5G, connected cars, IoT, industry consolidation, mobile money, smart cities and edge computing dominated the agenda in Barcelona.
A staggering 100,000 or so people gathered in Barcelona this week for Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018 and, even though the ‘Beast from the East’ was bearing down on the city, the show just seems to keep getting bigger and bigger.
The most dominant technology at the event was, believe it or not, Android, as every single device maker (except Apple) was there to reveal their latest smartphone concepts or show they had skin in the game when it came to 5G, the internet of things (IoT) and connected cars.
Enabling technologies such as edge computing were revealed to be blossoming, bringing the power of data centre-style processing closer to the end user or machine.
Flourishing 5G could be here sooner than you think
Even though the official standard for 5G has to be agreed by the influential Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), 5G was the buzzword du jour – in fact, every day – during MWC 2018.
According to figures from the GSM Association (GSMA), there are currently 77 operators trialling 5G across 49 countries.
Different band ranges include under 3GHz, between 3GHz and 6GHz, and between 6GHz and 30GHz.
3.5GHz accounts for 16pc of trials being conducted worldwide while 26GHz and 28GHz account for 19pc.
So far, 45 operators have announced plans to launch 5G services in 32 countries.
However, Europe is at risk of falling behind on 5G use cases, with the Small Cell Forum warning that fragmented European regulation and a lack of urgency among large mobile operators could see Europe lag behind North America and larger Asian economies in launching future 5G-enabled use cases.
Indeed, particularly notable at MWC 2018 was the number of Chinese mobile equipment makers, from Huawei to ZTE, and others vying for a chunk of the 5G action.
During the show, Huawei signed 5G memorandums of understanding with 45 operators in Asia, Europe and North America, and said it is already conducting pre-commercial trials with 30 mobile players.
CEO Ken Hu said that the name of the game is end-to-end 5G solutions and that the company will launch a 5G smartphone in Q1 2019.
China Mobile plans to start large-scale 5G trials in the second quarter across 17 cities with 11 types of services and applications, including 4K live streaming, mobile telemedicine and connected drones.
In the US, Sprint aims to be the first to launch 5G, with networks planned for Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston expected to experience 5G-like capabilities as of April.
The US telco’s CIO, Scott Rice, said that it is working with network and device makers to make it possible.
“CIOs will need to evolve into strategic architecture leaders to build solutions that take advantage of the fibre-like speeds over mobile with the extremely low latency that 5G will deliver.”
And, on the computing front, Intel said it is already working with Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft to bring 5G connectivity to Windows PCs using the Intel XMM 8000 series of commercial 5G modems.
Smarter cities will start to blossom before our eyes
Indeed, smart cities were a big talking point of MWC. For its part, South Korea’s Samsung demonstrated 5G use cases such as smart cities, stadiums, homes, cars and trains, along with its new LTE radio units and massive multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) solutions aimed at improving 4G networks ahead of the transition to 5G.
During the show, Intel announced that it will partner with Japan’s NTT DoCoMo on providing 5G coverage and technology for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. This follows the successful trial of technology during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
Among some of the applications that can be expected at Tokyo 2020 are 360-degree 8K video streams with real-time broadcasts, including VR applications, drones with HD cameras, smart city sensors and connected cars that will enable better transport options in Tokyo and access to athletes’ data and analytics.
The storm clouds of industry consolidation vied for attention against the ‘Beast from the East’ as senior industry leaders got hot under the collar about possible mergers.
Things got tense during a roundtable involving Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao and the CEO of Deutsche Telekom, Tim Höttges, over the not-so-insignificant matter of a potential deal between Vodafone and cable giant Liberty Global.
Colao’s feathers were ruffled when Höttges suggested he wanted to block the merger.
“You should never look to shut down one of your competitors; you have to win by fair means. Deutsche Telekom is the largest operator in the best market in Europe. But maybe he’s feeling a little nervous when you consider our results in Germany are pretty good and we’re now a co-leader in his home territory.
“I find the logic that DT is promoting an interesting idea. Here you have a national player who says that a competitor should not buy a regional cable company because this creates some kind of threat to something. If you follow that logic, then Deutsche Telekom should be split in two – perhaps an east and west Deutsche Telekom.”
