe one day these features and more will put Stadia at or above par with other game platforms. Right now, across all three hardware use cases, the platform itself feels a bit half-baked.”

“Ultimately, the only real benefit of the system is the absence of that box under the TV,” scoffs the Guardian. If your impeccable sense of interior design values that above game selection, price, offline play or community size, go for it. Otherwise, stick with a home console if AAA games are where your heart lies, or pick up Apple Arcade to see what a revolution looks like when it focuses on the games and not the technology.”

“Until Google finds a way to loop in YouTube and develop truly unique competitive large-scale games, Stadia isn’t worth your time yet,” sighs Cnet. “Yes, the future is possibly wild, and you can see hints of the streaming-only cloud-based playground Stadia wants to become. But we’ll see what it shapes into over the next handful of months and check back in.”

What’s remarkable is how unsurprising this is. Google is terrible at product launches to the extent that they have an almost apologetic feel. This is clearly a very early version of the service that Google is hoping a few compulsive early-adopters will provide unpaid beta-testing for. The main problem with this approach is how to relaunch it when you think it’s finished and might actually be worth bothering with.

Singtel to push forward with 5G cloud gaming trial

In partnership with Razer and Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Singtel is testing the readiness of its network to capitalise on the fast-growing cloud gaming segment.

As a concept, cloud gaming is attracting a lot of attention in the industry and is attempting to wrestle the crown of go-to 5G usecase away from robotic surgery. Now it seems the Singapore consortium is getting in on the act with its own trials.

“While this is not the roll out of a commercial cloud gaming service, this opportunity is the first step for Singapore to spearhead 5G projects,” said Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan.

“5G is a literal game-changer when it comes to cloud gaming,” said Mr Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, Consumer Singapore at Singtel. “Latency and bandwidth are crucial to internet streaming and 5G will deliver next-generation connectivity that will support immersive gaming, even on mobile devices.”

The trial itself will focus on the demands of cloud gaming as a usecase on a 5G network, as well as the design and engineering of low latency hardware for cloud gaming. More specifically on the hardware side, ultra-fast responsiveness, portability and seamless device-to-device sync to cloud servers will be the focus of investigations.

With mobile devices commanding growth revenues in the gaming industry, the cloud gaming usecase is charging-up the priority list for telcos. This is perhaps particularly prevalent in the APAC markets, where mobile gaming has gained more traction than the Western markets, though it should not be forgotten this is very applicable for consoles also.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the cloud gaming segment is the aggressive moves being made by the internet giants to gain supremacy in the space. Amazon, Microsoft and Google are all fighting for attention in the early days, though it is worth bearing in mind more niche players such as Nvidia and HTC are also making moves.

This is maybe one of the most encouraging signs for telcos. Usually, there is very much a ‘built it and they will come’ attitude for network investment, though with cloud gaming services already being created and marketed, the demand from service providers is awaiting the creation of networks.

Microsoft unveils details for Project xCloud public trial

It’s been a year in the making, but Microsoft is going through the final preparations to launch its game-streaming service, Project xCloud.

The project itself will allow Xbox gamers to play their favourite games by streaming the content onto their mobile devices. Although the technology giant has had to fit out its data centres with specialist servers to run the games, the extensive geographical footprint of its data centre network could make Microsoft a force to be reckoned with in the emerging cloud gaming segment.

“Our vision for Project xCloud is to empower the gamers of the world to play the games they want, with the people they want, anywhere they want,” said Kareem Choudhry, Corporate VP for Project xCloud at Microsoft.

“We’re building this technology so gamers can decide when and how they play. Customers around the world love the immersive content from Xbox in their homes and we want to bring that experience to all of your mobile devices.”

Next month, the public trial will be launched. The US, UK and Korea have been selected as the initial testing grounds, with consumers able to sign-up here. All you’ll need is a wireless controller with Bluetooth and a stable mobile internet connection of 10 Mbps.

More to follow…

Is the consumer the broadcaster of tomorrow?

It’s an interesting thought that might force telcos to rethink how networks are built; will the increasingly influential trend of consumer created content demand greater upload speeds?

Download will of course always be more important than upload, we will always consume more content than we create, but with video messaging, social media and remote working becoming increasingly important aspects of our daily lives it is worth asking whether the upload metric, often ignored by the vast majority, will need some love in the future.

At IBC in Amsterdam this year, the opening keynote was made by YouTube. This is hardly unusual, it is one of the architects of the OTT revolution, though the focus on content creators was much more apparent than in previous years. Cécile Frot-Coutaz, the head of YouTube’s EMEA business, claimed the number of YouTube channels which generate more than $100,000 per annum has increased 30% from 2017 to 2018. The creation of content is becoming increasingly fragmented and straying outside the norms.

And this is not only visible on YouTube. Snapchat is a platform which was primarily designed to offer a platform for consumer content creation. In January, Facebook said there are now 500 million daily active users of the Stories feature on Instagram. Even the way we communicate is becoming more visual, with more consumers opting to video chat on the go.

Nexmo claims a 175% increase in regular live video usage in the last three years, with millennials leading the charge. 25% of young people use video chat on a daily basis. These trends will only increase as more banks, retail and healthcare companies offer live video services, and more of our lives revolve around the smartphone.

The video trends which we have discussed to great lengths over the last few years have primarily focused on the consumer downloading content. It is a one-way street of information, though this is not necessarily going to be the same in years to come. The big question is whether telcos are deploying networks which can compensate for the slight twist of strain. It is a nuance, but often the biggest challenges emerge from nuance.

A few weeks ago, the New England Patriots opened their Super Bowl LIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the course of this game, 11.58 TB of data traversed across the wifi network. The peak spike for the network was during the Super Bowl LIII banner reveal, with 34,982 concurrent users and 23.24 Gbps network utilisation. The breakdown of download and upload has not been revealed, though the team prepared themselves for an increase in sharing.

“The home opener for a Super Bowl champion is special,” said Fred Kirsch, VP of Content for the New England Patriots and Kraft Sports Productions.

“The team unveils its championship banner and every fan in the stadium wants to capture that moment along with all the other festivities leading up to it. We’ve been lucky enough to have done this before and saw huge spikes in social sharing during this game so our IT department, along with Extreme Networks, made sure we were prepared.

“Man, are we glad we did. At more than one terabyte, social sharing volume during the Super Bowl LIII banner unveiling at Gillette Stadium represents the highest data throughput rate of any moment during any sporting event.”

It might be a trend which irritates some technophobes and traditionalists, but social media is a genre for sharing. It started with the written word, users simply penning their thoughts, moved into sharing of existing content, and now it is increasingly becoming defined by the user creating and sharing their own content.

This creates a new dynamic and a new consideration for those who are deploying networks. Experience is often defined by download speed or latency, however there are will be an increasing number of people who will pay attention to the upload speeds moving forward.

Another interesting element for the upload speed metric will be the fast-developing gaming ecosystem. Download speeds are all well and good, but if you are playing a game which requires you to interact with other players online, uploads speeds are just as important. They do not need to be as high as download speeds, but there do need to be continued improvements to ensure connectivity meets the demands of gaming performance.

For example, Xbox currently suggests a consistent 3 Mbps download and 0.5 Mbps upload speeds for minimally acceptable performance. PS4 suggests 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, as does Nintendo Switch. For PC gaming, download speeds are suggested at 3-6 Mbps, while upload speeds are 0.75–1 Mbps.

These speeds might be achievable in the home, but with the cloud gaming segment growing, these titles can be taken onto multiple screens and onto different networks. Will upload speeds offer a consistent and reliable experience on the mobile networks which are so consistently put under strain.

All of these factors don’t even take into account the increasingly complex or immersive content which will emerge over the next few years. Or the more advanced cameras which smartphone manufacturers are putting on their devices. More tech means more data which needs to be uploaded.

We are all narcissists deep down, craving for attention. Social media is allowing us to do this by sharing video content of our own experiences, and now the networks will have to deliver on the promise.

LG doubles-down on gaming and entertainment with K-Series launch

With IFA just around the corner, it would be fair to assume a tsunami of consumer devices launches are on the horizon, and here, LG has kicked-off its own efforts.

