BY BRENDAN TULLY WALSH
On the Road to MWCA18 – Part 2
This is the second in a two part post on our recent tour through Silicon Valley on our way to MWCA18 in LA. Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it.
With all the momentum of Silicon Valley tour and an inspiring drive down highway 1 behind us, we made our way over to the Staples Center in LA day for day one of the show.
It’s no easy feat to be the younger sibling to the industry’s biggest event, but if this this past MWCA18 show in Lost Angeles was any indication of where the Americas’ chapter is going in just its second year, it’s a Better Future indeed.
While the shift in location from San Francisco’s venerable Moscone centre year one to LA this year might have suggested uncertainty, it rather seemed to play well to the main theme – content – and what better place to tell that story than LA?
For a quick refresher, here’s Cloudstreet CTO and Founder Mika Skarp’s review from last year.
The numbers from this year’s show have already topped the 20k count from 2017 with an estimated 22k visitors. It’s a far cry from Barcelona, but interestingly, the buzz around 5G (the real story of this industry) seems to be eclipsing the one told at the “mobile capital of the world” last march.
While generally more hype than reality, the question of “yeah, but when? seems to have finally got an answer in LA; “5G is here!, announced Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg in LA. Here’s a copy of the official Verizon release.
Ok, so it’s only arriving next month, but who’s quibbling? Putting their money where their mouths are Verizon began taking pre orders for “5G Home” day two of the conference. Revving up residential broadband into Gigabit territory the service will first roll out in select US cities including Indianapolis, Houston, Sacramento and of course, Los Angeles.
But the back story to the headline is perhaps the most telling as relates less to the “when”, but more to the “what” of 5G. In an exchange akin high-school boys one-upping each other on who was first to forth base, it’s good to define your terms.
The ink was barely dry on the press release when arch-rival AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson began naysaying the announcement and their 5G Home service as not standard.
While I’m certainly not the first to snicker at the barefaced industry marketing ploy that is the “Gs”, the cynicism around 5G seems finally to have caught of up with the zeitgeist of our postmodern taste for irony. But first the cynicism. Palpable in his recap of day one of the conference, Light Reading’s Phil Harvey poo-pooed the mud slinging that it didn’t really matter because…
AT&T Wasn’t happy about it, they said it wasn’t 5G, but you know what? It had 5G in the title and they’re delivering it, so it’s really here!
Phil Harvey, Light Reading
5G is Here, Who’s Quibbling?
We’ve been bemoaning the slow pace of progress on 5G in these pages for the last few years, so it may seem a bit strange for us now to question the veracity of grand claims of its arrival. We get it. Hype, is hype, is hype. But no one can blame us for the high expectations; that at a show all about 5G already here, we might see a good number of 5G devices.
That was the first question Cloudstreet Founder & CTO Mika Skarp asked over WhatsApp from India. “Any 5G Devices?” Even though this wasn’t really the case, as Phil Harvey might say, “who cares?”. All to say, there were plenty of super cool #5Gish experiences and perhaps we should all be satisfied with that.
We Make the Standards, We Make the Rules
These lines from The Jam’s smash hit “Standards” seems to be a strangely fitting theme song for the current situation. But as we’ve seen, even the absence of standards haven’t stopped tech from moving forward and making products, if not the rules.
Along with 5G transmitting drones with HD video from T-Mobile, we saw some closer to home tech from silicon stalwart Intel. Much hype and attention and rightly so was on Intel’s pre-5G chip, installed in a laptop humming away while delivering 4K video over the air.
These are chips that have been designated as pre-5G because the standards had yet to be written as of their pressing, so they amount to a stand in. This certainly didn’t stand in the way of T-Mobile CEO Neville Ray’s enthusiasm about their little bundle of pre-5G joy.
In existence in advance of the 3GPP release 15, this chip, my friendly Intel host assured me, was “5G pre-compliant”, as he showed me the speed readings on a big screen. You’ve got sympathize with product developers who have to undersell their innovations because the Oracles haven’t blessed them yes.
But “ok, I’ll bite”, I said, “it’s fast, but is it reliable?” “It’s a work progress” he admitted with a smile pointing to the fact that the laptop running the chip itself needed to be placed behind a glass shield to ensure it didn’t get bumped and lose the 4K video signal.
