March 5, 2019
The Barcelona dust has settled and most visitors to this year's MWC have full use of all their senses once again.
So what were the big takeaways?
Light Reading surveyed a handful of top industry analysts about their views of the trade show, and here's what stayed with them...
1. Things are looking up
"Overall I thought this was the most positive MWC in many years, with the realization that this is really 'year one' of 5G," noted analyst Mark Lowenstein of Mobile Ecosystem. "Actual contracts, actual deployments, deals being done. I spent quite a bit of time in the main network equipment vendors' booths, and noticed a significant effort to start a meaningful conversation about the 'next' phase of 5G, which will be focused on the enterprise and IoT opportunities. There was also a lot of creativity in demonstrating low-latency capabilities, which is one of the best use cases for 5G, and will help justify unique apps and business models, much more so than enhanced mobile broadband."
Others also noted a brighter, more optimistic mood. "Everybody was quite cheerful," noted Dario Talmesio of research firm Ovum.
Even the GSMA, the organization behind the event, was cheering. The industry body noted that attendance at the show was up slightly year-on-year, from 107,000 in 2018 to 109,000 this year.
2. 5G was the belle of the ball
Not surprisingly, the noise around 5G at this year's MWC was almost deafening. "My overriding impression was how almost-ready network products are for 5G deployment," said analyst Gabriel Brown of Heavy Reading. "Lots of companies are offering very close to commercial RAN, core and transport systems. For Phase 1 eMBB [Enhanced Mobile Broadband] services, the industry ecosystem is in good shape. It was also encouraging to see the industry make decent progress on identifying and developing more advanced 5G services for later phases."
Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst of Techsponential, said that although most 5G networks are not ready yet, "the carriers are aligned, and chipset vendors and device manufacturers will be ready once the networks are deployed. Qualcomm is even talking about its upcoming second-generation 5G modems and third-generation integrated SoCs."
Further, the business models around 5G are becoming somewhat clearer, at least according to some analysts. "One of the big unanswered questions remains what capacity 5G will be able to offer in the field and whether it can become a fixed line substitute," wrote the analysts at Wall Street research firm New Street in a note to investors. "From what we saw and heard, we are getting increased confidence that the evolution of massive MIMO panels for different situations in the field should allow operators to at least achieve our initial estimates of 6bps/Hz over at least 70% coverage in urban European cells. This won't yet be enough to be a meaningful threat as fixed wireless broadband, but it does make for a small viable business model for some wireless only carriers, in particular Hutchison UK."
Talmesio of Ovum added that it's becoming clear there's no longer a search for a "killer app" for 5G. Instead, the 5G discussion is now centered on a wide variety of capabilities that the technology supports, and how operators might sell those capabilities.
And all of this noise may well result in actual revenues for 5G vendors, according to Stefan Pongratz of Dell'Oro Group. "One of the key findings at the show was that there was a strong consensus that 2019 will be another solid year for the RAN market," he said. "And while we have already projected that 5G NR would accelerate rapidly in 2019, key findings at the show increase the confidence level that 5G NR shipments and revenues will be material in 2019."
3. Many questions remain around 5G
Despite the general upbeat tone from the show, there was still a fair amount of skepticism around the long-term potential for 5G. "It's clear from MWC2019 that the early focus is still on enhanced mobile broadband -- faster mobile broadband at a cheaper cost per bit," noted John Byrne of GlobalData. "There was a lack of real forward movement on advanced use cases enabled by network slicing, and it's becoming clear that those cases are not likely to really take off for another two years."
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"The business cases for 5G continue to elude most enterprises and operators," said Chris Nicoll of ACG Research, adding that the definition of 5G remains overly broad and vague. "Use cases are plentiful, but the business/financial justifications are not there yet with a few notable exceptions, such as automated quality assurance and some VR maintenance functions. So for now, 5G is effectively point solutions or an addition to LTE-Advanced services."
4. 5G phones are now real
One thing was made painfully clear at this year's MWC: 5G phones are real, and they're here. Xiaomi (Mi Mix 3 5G), LG (V50 ThinQ), Samsung (Galaxy S10 5G), Huawei (Mate X), ZTE (Axon 10 Pro 5G) and a variety of other smartphone vendors showed off 5G gadgets at this year's show.
The conclusion? "Phones are exciting again!" trumpeted Greengart of Techsponential. "In addition to the usual iterative improvements, we saw new form factors and ideas like folding phones, wrist phones, extra long aspect ratios, camera arrays for computational photography, and more."
And Ovum's Talmesio said a major revelation at the show was "how quickly and effectively and important the Chinese companies have become to this industry." He pointed to the $700 price tag for the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G, a shockingly low price for a high-end device sporting a brand new wireless technology. "This is changing all the dynamics of how to introduce a technology," he said.
But, incredibly, 5G wasn't even the most interesting thing on tap among phone vendors at MWC, at least according to research firm Strategy Analytics. "These [5G phones] were arguably eclipsed by the excitement caused by foldable smartphones, offering new form factors for 5G service experimentation and use case development," the firm wrote in a report on the show.
5. 4G/LTE will remain the workhorse for years to come
Several analysts pointed out that lost in the 5G buzz was the fact that 4G/LTE will continue to carry the bulk of the industry's traffic for the foreseeable future. For example, Ovum's Daryl Schoolar pointed out that the globe's wireless network equipment vendors are still going to sell more 3G gear this year than 5G gear. He said sales of 5G equipment won't overtake sales of LTE equipment until 2023.
Added Earl Lum of EJL Wireless Research: "We look forward to LTE-Advanced/LTE-Advanced Pro for the next 20 years," he wrote.
6. New vendors are making noise
"Even though much of the mainstream business will go to the three-to-four incumbent vendors, I also sensed building momentum around a new breed of suppliers, such as Mavenir, Blinq Networks and Altiostar," noted Lowenstein of Mobile Ecosystem.
Ovum's Schoolar concurred, pointing to suppliers such as Affirmed Networks, Mavenir, Samsung and Parallel Wireless as "keeping things competitive."
7. No shortage of hot topics
For those looking beyond the big topics, there was plenty to chew on at MWC:
Edge computing "was a major focus," noted Lowenstein.
Cloud gaming will likely stand as one of the top initial applications for 5G, said Ovum's Talmesio.
Open RAN and Virtual RAN enjoyed "good momentum during the show," Dell'Oro's Pongratz noted, but added that a wide-scale shift toward the technology will take plenty of time.
WiFi 6 garnered a notable amount of attention, according to GlobalData's Byrne, as well as discussions around how WiFi and 5G might co-exist.
Massive MIMO noise at the show "supports the premise that the Massive MIMO opportunity is going to be massive," said Pongratz.
Private LTE networks enjoyed "surging activity," according to Ken Rehbehn of CritComm Insights.
Augmented reality got a boost by the introduction of Microsoft's new HoloLens 2, a "transformative product" according to Greengart.
8. The best thing at the show? Nokia's screwdriver
So what was the best thing at the show? According to Ovum's Schoolar, it was an electric screwdriver from Nokia that was connected to 5G and could sense the user's location and automatically adjust its torque as a result. As summarized by Schoolar, the product had everything: "Benefit to manufacturer; save time not having to adjust the tool; helps ensure better quality during the build process." If only it turned into a popular cocktail when not in use...
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