Thoughts from MWC 2017. Part 1

MWC is over for another year and it proved, once again, that it's simply the place to be to discuss everything mobile. Having attended many sessions, listened to the chatter and had numerous meetings, I've had chance to collect some notes and provide a summary of key subjects for those who couldn't be there.

As you might imagine, at such a large event, there's a lot to discuss, so these will be spread into a short series of two blog posts. We hope you enjoy the report but encourage you to get in touch if you'd like to chat about anything in particular!

Let's start with the headlines. It should be no surprise that 5G and IoT were the standout themes of MWC 2017. Happily, it wasn't all hype. In fact, there was a good deal of realism and solid activity, with much attention being directed to the ongoing standardization efforts, led by 5GPP (watch out for the first 5G features in the coming Release 14, and new study items for R15).

In addition, a clear view on how Gigabit LTE (LTE-Pro) is providing a bridge to 5G has also emerged. The consensus today is that LTE is going to be here for some time to come, as it ensures mobility once a terminal or user leaves a hotspot with localized higher-speed coverage, such as Wi-Fi or mmW. A key theme from last year returned too — Big Data and Analytics, but things have evolved, with Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Cognitive Networks all featuring strongly in the discussions.

For example, the growing pressure for cost efficiencies is leading operators to increasingly shift towards more innovative analytics solutions, with machine learning being implemented in the network core and RAN. In addition, they want to develop or adopt platforms that ensure a richer user experience in the digital society. Last, but not least, enterprises, especially from key IoT sectors, are beginning to take ownership and control of their infrastructure by building local and private networks, benefiting from unlicensed spectrum and technologies, such as LTE — LAA and multi-fire (Wi-Fi).

There were also clear messages from all regarding other technical trends. There's agreement that there's greater need for open source solutions, collaboration between vendors, and evolution of business models. People and companies recognize that they can't do everything alone and that our ecosystem needs to work together to flourish and to face up to the challenges of the future. It's also getting bigger — 5G is driving new use cases that attracts players from outside the classical mobile industry, which is driving innovation and creativity.

Key Announcements from the floor

Of course, MWC is crammed with announcements from leading players in the ecosystem. I've collected a snapshot here is the key news items that caught my attention and captured the headlines. Among the flurry of news, Ericsson's strong support for slicing through network federation (“slices” roaming”), a work item already taken up in 3GPP (SA2, SA3) stood out, as did Huawei extending a call for the partnerships required to make best use of rich data sources and analytics during digital transformation.

As might be expected, AT&T remains big on virtualization, and is also aiming for FDD massive MIMO at 1,9GHz to offer increased throughput in dense and less dense area. It's also delivering video content DirecTV through fixed mmW broadband. Verizon made similar noises, talking proudly about its virtualized packet core and virtualized managed services, supported using CISCO equipment, as well as its fixed mmW broadband solution.

Both also announced LTE-M launches for later this year, bringing to market the first LTE based IoT. AT&T is also going to offer VoLTE over LTE-M, in partnership with Ericsson. Meanwhile elsewhere in the US, Sprint is benefiting from its 2.5GHz to use smaller antennas, which has created the opportunity to test 64x64MIMO with Nokia and Ericsson.

Telefonica demoed its cognitive platform, AURA. Apparently, this completely changes the relationship with the customer, enriching user experience in a fully digitized world, from voice recognition-based bill payments, claims, and more, all the way to suggesting movies based on preferences predicted by machine learning algorithms.

Huawei demonstrated a virtualized core for distributed networks that is suitable for network slicing, while Ericsson showed off a self-driving car with SK and BMW, with its virtual core at the heart of the solution — in the driving seat, as it were.

Finally, Qualcomm noted that it is looking forward to trials of its accelerated 5G NR (TDD, sub 6GHz, non-standalone/LTE core) later in 2017. The testbeds include Ericsson, ZTE, Vodafone, Telstra, SK, China Mobile, AT&T and NTT DoCoMo as partners.

With so many announcements, it can be hard to focus but it's clear that 5G is heating up — read the next article for more and some thoughts on what this really means.

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