With MWC always at the beginning of the year, albeit in late February, there's always a stack of telco and related news to come, and with 5G clearly the top of the totem pole when it comes to obvious topics.
But there's a few other big topics, such as AI and IoT that have been building steam, building capability and sophistication this year, dovetailing as they do with the incredible potential that 5G connectivity and its ultra low latency offers.
It also wouldn't be a telco show without C-RAN and Massive MIMO, along with everything else that will be showcased, including various 5G smartphone prototypes on top of all the vendors claiming their 5G solution is the one, so what do five companies, unsurprisingly offering various aspects of the promised trends, think about these and other developments will impact the telecoms industry at MWC and beyond?
1. So, let's start with Amdocs, which is predicting that AI will get "sentimental at MWC".
Doron Youngerwood is the AI product manager at Amdocs, and he says that "Over the last year or so, we have witnessed a surge in the adoption of AI platforms to drive customer engagement and enable service providers to deal with the high volumes of inbound requests.
"Machine learning and automation have become essential due to the speed, scale, or complexity of the customer data that needs to be processed. Based on this intelligence, operators can anticipate issues that are likely to lead to complaints and pre-emptively engage with those customers before they pick up the phone to contact the call centre. AI can save operators time and money - reducing inbounds to call centres by around 15%, while increasing net promoter scores by 20%.
“We expect to see lots more traction in this space with AI making its mark at MWC this year, particularly in light of recent developments in the field of sentiment analysis. It’s now possible to gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s emotional state in real-time by analysing vocal intonations to detect their current mood, prompting an emotionally-aware response.
"The convergence of sentiment within the context of voice interactions is pivotal to the future of customer service. It will transform the way operators filter, manage and prioritise calls and inbound requests, helping to increase customer satisfaction.
“We anticipate a string of AI-related announcements at the show, and not just from the mobile carriers but other service providers and brands too, all looking at ways and means to deliver a more complete customer experience. We’re looking forward to seeing new AI concepts and innovations across the board.”
2. Then comes Netscout, which says that "Operators [can] get smart with data to monetise the IoT."
Here we hear from John English, senior product manager for Service Providers at Netscout, who says: "Digital transformation will power a surge in momentum for the IoT, with the number of connected devices predicted to reach 30.73 billion by 2020. This will give rise to an unprecedented amount of data that can be harnessed by operators, enabling them to become ‘smart,’ and gain actionable and meaningful insights.
“Service providers are already looking to become much more than just the ‘dumb pipes’ or networks that provide connectivity, and with the advent of the IoT, they will need to evolve their business models to become part of how the IoT solution is delivered. Discussions in Barcelona will therefore centre on how, instead of offering basic data plans for connectivity, IoT solutions will enable operators to provide “smart data” that can be monetised as part of IoT transactions.
"This could encompass metering, geo location and usage charges; for example, providing information for security, lighting, parking, etc. in smart cities. Through expanding their compensation into new IoT device and service payment schemes, as well as service level agreements, operators will relieve their dependency on flat rates and unlimited data plans for internet connectivity. This will allow them to create valuable new revenue streams and invest in their networks.
“At MWC, we also expect to see more examples of how the IoT can touch all aspects of the digital economy, unlocking enormous benefits in a wide range of sectors, from agriculture to automotive. With more and more IoT technologies underpinning critical applications, such as disaster monitoring and military situational awareness, service delivery assurance and security assurance will come into sharp focus. Conversations at the show will therefore focus on the increasing challenge of maintaining connectivity and communication across a myriad of devices and infrastructures in the IoT age."
3. Next we get to BICS, who don't make pens, but potentially do pen-testing, and who say that "IoT, LTE roaming and security will shape operator strategy".
The chief executive of BICS is Daniel Kurgan, who says: "At MWC, discussions around the urgent need for global carrier-grade connectivity will come to the fore, as service providers and businesses look to unlock the socio-economic benefits of a connected world. The IoT is fuelling this need, with billions of devices and services now dependent on connectivity. As such, we expect the IoT to again be front and centre in Barcelona.
“This in turn will drive conversations around roaming at the show. Our recent data reveals an astonishing growth in LTE data roaming traffic, including an increase last year of up to 800% in Europe during the summer months compared with 2016. When compounded with the surge in the number of connected devices crossing borders, it’s clear that connectivity can no longer be siloed by country.
“Lastly, we expect security to take centre stage during the event. Technology is advancing and fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated, meaning operators must look to stop threats before they hit. Protecting networks, revenues, customers and business reputation requires a global, collaborative approach, with organisations working together to safeguard communications and connectivity. MWC offers a fertile ground for discussing these issues and planning for the future.”