IoT gains momentum
At MWC in Barcelona, GSMA Intelligence predicted that there will be 25bn connections to IoT globally in 2025.
This will include 5.6bn connections in Europe, 5.8bn connections in North America, 1.3bn in Latin America, 1.4bn in Africa and the Middle East, and a whopping 10.9bn in Asia-Pacific.
In terms of consumer IoT, there are 4.6bn connections today, rising to 11.4bn connections by 2014, including wearables, smart homes, set-top boxes, vehicles, smart TVs and games consoles.
From an industrial IoT (IIoT) perspective, there will be 13.7bn connections worldwide by 2025, up from 2.9bn connections today, including utilities, smart buildings, fleet management, manufacturing, smart cities and retail.
Key players such as Sierra Wireless, Huawai, Ericsson, Dell, IBM, NEC and Intel demonstrated a range of applications in IIoT, from smart cities and transport to smart agriculture, smart aviation, e-stadiums in action, worker safety, robotic manufacturing and cloud VR.
Mobile money makes the world go round
The GSMA estimated that mobile money services generated $2.4bn in direct revenue during 2017 as the industry processed $1bn worth of transactions daily.
The GSMA’s annual State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money revealed that there were 690m registered accounts across 90 countries last year, up 25pc year on year.
For the first time, South Asia rather than sub-Saharan Africa led the charge with the most transactions, accounting for 47pc of the world’s registered accounts.
The world will be on edge
One of the biggest tech trends to look out for – and perhaps the sinews that will make 5G, IoT and experiences such as augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) make sense – will be edge computing.
This is putting the cloud computing power close to the network edge so that devices within the cells or networks are lighter and easier to operate. A handy metaphor for this would be condensing a VR or AR headset such as Microsoft’s HoloLens down to the size of a normal pair of glasses, with all the computing processing and connectivity being handled wirelessly, leaving the user unencumbered and able to interact with the virtual content.
At MWC, Dell EMC-owned VMware revealed plans to use hyper-converged solutions for edge computing, making IoT infrastructure secure and easier to manage and scale.
Gartner predicts that 75pc of enterprise-generated data will be created outside the traditional data centre or cloud, which will be up from 10pc today.
The industrial potential of edge computing is enormous. For example, remote edge computing-based IoT applications include oil-well optimisation, managing utility grids and managing smart cities.
If anything, the need for edge computing – or data processing close to antennas – will be driven by the rise of IoT, which requires a new class of cost-effective infrastructure to process data inputs from potentially billions of endpoints.
Think of future gateways as mini data centres in their own right, making the promise of data everywhere a distinct possibility.
Connected cars find room to vroom
If anything, the fuel of connected cars will be data and the pulse of this will be 5G. During MWC, we reported how Cubic Telecom reached a milestone of 1m connected cars through its partnership with Microsoft.
German computing giant SAP revealed the SAP Vehicles Network Solution, an open standards-based services marketplace for the buying and selling of mobility services.
Spanish carmaker SEAT announced the creation of a new company, Xmoba, which is going to identify, test and invest in initiatives that succeed in promoting solutions that improve the future of mobility. In addition, the carmaker also announced its intention to participate in one of the most significant projects facing Barcelona: turning the city into a 5G technological hub.
The goal of SEAT’s participation in the project is to work in collaboration with the Catalan Government, Barcelona City Council and Mobile World Capital – the promoters of the initiative – among others, in order to develop 5G technology in a connected car prototype that will be tested next year in the city.
And let’s not forget Huawei’s novel effort to convert a Porsche Panamera into a driverless vehicle by combining it with the AI power of the new Mate 10 Pro smartphone. The device was able to use its neural processing unit to recognise objects such as people, animals or footballs using machine learning and the same technology it employed to learn 50,000 languages with Microsoft for real-time translation.
Updated, 10.50am, 5 March 2018: This article was updated to clarify that GSMA Intelligence predicts there to be 25bn connections to IoT globally in 2025, not 25bn IoT devices.