Avren Events' Content team - Georgie Mailer-Howat and Hannah Roberts - made the trip to Barcelona to find out what advances have been made and what we can look forward to in the wireless connectivity space for 2018 and beyond. What were our top takeaways from Mobile World Congress 2018?
1. Small cells are *literally* about to take off... again
With 5G well and truly on the menu, the first 5G NR standards released and significant deployments across the pond with the likes of Sprint’s Magic Box could this finally be the moment small cells take off? There’s no doubt it will be an essential step in the network densification required to enable 5G, but what will it take for small cells to have some serious weight put behind it by customers? Sure there have been a heap of enterprise deployments, real interest created by CBRS and some notable deployments in Asia and the US, but what will it take for the truly scalable mass deployments from global operators? There was a lot of awesome new kit at MWC, but disappointingly few announcements from the network operators about any major deployments. There’s definitely something in the air, and once the brave first mover jumps in, it’s likely to kick-start an exciting new era in the European connectivity market. Private comments and conversations on site indicate something is coming though, so watch this space!
2. Those "29 billion connected IoT devices" you've heard of... someone's about to flip their switch
We've been "on the verge" of an IoT revolution for some time now, but this is about to be assisted by the development of mobile IoT. The GSMA forecast that by 2025, 50% of the installed base of IoT devices will be LPWA enabled, so it is about time that people started paying attention to what LPWAN can achieve. From cows and vineyards to air quality and car parking, new applications are constantly being developed, and low power, wide area networks are about to connect them all together. Now that networks are available, it is now up to the entire industry to develop the LPWAN ecosystem and drive an ROI.
3. 5G will transform our world, but the applications haven't really moved forward... yet
Obviously 5G was everywhere at MWC this year, but the exciting ways in which it's going to change our lives and the applications it’s going to enable haven’t really moved forwards yet. There was the confusingly HUGE presence of F1 and the usual autonomous cars, robots (did anyone else endure the queue for the 5G robot-made pens?!) some cool medical robotics, connected stadiums and VR headsets, but it was still kind of hard to find anything that really made 5G look different. It’s likely that once standards are opened up and 5G rolls out the applications will take off. Although it’s hard at the moment to put a finger on what the economic and societal changes will be, there are a growing number of compelling business cases that are starting to make 5G come to life.
4. Monetising data is the next step in generating revenue (for IoT companies and enterprises)
For the wireless connectivity ecosystem to progress, we need to see a compelling business model and ROI. The key to monetisation is in the vast amount of data that IoT devices, enterprise networks and 5G-enabled applications will produce, which is useless without analysis to provide insight and solutions. Based on the volume and detail of the data that is currently being generated, very little is being done yet to actually use this information effectively and as a source of revenue. Those who are developing platforms to take this data and turn it into something useful are about to tap into a potential goldmine.
5. The technology mix is changing
One of the things we've noticed was how many businesses have evolved their offering, moving from being a pure-play solution provider of a single technology, to providing a more holistic services and product. From towercos moving into the small cell space, and DAS providers like Zinwave offering small cells and managed services, to Wi-Fi companies providing a managed system integrator service, there has been a rise in managed services and turnkey solutions. 5G will necessitate leveraging existing networks and infrastructure (such as using Wi-Fi to backhaul), but does this also indicate a growing gap between private, indoor LTE networks and public outdoor networks?
6. There was a notable absence of a European equivalent to CBRS
MWC Americas was all about CBRS and spectrum sharing technologies, but there didn't seem to be much about a European equivalent. We’re not sure if this is because there are still too many bridges to cross in terms of aligning spectrum across the EU, or because spectrum auctions still seem to be well behind everywhere else, or because BREXIT, or all of the above, but there doesn’t seem to be much movement in the European spectrum sharing space since the Licensed Shared Access trials in 2016. Either way, the demand for new approaches to spectrum is there. And the stage is set for spectrum sharing to be a big focus in Europe in the next 12-24 months once auctions come into the limelight.