Guest Blog: More to MWC19 than 5G - Mobile World Live

Guest Blog: More to MWC19 than 5G

11 MAR 2019

PhilMarshall-113Phil Marshall, chief research officer at US-based Tolaga Research (pictured, right), offers his highlights from the recent MWC19 Barcelona.

Between 25 Feburary and 28 February, MWC19 Barcelona welcomed 109,000 delegates for a four-day commercially-led geek-fest.

An idle observer could be forgiven for thinking MWC19 was only about 5G. Virtually every exhibitor had a 5G story to tell. Many of these paralleled those from 2018, but were punctuated by deployment announcements, smartphones, better-than-expected performance results for 5G mmWave and even more use cases.

Most popular among these were automotive, smart manufacturing and smart cities.

At Nokia’s pre-MWC19 event, CEO Rajeev Suri talked about the rapid progress the industry has made towards 5G, with the vendor now approaching 100 network trials. At Ericsson’s media and analyst event, CEO Borje Ekholm cited his company’s ten contracts and live traffic as clear evidence that 5G is “here now”.

Although Huawei’s story is overshadowed by claimed security threats, it had a formidable presence at the show. It had the largest booth of any exhibitor and benefitted from several contract wins, lessened restrictions for its equipment in the UK and support from industry heavyweights including Vodafone Group’s CEO Nick Read.

In some respects, MWC19 Barcelona was reminiscent of shows from past decades, when antenna technology was important.

Ericsson won the Best Mobile Network Infrastructure award for its 5G high-band Massive MIMO and announced plans to acquire Kathrein, an advanced antenna company which itself celebrated its 100th anniversary at the show.

Nokia announced its liquid-cooled 5G Airscale Massive MIMO antenna and scheduler, which will initially be launched by Vodafone. Huawei demonstrated an extensive range of radio products and won the Best Mobile Technology Breakthrough award for its 5G RAN portfolio, while ZTE showcased its low-cost Unisite solution to simplify 5G radio deployments.

Going agile
Operational automation and transformation are perennial topics at MWC, and this year was no different. The stakes are high, since large-scale infrastructure virtualisation initiatives and services like network slicing cannot be realised until operators transform and automate their operations.

Rakuten, a new-entrant network operator in Japan, bucked the status quo by announcing plans to deploy a fully virtualised, cloud native mobile network in October, using a variety of technology vendors, including Altiostar, Cisco, Nokia, NEC and Netcracker. Rakuten’s strategy is bold and will be confronted with plenty of challenges, particularly in the areas of orchestration, unforeseen platform performance bottlenecks, and multi-vendor compatibility and feature transparency. However, if successful with its strategy, Rakuten will reap the benefits of an agile 5G infrastructure in one of the most advanced mobile markets in the world.

Semiconductor, sub-system and component companies, large and small, crammed the halls with a seemingly endless array of innovations: a pertinent reminder of the crucial role they play in enabling mobile services. For example, Qualcomm showcased its Snapdragon 855 platform, which is optimised for a laundry-list of capabilities including 5G new radio (NR); computer vision; artificial intelligence (AI); and immersive computing for augmented, virtual and mixed reality.

Infineon showcased a variety of solutions including those for security; 5G mmWave; autonomous systems; and wearables.

Notable among the smaller component companies was Resonant, which demonstrated a prototype wideband RF filter that reliably achieves a 10 per cent bandwidth ratio (exempli gratia: up to 500MHz channels in 5GHz spectrum), a significant improvement on the 3.5 per cent ratio achievable with current acoustic RF filters. It is easy to underestimate the many performance bottlenecks such as channel bandwidth, processor throughput, and latency and energy consumption demands that are created with advanced services. While the industry tends to covet commoditised hardware, MWC19 Barcelona reminded us that there are still tremendous requirements for special purpose solutions.

More specialisation
No technology show is complete without a dose of AI and machine learning (ML), and MWC19 Barcelona didn’t disappoint.

For cases such as network operations; video surveillance; computer vision; and identity management, AI and ML are rapidly becoming table stakes, with solutions on full display. Most rely upon general purpose hardware platforms, however, companies including Huawei and Nokia were also touting their purpose-built processors: Ascend in the case of Huawei; and Reefshark for Nokia.

Many of the AI and ML displays were impressive and it was easy to lose sight of the complexities in delivering reliable solutions, the training and optimisation needed, and the potential for technology overreach.

Although 5G stole the limelight at MWC19 Barcelona, the show certainly had much more to offer. Most technology innovations on display were equally relevant for 4G and other wireless technologies. There was a growing presence of vertical industries with solutions that function on networks today. Progress in this area (albeit at glacial pace) was evident, and we hope the presence of disruptive players like Rakuten will propel the industry forward with compelling business cases and innovations for MWC20.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.