The mid-range K50S and K40S smartphones will be available for consumers in Europe, LATAM and Asia to purchase in October, and it appears LG is continuing its quest to find a niche in the gaming and entertainment world.

“These new K series devices offer an optimized multimedia experience that are competitive with the best smartphones in the price range,” said Morris Lee, SVP of mobile communications at LG. “With enhanced screens and more versatile cameras, the K50S and K40S represent exceptional value that demonstrate LG’s commitment to putting consumers’ needs first.”

The devices themselves bring larger screens than previous models, 6.5-inch for K50S and 6.1-inch for K40S, as well as a shift in the placement of the front-facing camera to maximise real-estate. New audio components have been introduced with DTS:X 3D Surround Sound, while a 4,000mAh battery for the K50S and 3,500mAh for K40S will offer extended usage. Both devices run on the latest Android OS, Pie.

Looking at the chipset, both models will incorporate 2.0 GHz Octa-Core, promised to enable smartphones to carry out more advanced tasks such as handling high resolution videos and graphic-heavy games without draining the battery, making the devices capable and efficient.

Gaining attention from today’s consumer can be a tricky task, and while other manufacturers largely seem to be focusing on narcissism with advanced cameras and AR features, LG appears to be focusing more acutely on gaming and the consumption of content.

We have already been treated to this strategy at EEs 5G launch back in May, when Head of LG Mobile UK Andrew Coughlin showed us the 5G prototype device. The product has been designed with multi-taskers in mind, with the option to clip the smartphone into a separate model, adding a second screen. The screens work independently, allowing for two applications to be run simultaneously, or potentially together with the bottom screen acting as a controller for games.

This is strategy which appears to be spread throughout the portfolio, and it is a smart idea.

Gaming is one of the fastest growing markets in the digital economy, and with the emergence of more cloud gaming platforms such as Google Stadia or Nvidia GeForce NOW, accessibility will also increase. A recent report from PwC suggests the German gaming market will grow by 5.2% a year between 2019 and 2023, though this seems to be moderate growth in comparison to other markets.

Research from GlobalData suggested the globally the video games market generated $131 billion, though this could increase to $300 billion by 2025. The surge in growth will be led by smartphone gaming, though as the newly emerging cloud gaming platforms are somewhat of an unknown entity, who knows what the actual figure will be.

On the entertainment front, there is no secret consumers like to watch content on their smartphones, but again, this is becoming increasingly accessible thanks to larger data tariffs and improved wifi in public spaces.

LG will have to do a lot to cut through the noise considering the massive marketing budgets of its rivals but craving a niche in the gaming and entertainment arena is certainly a smart move.

Microsoft wastes no time in countering Google’s cloud gaming ambitions

Cloud gaming is emerging as a major new front in the competitive war between tech giants, who are using the E3 gaming trade show to flex their muscles.

A few days ago Google added some substance to its cloud gaming ambitions by announcing more details, including a list of games and pricing, of its Stadia platform. Shortly after Microsoft had its big E3 reveal, which of course focused on plans for its Xbox gaming console. These included the ability to stream games from a console to a mobile device and the opportunity for attendees to stream games from the cloud via the Project xCloud streaming service.

The difference between the two is that the latter doesn’t require you to own an Xbox console and so is directly equivalent to Stadia. Microsoft first announced Project xCloud last October, so it’s clearly a tricky proposition if this is the progress it has managed in the intervening 8 months. Having said that, at least one gaming hack seemed impressed with the streaming performance, noting that the latency was acceptably low.

Low latency will be the killer feature of 5G if this sort of thing is to drive truly mobile gaming, as we noted from MWC earlier this year. Not only is it a prerequisite for fast-paced first-person shooter games, in which any delay presents a massive competitive disadvantage, but it’s widely recognised that its essential for the virtual reality user experience.

You can see a bit more from the Microsoft E3 announcement below, but the company still seems to be keeping its cards fairly close to its chest on this topic. Maybe one reason is that it’s trying to work out what this means for its cloud gaming partnership with Sony, which just happens to make the main competitor to the Xbox. The market is clearly receptive to cloud-based subscription services for its entertainment such as Netflix and Spotify. We will soon find out if this applies to gaming too.