MWC 2023, Tuesday 28 February

Welcome back to CCS Insight’s third day of coverage for MWC 2023. Today we examine the impact of war on mobile network operations, discuss the continuing “fair share” dispute between operators and big tech companies and analyse the latest developments in audio, satellite communications in IoT, digitization and more. You can find our views on the past two days’ announcements here and here.

Audio Developments Continue to Excite

We’ve been quietly impressed by improvements in the audio space at MWC, with the two best examples coming from Nokia and the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. On its stand, Nokia demonstrated its immersive voice technology, showing how users can join one-to-one and group calls, as well as hear speakers, in 3D rather than mono audio. This means the direction of voices relative to the listener can be pinpointed and active speakers can be separated from background noise more clearly. A far more immersive experience is created this way when speaking to multiple attendees on a call, generating a sense of presence.

We believe this is an impressive capability that has immediate applications in enterprise and industrial settings, such as on team meetings or calls from noisy environments. It also has great potential as other areas of spatial technology develop, including virtual and augmented reality. But it is not yet commercially available.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group demonstrated Auracast, a Bluetooth capability launched in late 2022 that delivers a range of new features. These include the abilities to share audio from one source to multiple Bluetooth recipients at the same time, and to choose audio channels in public places. One demo involved two TVs placed side by side with different sports playing, as may be the case in a pub, and users were able to switch between the two at will. Another demonstrated how users could connect to the broadcast channel for their gate at an airport and receive updates such as boarding groups directly in their earbuds.

These may sound like relatively straightforward capabilities, but we believe their strength lies in their simplicity and ease of use. The technology has great potential in public settings as more people use Bluetooth-enabled headphones. Auracast will require the launch of compatible devices based on new silicon, which are expected to arrive this year.

To help the Bluetooth Special Interest Group build scale, it has partnered with Intel, Nordic Semiconductors, NXP Semiconductors and Qualcomm. The organization also confirmed that some devices can be retrofitted; for example, TVs could use an Auracast-compatible dongle to create a broadcast channel.

Deutsche Telekom Adds Satellite Communications to Its IoT Service

The operator said that satellite will complement its existing terrestrial IoT networks. Deutsche Telekom and its partners Intelsat and Skylo presented the tech’s first uses at the show; these included recording water levels and weather data in unsafe locations and offering broadband connectivity in the ocean. A commercial offering is planned for the second quarter of 2023.

Satellite communication will be a vital part of achieving global connectivity, and it’s been an important theme on the MWC show floor. Deutsche Telekom’s announcement builds on its launch of T-IoT at the show a year ago, a global service tapping 150 roaming agreements that we covered in more depth here.

Operators Call for Lighter Regulation and Big Tech Contributions

In what’s at this point a well-trodden theme at MWC, leading European operators called for lighter regulation, highlighting disparities in progress between Europe and other regions. Central to discussions is the notion of “fair share” — that vast upfront investments in network infrastructure are unsustainable without contributions from the companies accounting for the lion’s share of use.

As we’ve said before, CCS Insight doesn’t subscribe to this view. Without content, operators’ services become far less relevant, which is why many have entered media partnerships to enrich their offers. And big tech players are also big spenders. Netflix, for example, splurged about $17 billion on content last year; that’s more than twice Vodafone’s entire capital expenditure. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are also investing heavily in cloud and IT services, with network operators being among the beneficiaries.

Microsoft Announces Azure Operator Nexus

Microsoft has been assembling the pieces for a hybrid cloud platform that caters to the needs of network operators and that can accommodate all necessary network functions — including virtualized RAN, subscriber data management and billing. Azure was a starting point, enhanced by the acquisition of Metaswitch and Affirmed Networks. And now these efforts are creating a fully scalable platform that can move between on-premises, edge and cloud deployments, having been refined through Microsoft’s partnership with AT&T.

This means that Microsoft can now offer a solution with the scale and features of Azure — including artificial intelligence, security, life cycle management and automation — that’s supported by a robust operator-grade backbone. Operators can also view and analyse all its data in a single view of the global network.