While none of this helps to answer the real question not of “when..”, but “what is 5G” and what does it need to truly get off the ground. This crisis of faith may have been quite palpable at the joint GSMA, Mobile World, CTIA, Intel camp pavilion, but the couching of labels, like the Intel “pre-5G chip” speaks to a larger challenge that many discuss behind closed doors but not out in the open.
But to move onto the next chapter, maybe it’s time to clean house and try to help answer some of these bigger pervading questions that may threaten its future. These are a set of questions that a reporter put to me during the show.
1. Why should the average internet user care about developments?
The average internet user or mobile subscriber really doesn’t and won’t care about 5G. Even if they are prone to geeking out about it, even technology-savvy folks will quickly understand that 5G is more of a marketing gimmick than a real generational shift.
This is not to say some of the technologies that coming in this wave, like Network Slicing, for example, won’t have a revolutionary impact. But it won’t be perceived or felt in the way that 5G proponents profess. Rather, users will note considerable improvements in ease of use and quality of experience.
Slowly, and city by city, consumers will notice that videos no longer hang or drop out completely. Gaming people, thinking particularly of their AR vehicles like Pokemon Go will be better handled (Read: you won’t get kicked out of gyms because of spotty network coverage).
Our connected homes will become much more connected and much simpler to manage with many, many more devices spanning health, entertainment and home efficiency, safety and security. And of course, we’ll be seeing autonomous and connected vehicles and a world of new mobile apps come on line that will radically transform the experience of getting around.
5G, although flawed as a concept really just represents an old school way of equipment vendors to sell technology overlays to mobile carriers. It is insignificant to the point of negligible for the vast majority of consumers.
All this to say, as it is today, the underlying technology of the network, like the roads we drive on are much much less important than the experience of the device (and continuing the analogy) the car we are driving. 5G, although flawed as a concept really just represents an old school way of equipment vendors to sell technology overlays to mobile carriers. It is insignificant to the point of negligible for the vast majority of consumers.
2. When do you predict that 5G internet will be widely available in the US?
We see a good number of different predictions, but to answer the question one really needs to dig into what 5G really means.
If new are talking about the ability to deliver a certain capacity or latency over a wireless network then, we can say we’ll be seeing the promised 300mpbs to 1Gbps enhanced mobile broadband experiences coming to the majority of major US cities by the end of the year 2020. But there again, it’s important to restate that everyone’s definition of 5G is different, particularly so it seems between the US’s two largest carriers.
Certainly, 5G proper will come into play in most metro areas by late 2020 and we believe that T-Mobile and Verizon will be the leaders in the space. But in order to buy into and propel the hype around 5G it’s important that we follow Phil Harvey’s constant and not become to nosey about the details of what exactly a given launch is about. It will be much more fun if we just eat it up and say thanks for the improved capacity and lower latency.
3. What are common misconceptions about 5G?
First and foremost it’s the idea that 5G is itself a “thing” that will suddenly appear as suggested by the MWCA announcements. It won’t arrive in a flash, but in a trickle…starting October. But perhaps more important is the misconception that 5G will somehow replace 4G.
This very much not the case. In fact 5G would not survive without 4G underneath it. Rather LTE will provide the backbone for connectivity upon which 5G will add some icing – much needed icing – but icing nonetheless.
Another misunderstanding might be best presented as a point of debate. Because 5G is the first generation to be very much dependent on network virtualization in each area of the network from RAN through Core, it is possible that in order to scale at the rate industry needs it to, it can’t depend on arrival of written standards for every aspect of it.
For example. there is much innovation in Application Functions (different from Network Functions) that the standards bodies simply cannot write future proof requirements around. What is needed, and desperately so, is industry consensus on the APIs that will be used. 5G and its success is much more dependent on open APIs than on its new radio and spectrum related advancements.
APIs are the very essence of technology innovation because they provide the basis for ecosystems to grow. And yet, as of today 5G’s defining feature, Network Slicing still requires one. This is not to say that the APIs don’t exist. Cloudstreet has proven its REST API as a perfectly viable solution. The main issue, and as I’ll explore in the next section, is an apparent disconnect between the most critical, clout carrying players.
Getting Agile – The Barrier to 5G
What stands in the way of 5G is the fact that telecom industry standard publication and product development schedules are at present, out of sync and we could clearly see that lopsided dance at MWCA18.
