Mobile leaders facing network complexity look to Bruce Lee

Sprint's CEO and ZTE's president both cited the kung fu star in talking about an increasingly complicated business

The final keynote session of Mobile World Congress 2012 may be remembered, if it is remembered at all, as The Bruce Lee Keynote.

Both Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse and ZTE President Shi Lirong invoked the legendary kung fu master in speeches during the Thursday morning event, which took place as the world's largest mobile trade show came to a close in Barcelona. Their comments summed up some of the challenges facing vendors and operators of mobile networks, which are becoming more complex even as data demand and cost pressures grow.

This week's conference has hosted a flood of new developments for heterogeneous networks of traditional macro cells, Wi-Fi hotspots, and femtocells and other small cells. The multiple parts allow carriers to get the most out of their finite spectrum and optimize coverage and capacity in all areas, but this requires new standards for managing those systems and helping subscribers move from one to the next.

ZTE's Lirong cited Lee to compliment Sprint, calling Hesse's company the premier example of a carrier balancing multiple networks. Sprint's services run over CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access), iDEN and WiMax, and this year the company will also launch LTE (Long-Term Evolution). Likewise, Lee combined aspects of many different schools of Chinese martial arts, he said.

"A true master, like Bruce Lee, is one that can converge the skills of all kung fu systems," Lirong said. "The one that masters the converged solution for multiple networks will be kung fu master of telecom."

Earlier, Hesse had quoted the star of "Enter the Dragon" in describing Sprint's philosophy:

"Simplicity is the key to brilliance," Hesse said, quoting Lee. That sentiment may also have partly driven Sprint's decision, according to news reports earlier this week, to reject a proposed acquisition of midsize U.S. carrier MetroPCS. Sprint is already in the middle of building a multitechnology network that will carry its LTE services, and is navigating a complicated relationship with Clearwire, which supplies its current 4G network with WiMax. MetroPCS operates LTE and CDMA networks.

Juniper Networks CEO Kevin Johnson and Arm Holdings CEO Warren East discussed two other mobile network challenges in the keynote. Johnson said applications such as gaming and streaming video increasingly will demand the same speeds upstream from handsets to the Internet as they do downstream, which will force a change from the traditional asymmetric structure of most mobile and fixed networks.

Arm's East said power consumption is a major cost for carriers and one factor limiting the expansion of mobile networks. Arm can extend the type of efficient, integrated system-on-chip designs used in mobile devices, where it is dominant, into cellular base stations, cutting their power consumption by 70 percent, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

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