Crucially, Microsoft has developed a comprehensive network of partners that can provide certified network functions through the Azure Operator Nexus Ready programme, which includes system integrators and network function partners. The result is a solution that fits a diverse range of operator requirements.

Cisco Introduces New Mobility Platform

Cisco introduced its Mobility Services platform, designed to simplify how communications service providers build, manage and deliver new mobile services globally. Comprised of 5G, edge and cloud technologies, the platform is pitched as a go-to-market accelerator for new services, reducing cost risks and creating opportunities to add value for industrial and enterprise customers.

The platform includes an automated, full-stack, cloud-native converged core network with distributed edge deployment, offering service providers an evolution from 4G to 5G. Cisco claims this as a world first. Offered through an as-a-service model, Cisco Mobility Services is intended to make it easier to deliver advanced mobile IoT uses at scale, such as connected cars and connected distributed utilities.

It’s a sound move by Cisco, given that the company works in both the telecom networking and enterprise IT segments. Enacting new and complex mobile uses with diverse connectivity requirements can be difficult. One example is the set-up and maintenance of secure, high-bandwidth, low-latency networking at the edge. Reducing the complexity, cost and time needed to enable these new uses, at the same time as improving network visibility and control, could help service providers generate revenue from their industry-facing offerings.

Chinese Brand Tecno Joins Increasingly Busy Foldables Market

Chinese phone company Tecno has grown rapidly over the past decade, mainly fuelled by growth in Africa, where it’s reported to have achieved market share of up to 20% in some areas. This has seen it become a top brand on the continent, mainly by selling low-cost mobile phones. It’s now looking to expand to other regions, and is offering a growing range of more premium smartphones, such as the Phantom X2 and X2 Pro launched in December 2022.

At MWC the company unveiled the Phantom V Fold, a folding smartphone with a similar design to the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Honor Magic Vs. The Phantom V Fold uses the MediaTek Dimensity 9000+ chipset; features include a 7.85-inch screen when fully unfolded, a triple-camera set-up on the rear, including two 50-megapixel lenses, and a claimed total charging time from empty of 55 minutes.

The Phantom V Fold is set to launch in India initially, with pricing from about $1,100 for the 256GB version and $1,200 for its 512GB counterpart. The announcement underlines how Chinese manufacturers are shifting toward more premium smartphones. Tecno’s phone joins a slew of foldable products on the show floor this year. And although this is a growing market, we’re concerned that there are now more foldables on the market than people willing to buy them.

Ukrainian Mobile Network Fights to Keep Citizens Covered

Mobile World Live’s Justin Springham held an interview with Oleksandr Komarov, CEO of Ukrainian mobile network Kyivstar, marking just over 12 months since Russia invaded Ukraine. Mr Komarov said the network had begun preparations for an invasion prior to it occurring, but moved to a new phase when Russia started occupying territory. One of the first moves that all operators in Ukraine made was to put industry rivalries aside and allow full domestic roaming.

At points up to 50% of the network has been out of operation, leading to a big push for the latest battery technology. The biggest difficulty is the radio access network — comprising tens of thousands of sites and base stations — being affected by dirty or unstable power, as well as four- to six-hour blackouts. Battery technology plays a big part in reducing these problems’ effects.

All operators are also working to provide generator capacity where needed, a “virtual national grid”. Some incredible statistics have come from this: from 1,500 generators, operators can support up to 4,500 sites when working together. The focus is not on full network restoration, but sustainable efforts that have a longer-term impact. This is helped immensely by domestic roaming agreements allowing operators to share the load.

Another problem is destruction of key infrastructure such as power, water and communications — including base stations. Operators have to rebuild from scratch to restore network coverage, a process that’s limited by supply chain difficulties and a lack of spare parts. But despite this, 91% of the Ukrainian network is operational throughout the country today, a testament to what the mobile industry can do when put in a difficult situation.

If you’d like to discuss any of the stories we touch on here, please get in touch. CCS Insight clients will receive a full event report after MWC. And if you’re attending the event, there’s still time to meet us at our stand. We look forward to seeing you there!