Next week is the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress, the mobile Internet and cellular telephone industry’s largest global conference. Here are a few things you should expect to hear about, whether you’re at the show, anticipating the flood of news that will blast out of #MWC15, or attending Telecom Council’s MWC Debrief meeting in the valley. Also, below is a list of Telecom Council member booths, where innovation will be on display.
NFV is the future technology that is here today, so this is one area where the solutions are shovel-ready and not just slideware. What separates NFV from many other network technologies is that every stakeholder is on board: carriers, vendors, innovators, enterprises, and subscribers. This will be one hot topic at MWC this year.
MWC NFV booths and solutions will include such topics as: service agility, no vendor lock-in, Openstack and open standards, Orchestration solutions for the NFV elements, Software Defined Networks, legacy integration, scalability, and Cloudification of the infrastructure.
The Virtualized Network Functions (VNF) we may see include: network security, session border controller, voice & video transcoding, with virtual CPE as a long shot. To date, VNFs seem to focus on forward looking functions, not so much replacing legacy systems. That’s because telcos are reticent to mess with, overlap, or replace the installed base of equipment that already works, and thus NFV will be applied to newer functions first.
Make sure to check out HP’s OpenNFV stand at 3A20 and their workshops on NFV deployment (you can sign up here). We expect HP to detail progress made in working with customers to transition their organization to NFV. Stephanie Owyoung, Worldwide NFV Program Manager at HP, tells us that almost all of the innovations we see at MWC are reliant on carrier networks. And thus, improving the agility of those networks with virtualization technologies like NFV will help bring those innovations to market. Of course, NFV cannot be a one-vendor solution, and those partnerships, ecosystems, and open sourced solutions like Openstack are essential to the progress of NFV.
5G and Network Technologies
The good news is that there will be lots of 5G at the Fira Barcelona Gran Via. The bad news is that 5G is as loosely defined as a Picasso painting, and nobody can claim certainty about what it is. So expect 5G to just be a catch-all moniker for any advancement in network technologies. Here’s tactical advice for anyone visiting MWC: decipher the news by filtering out any claims or references to 5G. Look to the actual innovation, and rate it on its merit.
That said, expect lots of WAN progress. Whether NFV, het-net, eICIC, centralized RAN, Evolved Packet Core, spectrum use, small-cell, LAA, widebands, CA, SON, digital baseband, eNodeB, or whatever – lots of this stuff is really good – but don’t buy into the 5G hype.
- Mavenir will be talking EPC and NFV
- Nokia Networks is talking virtualization and Radio Cloud
- Ericsson is promoting its vision of “Digital Telco transformation”
LAA (License-Assisted Access) will feature strongly in vendor presentations, and it is the use of licensed and unlicensed spectrum together for LTE. Nokia Networks, T-Mo USA, Ericsson, and Qualcomm should be among the enthusiasts. Expect to hear lots about LAA, and also the 5 GHz unlicensed band in general. It’s still not clear if the operators share the same appetite for LAA as the vendors, but time will tell.
Look out for the powerful, Samsung Exynos processor-powered Galaxy S6 and S Edge with curved LCD around one (and rumors say both) edge. HTC had the best phone (that too few people bought) last year with the M8. This year, HTC will up the game with the One M9. Modular phones may make another appearance, but they only show up at trade shows, and never make enough sense to commercialize. Canonical will be back with another Linux phone, whose value proposition still remains missing.
All of which is to say…expect strong evolutionary progress.
This year, expect smartwatches to become more fashionable. This means rounder, thinner designs from the big vendors, but also a number of collaborations with traditional wrist-wear houses. These more fashionable designs will have fewer features, but are a sign that the industry is taking aim at mass-market consumers who may want “less geek screen, and more unseen.”
The big question is whether anyone at MWC will shake up the screen/power trade-off. Since battery technology evolves slowly, this trade-off can only be ‘solved’ by using an e-ink or a colorMirasol display from Qualcomm. Pebble is ahead here again, with their pre-show launch. And yes, Apple is coming – but isn’t here yet.
IoT, Connected Home, Cars, Smart Cities
IoT is not just a buzzword. It’s real business, and carriers are experiencing surprising growth. For example, Verizon Wireless enjoyed 45% year-over-year IoT sales growth. VZW claims to manage over 15 million end devices, but didn’t say how many of those had cellular radios – further hinting at the Mobile Device Management opportunity of IoT. The carrier portion of the IoT space is just the tip of the iceberg, as most of these devices connect using cheaper and smaller Zigbee, Z-Wave, or Wi-Fi radios.
According to the VZW-commissioned report by ABI Research, the hottest industries for IoT are Manufacturing, Finance and Insurance, Media and Entertainment, Home Monitoring, Retail and Hospitality, Transportation and Distribution.
MWC always has a great Smart City pavilion, with many demonstrations of smart roads, connected infrastructure, utilities, and more. This area gets better year after year, and provides ample food for thought. This year, expect to see better integration between the various “smarts”, where the homes will connect with the cars, the cars with the cities, the cities with the utilities, and the utilities with the homes. It’s one thing to be smart, an entirely different thing to be smart together.
The Surprises, The Meetings, The Parties
Serendipity is one of the coolest advantages of touring the show floor at MWC. Every year, there are surprises, great exhibits, innovative gadgets, new twists, and new solutions. Of course, the best reason to go to MWC this year, as every year, is networking and meeting peers from around the world at MWC. Meetings are actually where the rubber meets the road at any trade show. And don’t forget all the after parties – here are some lists: