MWC, Wednesday 27 February 2019

Our pick of the day’s news

The Apparent Virtuous Circle of IoT, AI and 5G

For the enterprise audience at MWC19 — and for those suppliers targeting an enterprise audience — one of the biggest discussion areas relates to 5G and what it could mean for businesses. It seems certain that we’ll see 5G adoption in enterprise before it becomes a mainstream reality for consumers, but the challenge remains for suppliers to adequately articulate where the benefits and opportunities will come from.

The most convincing messages this week have focused on early-adopter uses in the Internet of things (IoT) and mobile edge computing. The massive volumes of data generated by IoT connected sensors are the most appealing opportunity for most suppliers at the event, with the added capacity, speed and low latency that 5G will bring acting as a catalyst. The ability to connect everything, from drones to people to 3D cameras to large-scale construction equipment, blends the traditional device-centric nature of MWC with tech-sector innovation, creating an excitement and anticipation that at times tips over into hype.

One of the biggest problems is that there remains a tendency among software companies and mobile tech firms alike to infer that these opportunities are not possible without 5G, despite the fact that many organizations are already exploring their own investments in IoT without 5G. Of course, as IoT projects mature, and businesses scale up their investments to take full advantage of the data they can capture through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, 5G will be a crucial enabler, particularly in scenarios where the mobility of “things” is essential.

There’s a danger that although 5G technology is coming faster than many thought possible, tying the opportunities created by IoT, AI and 5G into a single product marketing message — as many have done this week at MWC — makes it too easy to blur the benefits into one, leading inevitably to confused customers with unrealistic expectations. It’s critical that suppliers resist the temptation to jump on the buzzword bandwagon, and instead focus on targeted business scenarios to articulate their role in delivering the benefits of each of these three areas.

Arm and Vodafone Team Up to Tackle IoT Device Deployment

A new agreement between Arm and Vodafone sees both companies cooperating to simplify the cumbersome process of deploying IoT devices. Building on an existing collaboration using integrated SIM technology, the move goes a step further by combining Vodafone’s global IoT platform and connectivity with Arm’s IoT software and services. The move aims to provide enterprises with programable and connected chipset designs that don’t require traditional SIM cards.

Using NB-IoT and LTE-M networks, the collaboration means companies can securely deploy, provision and manage a large number of devices using an approach that can scale and reduce cost and complexity. The approach also means enterprises can choose whether devices are deployed and managed using Arm’s Pelion or the Vodafone IoT Platform. The deployment of IoT devices still faces several hurdles, but this is another reassuring example of the industry working together to overcome the challenge of delivering the IoT vision on a large scale.

Big-Battery Devices Showcased at MWC

We have noticed a curious trend at the show: several lesser-known brands have announced products with almost ridiculous battery capacities. The first product we spotted was the Blackview BV 9100 Pro rugged phone with a 13,000 mAh battery. This isn’t a new design direction for the company — it launched a smartphone with a 10,000 mAh battery in 2018.

The big-battery approach has been taken even further by Avenir Telecom, which has licensed the Energizer brand for its P18K Pop smartphone which, as its name suggests, has a 18,000 mAh battery. What appears at first glance to be nothing more than a gimmick to promote one of the world’s best-known battery brands might actually appeal to a few people. Travellers and those fed up of always carrying a separate power bank might give this type of product another look.

NTT DoCoMo Demonstrates Uses for 5G

Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo showed off a range of potential applications of 5G connectivity as it seeks to position itself at the forefront of technology innovation. Demonstrations included remote surgery — enabling doctors to perform operations many miles away from a patient — and a 5G-powered musical hologram that played in sync with a live guitarist. Both illustrated the need for ultralow latency, a leading feature of 5G networks. DoCoMo is planning to launch its network ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Telefonica and FC Barcelona Claim Europe’s First 5G Stadium

The deployment, in partnership with Ericsson and the GSMA, illustrates how sports broadcasting is emerging as an important use for 5G technology. The placement of 360-degree cameras inside the stadium makes it possible to create immersive content that can improve the experience for fans watching at home. This is enabled by the greater throughput and low latency of 5G networks.

On its stand at MWC, Telefonica is also demonstrating the benefits of 5G in TV production. The technology allows broadcasters to cut costs by relying on fewer technicians, and network slicing offers guaranteed quality of service.

OnePlus, EE and Qualcomm Unveil “5G Apps of Tomorrow”

Although modest in scale, the initiative is a much-needed step to encourage broader thinking about the apps and experiences that the low latency and high throughput of 5G can deliver. Pete Lau, CEO of OnePlus, said on a panel that the industry hasn’t thought enough about how 5G can change lives in the long run. This is true to some extent, but we believe that a leading challenge with 5G is that discussion has been overly dominated by longer-term uses rather than those in the near and medium term.

Another major challenge is that although 5G is an important enabling technology, it will require further work in future 3GPP releases and other areas such as collaboration and standardization in mobile edge computing to help develop next-generation experiences. This is a noble effort, and a brighter perspective will undoubtedly come from engaging a broader audience. Nonetheless, building blocks still need to be put in place to allow for more-focussed thinking around applications. These new networks will be a journey rather than a case of “build once and it’s done”. To this end, the industry needs to ensure that the conversation about uses isn’t a one-off, but an ongoing and widely focussed process.

T-Mobile Changes Tack on 5G Roll-Out

Despite T-Mobile’s very vocal, unique and logical emphasis on coverage using 600 MHz frequencies in the roll-out of its 5G network, the US carrier said at MWC that it could deploy first using millimetre-wave spectrum in major urban markets as early as the second quarter of 2019. The 600 MHz launch will follow in the second half of 2019, once compatible devices become available.

This could be construed as T-Mobile walking back on its strategy, given its criticism of AT&T and Verizon for launches based on millimetre wave. However, it’s also a reflection of the fact that 5G requires a mix of spectrum in the low, mid- and high bands, and this is an approach that all carriers will ultimately pursue. Whether roll-outs start with sub-6GHz or millimetre-wave spectrum will be irrelevant within 12 months, when a range of frequency bands are deployed to provide the combination of capacity and coverage.

Furthermore, the first crop of 5G devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and LG V50 ThinQ 5G focus on millimetre-wave bands for AT&T and Verizon launches. T-Mobile needs to carry sub-6 GHz devices before it can publicize its deployment of 600 MHz airwaves and that’s not likely until the second half of 2019. Indeed, AT&T has said it will range such a device from Samsung in the latter half of the year.

The shift in strategy underlines the complexity of 5G roll-outs and the fact that the first generation of 5G handsets will be limited in band support. Nonetheless, the industry is moving at a remarkable speed in comparison with 4G.