Mobile World Congress 2015: Industry Experts Highlight Key Trends from the Show

CTN Issue: March 2015

By Alan Gatherer, Editor in Chief, ComSoc Technology News

If you are like me, you have been working in this business for years, or decades, but have never been to Mobile World Congress. You have probably heard all the stories of exotic and expensive behavior from the marketing guys who invariably got all of the company assigned slots for the conference. I remember stories of basestations being demoed on yachts with champagne for the lucky participants, from back in the days that it was at Monte Carlo. Of course, this isn’t the only trade show that provides this kind of entertainment and the move to Barcelona in 2006 was seen as an attempt to keep costs down a bit. And for all its glitz, it is taken very seriously by the major players in the telecommunications business. Many of us have been asked to contribute to demos, and this year, as all years, there is much hype beforehand, and many very good trip reports to read on the web afterwards. So for this edition I wanted to find some people who actually went and get some brief summaries of the good the bad and the ugly of MWC15. Is it worth all the money and time spent by, according to Wikipedia, the 80 to 90 thousand people that attend? What did we actually learn that we wouldn’t have known anyway? So what follows are some off the cuff opinions by some brave volunteers. Needless to say, what follows does not represent the opinions of IEEE or any other large or small company, and I am grateful for their frank and entertaining input. Readers are welcome to add their thoughts to this blog.

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Will Strauss, Principal Analyst, Forward Concepts

The 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was an industry success, with some 93,000 attendees from over 100 countries. It’s hard to visualize hundreds of wireless executives in dark suits crammed on trains from central Barcelona like cattle every morning and evening on their way to and from MWC at the Barcelona Gran Fria venue. With the great number of attendees it was to be expected. However, the event was well organized and keynotes from industry luminaries were presented daily. My schedule was filled with company interviews, mostly of chip suppliers, so I had to bypass most formal presentations. By spacing most 30-minute interviews at the top of each hour, I was actually able to be on time for the next interview. The Gran Fira is huge, with 8 exhibit halls. It takes at least 15 minutes to go from an appointment at one end to another at the other end. Although there are several moving sidewalks to speed up transit between exhibit halls, late in the day they became “parking places” for tired executives to simply stand while the sidewalk moved, blocking any who chose to walk on them, and stretching out transit times between my appointments.

It’s clear though, there were more open collars and fewer ties with the dark suits this year. And, MWC is a ritual necessary for networking and learning about the latest wireless products. Clearly, the biggest overall theme was 5G, followed closely by IoT, but there appeared to be more wearables than at CES. It will be interesting to see if the new Apple Watch will allow breathing room for those wearables.

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Richard Kramer, Senior Analyst, Arete Research

A decade ago, one used to attend “GSM World Congress” expecting real debate about industry issues. Today’s MWC has nothing to do with innovation or real industry issues, but has become a bloated corporate pitch-fest, with speaking slots parceled out according to sponsor’s payments, choreographed in an endless stream of softball questions. The force behind it is the GSMA, a cabal of former telco execs, eager to sustain their status in a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. How ironic – and sad – to see slogans like “The Edge of Innovation – Available only to Platinum, Gold, and Silver Badge Holders”. No wonder the telco industry struggles with innovation – they see it as something you pay to access! Forget about being pickpocketed outside the Fira; the GSMA is pickpocketing an industry, demanding $50m+ for giant stands, while no one knows where the mammoth profits from this monster trade show go. The sloganeering (“embrace the cloud”) has taken over from the real technical discussions; after the industry as whole will have spent literally a trillion dollars on 4G (do the maths, you’ll see its true), all vendors already feel compelled to talk about “getting ready for 5G” (in five years time). MWC “creates” jobs for a lot of people; Barcelona thanks them, and pays handily for the privileges. (You can just see Dubai bidding for the rights.) But this industry doesn’t need more “shows” It needs a serious conference which brings real stakeholders at the table, discussing vitally important issues – personal privacy and protecting the interests of customers, who funds infrastructure if the Internet world takes revenue from carriers, what is the environmental impact of making 1-2bn smartphones a year, rapidly obsoleting them, and so on. These items are simply not on the GSMA’s breathless marketing agenda. Can something change here? Yes, it can. When I first started in this promising young industry, I went to Telecom ‘91 in Geneva. After the ITU got similarly greedy and big-headed in ‘95, companies started boycotting the ’99 show, and then stopped going altogether. The same cannot happen soon enough to shrink the bloated MWC, a massive tax on a largely regulated industry, with none of the money going to innovation.