4. Waltzing onto the stage now is Blue Danube Systems, with the message that "Operators turn to Massive MIMO to solve their capacity problems."
Sesh Krishnamoorthy, director, Product Management at Blue Danube Systems is our next contestant, and he says that: "One of the biggest challenges facing operators today is that consumers are increasingly using their phones for high-bandwidth LTE services — such as HD video streaming — which is impacting network throughput and user experience. At MWC 2018, we will see new technology that can address operators’ capacity demands and performance issues in high-density areas, in a cost-effective way.
“This new technology will be in the form of innovations in Massive MIMO. The technology can direct antenna energy to areas where users are accessing high-bandwidth services, whilst directing it away from areas where there are no, or fewer users. It can also reduce overall network interference by directing radio frequency signals to desired users. Critically, the technology can be immediately added to an LTE network infrastructure, enabling operators to maximise ROI on their existing investments.
“As a long-term solution to their capacity and network performance issues, operators are also investing heavily in the 5G, which will inevitably be the hottest topic at the show. The real winners at MWC will be the technology providers offering a 5G ready solution today, which can also support operators with their current deployments.”
5. The Cobham Wireless "Coverage business" ensures we won't run past C-RAN, which is says "will be central to smart cities".
Rami Hasarchi, vice-president of Coverage at Cobham Wireless, says: “Smart cities will be a major point of focus at MWC, from the autonomous vehicles which will transport their citizens to the innovations in the medical industry which will help improve welfare. Digital DAS deployed in a C-RAN model will emerge as the critical network architecture required to make these concepts a reality, allowing capacity to be cost-effectively distributed to different sectors of a building or areas across a smart city.
"This approach can support a wide range of applications, including cellular, public safety and last-mile IP backhaul for WiFi services, such as surveillance cameras and IoT devices.
“Expect the GSMA’s Innovation City pavilion to be especially busy this year, as stakeholders from across the industry discuss how best to invest in their networks to support smart city growth. Operators at MWC will be seeking coverage solutions that can solve the capacity challenges of today whilst also being 5G-ready.
"Vendors will be working to ensure their technology can support this demand, as updating networks and technologies to support smart infrastructure further down the line will be prohibitively expensive for many.”
6. Cobham Wireless gets a second bite of the cherry with its network testing business and declares that "MEC and network slicing become the building blocks of 5G".
Our key spokesman here is Li-Ke Huang, the Research and Technology director at Cobham Wireless, who says: "Conversation about the future of the connected automotive industry will again fill the Fira’s halls at MWC, with numerous parties keen to get a slice of this lucrative pie. This sector has been characterised by the rapid development of prototypes and impressive demos of futuristic cars and ‘platoons’ of trucks. Conversation will be mainly exploratory, as we’re unlikely to hear about any detailed agreements on the underlying technologies needed for commercial roll-out.
“Expect announcements at MWC of further trials of driverless cars, and new collaborations between AI and machine learning specialists, and vehicle manufacturers. But slow and steady will win this race: there will be no commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles next year, and it will be more important to invest resources into developing and crystallising the 5G fundamentals.”
7. Finally, we hear from the folks at Mimosa Networks, who talk about "Mid-band spectrum for 5G connectivity".
Jaime Fink, chief technology officer and co-founder, Mimosa Networks, says: "Millimetre wave 5G connectivity was all the hype at MWC last year. At this year’s show, service providers will be focusing their attention on the properties of the mid-band spectrum for delivering 5G connectivity. The mid-band is set to become the workhorse for urban 5G capacity as well as wireless broadband in residential and rural areas.
"These complementary mobile and fixed applications are rapidly pushing to expand in the mid-band because of improved propagation characteristics. Broader coverage afforded by mid-band spectrum will reduce the cost to deploy 5G mobile capacity in cities and will also accelerate deployments of fibre-fast dedicated wireless broadband solutions in unserved and underserved areas.
“With almost no overlap geographically, both mobile and fixed services can co-exist in the mid-band spectrum. Many residential and rural areas are only reached today with scarce low-band mobile spectrum and have a very limited choice of wireline broadband options.
"This underscores the need to push new wireless broadband options to homes in these areas where fibre is too costly and where mobile coverage and capacity are not viable options. It is important that underserved areas are provided with an alternative to the expensive wireline providers; MWC is the perfect setting for this important conversation.”
So, with these commentators just a tiny slice of what to expect at MWC, in amongst all those massive 5G vendors and 5G smartphone prototypes and IoT devices, is everything else that fits in between and creates the humongous ecosystems that merge and intertwine to create all our connected futures.
Here's to all that and more as the golden age of 5G in the 2020s leads to an inevitable but still far off 6G future!