Take Aways from MWC 2019
The rise of the robots
MWC 2019 was billed as the year that 5G left the slides and started to hit the ground with real equipment. However my impression is that this is still a slow-burn. The industry has definitely moved from slideware, to proof of concepts with real products - at least for delivering 5G enhanced mobile broadband. However many of the initial deployments will just plug 5G new radio onto the existing network to deploy this enhanced mobile broadband. And the timeline and evolution path to realizing the “full” 5G potential remains slideware.
The main issue, as I see it, is that 5G is still a solution looking for a problem. The business cases for moving to a fully blown 5G network capable of supporting services beyond enhanced mobile broadband are far from clear. Either you have solutions, like IoT connectivity, that can, and are, supported adequately with today’s technology. Or you have solutions for services that are still some way in the future, like providing ultra-reliable low latency connectivity for autonomous vehicles and mission critical industrial applications.
We can see this lack in clarity around the “killer app” for 5G from the variety of applications being shown at the event. Compared with the last few years: AR/VR is almost de-rigueur with applications ranging from gaming through to advanced trouble shooting and remote surgery. But is this really a killer app for 5G – possibly for gaming ? I saw more and more IoT devices with more and more wireless access devices, must most of these showed how this connectivity can be achieved without 5G ! The connected cars which were once on the telecoms booths have now moved onto booths run by the car manufacturers themselves with Mercedes, Daimler, Seat, Audi all taking prominent stands. So the telecoms companies have had to look elsewhere for the attention grabbing. And the big move seems to be to robots. We saw dancing robots, robot bands, industrial robots, land mower robots, robotic surgery and on the last day I even saw one operator walking around with a robot baby – diaper and all, I must say I found it somewhat disturbing.
What is clear is that the days when technology was 'mobile' and 'not mobile' are long gone. MWC now covers everything from telecoms infrastructure, IoT devices, and even laptops and chipsets, through to a vast range of applications and services. This reflects a convergence of the tech sector around the 5G flag.
What is clear to me is that there won’t be single “killer app”. Instead there will many applications from across all technology sectors that will drive a 5G ecosystem, in many instances these applications won’t even use the 5G RAN!
To achieve this the transport network must be flexible and agile enough to support an extremely diverse service set. Each new service will have fundamentally different needs. This requires a transport network that is flexible enough to support new services, is determinism enough to assure that the service delivery meets the service polices and parameters and dynamic enough to adapt to change.
In my opinion, the 5G deployment will start with enhanced mobile broadband offering increased capacity to areas with high population density i.e. no change from the rollouts in previous generations.
The next step in the evolution is far from clear;
- 5G connectivity to wider areas?
- Best effort IoT?
- Industrial/Critical IoT?
- Low latency services?
- Any combination of these.
What is clear to me is that next generation transport network will need to be capable of being evolved to support any of these new services and capabilities from day 1. It can then support new services as and when they are introduced.
The business case for this new transport network can be generated from the network consolidation it will enable. Many of the transport networks for fixed services now need refreshing and if built correctly, this refreshed network will support both current and new fixed services as well as being the transport network required for these new mobile services.
5G is now about far more than the radio access network. GSMA have embraced this change in perception and subtly changed their branding this year from Mobile World Congress to MWC. 5G new radio acts as the focal point for a whole ecosystem of next generation technology and services. Much of this ecosystem has very little to do with the 5G radio access network itself. For example, we see a whole ecosystem of next generation multi-access wireless devices to provide connectivity to best effort IoT and mission critical IIoT devices and 5G is just one of the wireless technologies used to achieve this. We see an elastic transport network providing dynamic connectivity between the access network (mobile and fixed) and the applications and services. This transport network can be sliced to deterministically support the specifics policies and parameters of all service types, not just 5G mobile backhaul. Finally we see a whole proliferation of new services and applications based around advanced, ubiquitous, configurable connectivity. These range from AR and VR: connected cars, assisted and autonomous driving,: smart buildings, smart lighting and smart cities; smart health and remote surgery; and services we don’t even know about today. And of course a whole network of connected robots doing anything and everything you can think of, let’s hope the Skynet view of the future is just science fiction and not futurology.
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