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Jose Melendez, Technology Expert, Independent Consultant

(Editor’s Note: Jose’s photo taken at MWC15 by a display smartphone!!)

The mobile phone displays reminded me of an AT&T retail store – great stuff – but nothing overly exciting or "WOW". Standing out were some "cool" watches that looked like a fashion statement on top of "smart". More "glasses" and interesting applications for them were nice to see. On the overboard side…wearables. One "fun" and memorable one was the SK Telecom Smart Band. At $69 it’s not overly fancy, but has a killer app that lets you send love to your loved ones, and makes sure you remember to actually to it – so great for relationships.

As per norm…the not-so-great hotels were overpriced and I think the MWC needs to work with the city to put some gouging controls in place maybe based on some maximum multiplier over their actual daily average rates…but I guess there is plenty of money in mobile still and Barcelona is a great and deserving city for it!

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Ehud Langberg, Strategic Business Development, Huawei Technologies

5G and IoT were definitely the latest trend at MWC 2015. The 5G hype cycle began in MWC 2015 with many interest groups making their 5G plans known ahead of the expected standardization in 2016-18 period and commercialization by 2020. Europe is making a push to capture 5G technological leadership after it fell behind the US in 4G deployments. However Korea and Japan are taking the lead with deployment plan driven by the 2018 and 2020 Olympics.

In contrast to Mobile operators who announced that they want 5G to “do everything, for anything anywhere”, there were voices cautioned against setting the bar for 5G too high. The expectation that 5G can address a wide range of applications with a single network maybe overstretched. I found it odd that on one hand the European agencies wanted to lead 5G and at the same time a number of European operators mentioned that they have a many years to go and prefer a focus on 4.5G upgrades; a disconnect between politics and business reality. With all the hype around 5G, it is easy to forget that 4G has not yet been fully deployed in many markets and that operators will require a return on their investment before committing to a new round of network upgrades. Operators are likely to continue to focus on extending 4G; after all some 5G radio techniques and innovations can be applied to current 4G network.

5G will involve a range of industry verticals and will have more to do with connected systems and specific use cases rather than a new air interface. 5G could have a big impact on non-traditional mobile network and will drive innovations across all technology verticals such as smart home products, intelligent vehicle interfaces, IoT and more. When asked for his view on 5G, the FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who just visited the Picasso museum in Barcelona during his visit to MWC, reply that 5G is as loosely defined as a Picasso painting, and nobody is even sure what it is.

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Yan Hui, President and CEO, Airhop

5G has definitely been hyped big time by many large network vendors and some large component vendors. The reason is simple, if you don’t talk about it, you are not considered as a thought leader. Considering the advertised 5G commercial network deployment being 2020, the real ramping of 5G is at least 3-5 years later from that. A well-respected analyst dropped by to see our new product release on the last day of the show. At end of the meeting, he said, “Thank God, you guys did not mention 5G!” Between now and then, many innovative and practical technologies can be utilized on the infrastructure side to support fast growing network traffic (mostly videos), and so support the upcoming IoT. Heterogeneous Networks (HetNet) is one of them. From Google’s announcement of becoming an MVNO with the promise of making cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity seamless to Small Cell/WiFi debate, to LTE-U talk, it is clear that HetNet has passed hype phase and will be deployed in larger and larger scales.

One subject that I had already been tired of hearing by the end of the show was really on the device side, i.e. watches! Not that there’s anything wrong with the concept and technology, it is really the fact this was not created from the demand side. So before any useful application was identified, tens if not hundreds of watches from different vendors were piled up in the show.

Places to go for reviews of MWC (there are many more)

https://fwdconcepts.com/enewsletter-31615/
http://www.cnet.com/news/mwc-2015-most-important-gadgets-news-themes/
http://gizmodo.com/tag/mobile-world-congress-2015

Hashtags

#MWC15 #Mobile #Network #5G #MVNO #LTE #4G #Smartphone #Apps #HetNet #IoT #weareables #WiFi #SmalCell #GSMA #FCC

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