There were nearly 110,000 visitors to MWC19 this year, slightly surpassing last year and once again underlining the fact that this is the Network Event of the planet and perhaps the solar system. The size of our industry is by every measure enormous, it impacts everyone on the globe and generates roughly $1,4 Trillion annually. Certainly, the numbers are big, the ambitions vast and the show proportionally so, but what did we learn this year?
2019 saw fewer cars, although there was a flying taxi, a few hundred watches and a truly novel, instant mobile phone glass-repairing machine from Black Rock, that can, through high temp molecular level de-composition, do the job in minutes. The LensCrafters of phone repair, if you will.
One of the great ironies of MWCs past, is that while the show plays host to some of the greatest technology feats of our time, the infrastructure of MWC itself has left much to be desired. From a fully functioning conference app with easy authentication and without past hickups, for the first time ever it delivered, dare I say really, really good connectivity. You could actually surf and make calls. Leading by example, the facial recognition system alone would amount to a good demo of a fluid system for all sorts of use cases.
As expected, 5G was everywhere, and most importantly in the form of actual 5G devices, a business-critical factor for the nascent network. Rather than radio, hardware, software (SDN/NFV) and other ‘big infrastructure’ line items, the buzz was around new device form-factor, particularly Huawei’s new Mate X and the Galaxy Fold, that was kept well behind the glass in Barcelona. Although it’s not yet clear how these devices will weave themselves into the mobile lifestyle, this glimpse at more organic, three-dimensionally responsive display. and advanced 5G-ready multi-camera capability shows invention. Of course these, as any other next gen devices won’t find a home or any practical test of their viability until the 5G core arrives.
To the more pressing demand for actual 5G use cases, with actual business models, was Fixed Wireless; the only actual 5G use case with a business model. Certainly, FWA with SLAs as we have done represents the easirst way of delivering a few more flavors than plain vanilla Internet. But even that requires a considerable operational challenge for mobile carriers across marketing, sales, installation and operations.
Not to beat up on the carriers, but but where they really need help is in finding ways to monetize the pipe. Take Verizon and AT&T as examples. Both of them are spending some 20 billion a piece to build out their 5G networks. There’s a lot riding on that spend, but they aren’t the only games in town.
Addressing trends like CBRS, Private LTE and the bullish return of WiFi, he laid out the battlefield as we now see it.
This period is a tale of three standards, 5G, WiFi and Wireline (WLAN/SDLAN etc.). One will not kill the other. Rather we’ll see a convergence of these technologies which will together provide the meshed networks of the future. There are some challenges, but in this kind of competitive space, carriers need to get more agile, clearly define the use cases and lead the way toward monetization.
Talking Fixed Wireless, Townsend concedes that as sexy as it is not, it’s the first real use case we’ve seen. But looking large, he compares the potential of 5G to the previous generation.
Think about what 4G brought from a disruptive perspective. We might say it just made 3G not suck, but in fact it was what allowed things like ride sharing to emerge, and much of that related improvements in latency. Think, where am I? Where’s my ride? Real time mapping and measuring etc., is the name of the game but not without 4G, that made it all possible. But it’s not just cool tech. It completely disrupted the taxi business, not just here in the US but all around the world.
Now translate that into the promised use cases of 5G; remote surgery, two way 4k video and hey, why not real-time music jams from anywhere, anytime. Ericsson certainly gave this its all with robots replaying remote musicians’ moves in real time.
In many analyst comments, including Townsend’s, it’s been noted that without a new business model 5G does not make any difference. Sure remotely playing a piano in real time is cool, but it’s a long tail at best. Clearly it’s time for the gee whiz to be replaced with table steaks.
So what’s the new business model? We know that end users are willing to pay more for Internet service if they receive more, and the more, as we have argued in these pages is the SLA. From the network perspective the SLA can be given to four parameters; uplink capacity, down link capacity, latency and jitter. There is no single application that requires best of all of these parameters, and as Will Townsend among many have said latency is the queen of the ball, especially for the telehealth use cases described above .
When a mobile operator offers an SLA, the service becomes more valuable. But what’s a carrier to do? There are hundreds of use case for SLA based connectivity. Nobody can go after them all. This means that in practice, mobile operators need to involve the application development community to help them out. This is a fairly straight forward thing to do; provide open, easy-to-use APIs and let applications request services from the network.
In the next phase, we’ll see API-based network ecosystems starting to build out, but who will do this? At MWC19 we saw new frequency policies advertised. This is like CBRS in the USA, and the Open RAN project at TIP and others. To move forward we need to see open virtualized network functions hit the shelves.
Mobile operators have complained that network business has not grown during 4G era, but at the same time they have not done anything to change the situation. There is an opportunity for new players to come to the table with new ingredients including CBRS, Open RAN and NFV and be able to build new higher ARPU businesses around SLA-based services. This kind of development is possible and was clearly on display around Fira. We were amoung them and I was glad to see that our stand was busier than ever. We started demoing at 9 am Monday morning and the last visitor left our booth after 4pm Thursday. We were not able to meet everyone, and for that we are sorry, but to those we did meet, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to exchange ideas with us. At the end of the day MWC is all about connecting and that happened in spades.