Now the dust has settled from Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016 and everyone has hopefully recovered, it’s a good time to look back on the big stories from the show this year. It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of the show, but the big stories at MWC are a great indicator for where the wireless industry is focusing its attention.
So what caught the eye of Real Wireless’s experts this year?
As expected, 5G grabbed most of the headlines at the show, with Real Wireless CTO Simon Fletcher giving a number of presentations on the topic — including one that drew together our work on the EC’s 5G socioeconomic report, with the outcomes of last summer’s FWIC conference.
We found many vendors claiming to be 5G ready or compliant, essentially a marketing trick but an important one for those keen to demonstrate they are completely up to date with developments in 5G (or what they believe 5G is) in this fast-paced market.
Some particularly interesting demos included those that highlighted current developments in 5G, for example the 5GIC/University of Surrey 5G demo on the Cobham stand, demonstrating how a massive multi-antenna array can serve many connected IoT users within a cell. The demo could scale to show the impact of more simultaneous IoT users in a cell and what the required throughput would be to serve them. Another demo saw 1 Gbps LTE throughput based on the aggregation of five channels of 20 MHz, each supporting 2 x 2 MIMO streams and 256 QAM based on LTE Advanced.
These demonstrations are still examining the technology capabilities and more in-depth analysis would be required in future to determine the more practical impacts in these environments such as analysing the most appropriate propagation models and impact of clutter and terrain at frequencies above 24 GHz.
There are encouraging signs of nascent engagements with verticals, though not fully linked to 5G, with efforts being directed towards establishing common technology platforms. We highlighted before the show that the industry needs to play its part in liaising more closely with vertical industries to ensure 5G reaches its full potential. Regional administrations such as the European Commission were vocal on needing to see meaningful evidence of progress on this if they are to justify their level of investment to their citizens.
Has the industry demonstrated enough progress?
Our thoughts are that verticals have made a good start, but must do more to define what 5G will mean for them. After all, it’s the verticals themselves who are going to benefit most from 5G, so it makes senses for them to be involved as much as possible. Our job at Real Wireless is to bridge the gap between the technical and the business aspects, which is what we’ve been doing through numerous workshops with the European Commission.
LAA, LTE-U and MulteFire
LAA LTE, MulteFire and LTE-U featured prominently from a number of vendors — LTE in licence-exempt spectrum and LTE — Wi-Fi co-existence was the topic of much discussion throughout the week.
We were made aware of a trial in Nuremberg, Germany, which apparently attracted visits from many MNOs who are keen to see LAA LTE in action. We also saw some manufacturers starting to offer 3.5 — 3.7 GHz TDD Wi-Fi or LTE solutions, driven mainly by the 3.5 GHz band / Citizens Broadband Radio Service rules that the FCC adopted in April 2015.
The demonstrations we saw were mainly concerned with obtaining the best possible performance from these technologies, but this leaves many questions unanswered regarding how to ensure “fairness” when Wi-Fi remains the most densely deployed technology in the unlicensed bands.
For yet another year, small cells have still not seen the levels of takeup analysts predicted, which could be a risk to vendors that are increasingly being pressured to demonstrate a return on investment.
That said we continue to see some genuinely interesting innovations in the sector, including CommScope (who acquired Airvana in 2015) re-using spectrum over multiple radios within the same cell, cells that offer four times more capacity than before, and IP Access’s innovative small cell infrastructure sharing approach. The Small Cell Forum also presented its annual update including a focus on the enterprise market, reflecting the trends we’ve seen over the last 6 months.
The missing trend
Ahead of the show we released a report on two of the biggest issues facing the industry this year; 5G and the IoT. Both are at very different stages of development but, as we explained, 2016 will be a pivotal year if either is to be a success — and the industry needs to make some big decisions if they are to reach their potential.
While 5G was clearly one of the strongest trends, the noise around IoT was not on a similar level. As we’ve seen with small cells, lots of noise around a topic at MWC does not necessarily translate in to real world development and maturity, so this is not necessarily a sign that the trend is in danger. However, it does raise questions over whether it has lost some of its steam in recent months. In the light of various proprietary and non-cellular approaches continuing to grow their deployment footprints; is the operator community really confident the NB-IoT solutions will come to market quickly enough, within the right regulatory environment, to create a competitive advantage?