And I don’t mean the concept, but actual technology units (chips, air interfaces, SDN/NFV software, you name it) for which there are buyers today. The challenge is all around the timing of releases and the ability to actually roll out these products in progressively accelerating tech/cloud industry sales cycles.
It is no wonder that carriers, never mind investors are reluctant to jump in with both feet. This would be bad in any industry, but in telecom, the very watercarrier of speed, it’s a death nell, the first bell of which being product go-to-market lifecycles.
Where there have been great opportunities to innovate, one often finds that openness was the key driver.
To compensate, the expectation is that development times are going to have to be very, very short but what does that mean? It means that more focus needs to be placed on the software side of things, particularly in the virtual orchestration of resources from the Cloud to the edge of mobile networks.
This is the stuff of 5G to be sure, but it needs to happen now, whether the standards arrive or not. Having to wait for standards before launching much in demand network solutions only hampers innovation.
Where there have been great opportunities to innovate one often finds that openness was the key driver. And isn’t that interesting? When was the last time you can remember that being a feature of telecom? Really, the only one that comes to mind was a certain iOS that was open for business.
This didn’t come to me in a flash, but in fact was the precise point (cited in Part 1 of this post) from our senior Facebook group leader host who said;
This industry hasn’t had an innovation since the iPhone
Facebook Senior Executive
His point is well taken. Now take a look at the culture he’s coming from. And, I’ll preface this by restating the incredible experience we had at Facebook; a front row seat to the core mission and operational culture of company with no precedent in history.
Of course we got the evolving mission, and it’s a strong one, and the investor ass-backwards confession that the company makes “money to create services..”, rather than the other way around. We mentioned the big Wall Street call where Mark Zuckerberg offered disgruntled investors to buy all of his shares if they didn’t like the direction of the company.
Of course, the investor balked, and Zuckerberg and gang went ahead in an almost recklessly agile, fumble, find, fire up and scale operational mode that would make most telecom engineers completely crazy.
Never have the shoulders of cloud services rubbed up so closely with the telecom industry and the stakes are high indeed. The generational transformation that 5G really seeks to create is a cultural alignment between the cloud and the ground, and Facebook is already doing it.
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) raises its tent poll for all comers in the space to collaborate on development of real-world telecom technology solutions that can scale at pace with the cloud.
The great news is that virtualization guarantees this will happen, and that’s very much core to the work we’re doing within our colleagues in the TIP workgroup, End-to-End Network Slicing.
But one of many TIP project groups, it represents precisely what TIP is all about, accelerating and perhaps even disrupting the telecom industry with new approaches and a, can we say it? “Can fail attitude”? Interestingly, this is a culture clash problem that can in fact be solved by technology; enter Network Slicing.
In a recent TIP group debate we suggested that Network Slicing – “the ability to virtualize an isolated logical instance of the network” meant that carriers suddenly had a zero risk sandbox to create new services. One of our group said that, to the contrary, carriers are most concerned about the reliability of these isolated virtual slices to deliver.
Our argument is that by isolating the slice you protect the rest of the “Best Effort” network from being impacted by the slice. What this means for carriers, is that they are precisely at the point today where they can begin rolling out differentiated SLA-based services for select micro-segments of the network, to beta test them, and then roll them out, just like, oh some big social media company out there valued at about $460 Billion.
But there’s still one hangup, and we’re going to get there in a roundabout way. We can easily see the extent to which data small or big, centralized or at the edge of the network needs to talk to itself.
This the core of blockchain revolution, but it’s also essential to telecom networks. If we just talk about machine learning and AI, we can immediately see if nothing else the immense computational payload of these powerful technologies. But pretty quickly we can see how they may be applied in multiple different use cases when combined with other technologies.
One great example was presented to us at SRI with the Bright AI platform, and we will soon be sharing the official video in these pages.
The chasm of cultures between the innovative engines of Silicon Valley and the telecom business is vast, but not unbridgeable. It will continue to be an honor and greatly enriching experience to have our feet in both worlds and someday perhaps help to bridge them.
If you’ve read this far, I am happy to announce that we will be publishing our latest white paper – “Making Money with Network Slicing” next week – If you would like an advance copy of this paper please send a short note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org