By Mika Skarp
February 23rd, 2018
Well the big show is once again upon us; that epic gathering of the telecom brave, battle-worn and becoming. The equivalent of a small city, Barcelona’s venerable Fira draws telecommers from surprisingly diverse walks of life – from VCs to visionaries to foil-capped geeks, the show almost has it all, even the perfunctory red carpet stars and starlets.
If last year was a lean one for the telecom business, it certainly didn’t translate into a thinner crowds at MWC. With most show head counts well over 100k, this year promises to be no different. Still, by most accounts this is a make-or-break year for the Mobile World Congress.
So it goes that if fish aren’t biting you’ve simply got to cut more bait. You also might consider changing the bait up altogether. But if the waters seemed perhaps a little too hospitably blue last year you weren’t alone in your quiet discomfort. No doubt, we can all hope for a little more red in the water this year, but now to the question; what will be seeing on the menu? Will it be a continuation of the foil-capped crowd talking up new radio (note: I used to be one or still am, so I feel safe to say that) or will be moving on from that tired tower to something, say more virtual?
What will the dominant themes be?
Though I am not a betting man, my money’s both literally and figuratively on this one: Slicing (NOTE, please include our hashtag #getslicing in your tweets etc.)
One need only look at the trending articles like this, this and this (to cite a few), to see where the focus is likely going to be at #WMC18. I am happy to say that we’re more than ready for action, and even some good old fashioned, bare-knuckle competition. As we all know, the moment we start talking software is the moment the pricing starts to get pretty elastic.
Anyone who pays attention to the industry knows that last year was a rough one, but especially for equipment manufacturers (who, full disclosure, are both partners and competitors). While everyone can sport their own pet elephant in the room, ours is this one, and it’s high time we just come out and say it out loud. The big manufacturers didn’t want to sell slicing on 4G networks in hopes of attaching it to larger POs for the whole 5G enchilada. It makes sense, but it doesn’t help the industry move forward, and we’re happy to see that changing both with the latest high profile PoC announcements, and our own back office deal making.
And there are still more signals that the change has finally here. Indeed the very definition of what 5G will be has changed. Trying to play it cool, most people (including me) were saying 5G was simply 4G on steroids (not a great analogy any time, especially during the Olympics). But aren’t we really talking about performance, and however you slice it (pardon the pun), isn’t that the name of the game? There is nothing boring about the difference between the Model T Ford and the Tesla, Model S – but the sheer number of unique and evolutionary enhancements over the some 100 years between those two products are nothing but astonishing. The point is, we don’t talk about 4G, 5G and 6G cars, but rather a continuous evolution. In the auto industry we something new(ish) from everyone every 4 years. So maybe the whole taxonomy of our industry needs to change (perhaps the subject for another post), but suffice to say, and I’ll leave this thread with a question. What’s wrong with Long Term Evolution, and why must it be so short lived? The fact is, there’s a whole heck of a lot of 4G going into 5G.To writ, the baby and the bathwater may become a aqua baby class in a swimming pool, but it’s really just a matter of scale. Bottom line is 5G, like 4G is a journey, not a destination.
Scale is one of the things to watch for this year and bringing it all together with the winter Olympic PyeongChang. I won’t say this is the first 5G event (see poetry above), but it’s as good as we’ve gotten to far. From 4K and 8K video transmission thanks to Intel, Samsung is running VR-simulated snowboarding and skiing and even a gravity-free space mission. If all this razzle-dazzle seems just exactly that think again. Hyundai is showcasing the world’s first driverless SUV employing 5G-enabled sensor tech that’s already deployed for fleet traffic. And now we’re all getting excited.
On the far side of the globe, at the world’s most expensive place advertise, Verizon’s Super Bowl demos, were, if we can say “off the charts”. I would have given a fair amount of change to be at the Verizon Open Innovation Center to watch that epic game. Even a non-football fan like me can appreciate the bad news bear epic win of the Eagles, but the idea of watching that in full 180 HD from Chelsea new york like I was in a sky box is the stuff of dreams. This is 5G friends.
The core of these use cases is that in the productions have all been able to dedicate some mobile capacity (and that’s an understatement) for some VERY bandwidth hungry applications like the 180 and 360 HD video. Just to note, these are amoung first high-profile use cases that are being delivered using pre-5G standard equipment. And I have to say, though we may have focused too hard here early in the day back in the 2000 teens, they are related to TV productions – a key network slicing use case category that we’ve been delivering since the ice bucket challenge.
I would be negligent not to talk devices as there’s no better symbol of the industry. As we know, standardization is done in phases; First came the radio specification that will be finalized by June 2018 while the core standard should follow by end of 2019. This will leave a key, 2 to 3 year window where the so called “Option 3” will be in play as the de facto 5G standard. We should all take note that Option 3 user devices will be connected to two radio system simultaneously. This will make it a bit tricky to implement a few things, including network slicing that we are all talking about. This not to say it’s anything but doable – we’re already testing it with great success. The only issue is that it will have a will a fairly short shelf life.
Of course, this is all “inside the kitchen” and the kind of thing that can send VCs and consumers alike running. But as long as we can ensure a seamless user quality of experience who cares, and that’s what bridging is all about, whether it’s 4G to 5G or 4.5G to 4.9G, as long as the performance and experience improve and no-one suffers we’ve succeeded, no?
So the question is what kind of end devices will be launched in Barcelona? I am putting my money on these AT&T type “pucks” that we are seeing, and (and here’s a tip of the hat to radio) some of the cool kinds of hot spots and Fixed Wireless devices that we’ve seen popping up. .
Technically speaking, and I would be amiss not to put on my foil cap in this key season post, but for sure the discussions around lower bands will be at full pitch – going from 28 GHz down to to 600 MHz and from 100 MHz channels down to 10 MHz. Time to limbo everybody!
All to say we’re surely in for a great learning experience in BCN and some of us may even sign earth-shatteringly awesome PoCs and contracts. I can’t wait. But in the meantime, it’s good to key in on what the finance department says. If they don’t see the beef in this burger then we’re all probably looking for new jobs. Of course the SDN/NFV oracles speak of dramatically lowered costs and maybe that is doing the trick to charm the spreadsheet jockeys, but I’m not betting on it. If we take this reasoning to it’s logical extreme, 5G is simply a great way of reducing the cost of a Gigabyte. Perhaps we’re saying the wrong things to the wrong people, but if there ever was a more boring way to represent 5G, please share. And if that’s what’s being taken back to the home offices 5G will certainly be VERY slow to be adopted.
Rather lets look at what the Model T to Model S promises for the industries mobile already serves or wants to serve. Look at the new business opportunities that they present, like replacing proprietary radio networks like TETRA for public safety with assured slices in commercial networks or the end of costly satellites for TV productions. And while we’re here, perhaps, we could go even one step further and start discussing the end of ADSL and other old copper-based internet connections. In these cases, 5G take up would be significantly faster.
As we (and Elon Musk) say, the sky isn’t even the limit.
For any of you interested in meeting us or simply chatting on some of these endlessly fun topics, Cloudstreet will be in Hall 3 at stand B10 with our fellow Finns at the Business Finland Pavilion. We’ll demo how network slicing can be done today in 4G networks, and we’ll certainly add some colour discussing what we see as still missing in Network Slicing ecosystem like network application interoperability and co-operations, API standardization and how we can all play our part to take charge and make this revolution happen now and televise it. Can’t wait to see you all in Barcelona!