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Smartphone redesigns prominent, as manufacturers try to reinvigorate slowing growth


Daniel Gleeson, Senior Analyst, Consumer Technology

A major theme quickly emerged in the smartphones and devices on display at MWC 2019 – the desire to be different. Several manufacturers debuted their first 5G smartphones (for release later in 2019), but innovations in design took center stage: from pop-up selfie cameras from Vivo and a five-lens camera design from Nokia, to a cinematic 21:9 aspect ratio on the latest Sony flagship, 2019 is set to have one of the most diverse set of handsets on the market. Foldable handsets stole the show, however, with the Huawei Mate X looking particularly impressive.

The push for new designs has been a long time coming. Smartphone sales have slowed considerably in recent years, and in the high end of the market, growth has completely stalled and is heading towards a slight decline as consumers delay upgrading their devices. Experimenting with new designs is definitely one way to grab the attention of jaded shoppers. This push also shows that device manufacturers do not believe that 5G on its own will be enough to excite consumers into early upgrades, which should be a concern for service providers.


Augmented reality receives endorsements from Microsoft and Qualcomm

George Jijiashvili, Senior Analyst, AR/VR and Video Gaming

Microsoft has unveiled a much-anticipated update to the HoloLens augmented reality (AR) headset which was first announced in 2016. The HoloLens 2 offers a more than doubled field of view, eye-tracking, and improved ergonomics. The original headset is already being used by the likes of NASA and car manufacturers. Like its predecessor, the $3,500 HoloLens 2 is firmly targeted at enterprises. Other AR headset makers, most notably Google and Magic Leap, have also shifted their focus to enterprise, as consumer-centric AR headsets have so far failed to provide truly practical use cases, in addition to being very expensive. Microsoft is, however, in a significantly favorable position in this segment, thanks to its established developer community and a vast number of partners spanning a broad range of industries.

Meanwhile, Qualcomm has announced a support for AR and VR headsets for phones using its 5G-capable Snapdragon 855 processors. It aims to combine the benefits of both tethered and mobile headsets, as compatible headsets will be able to run apps through a phone over a USB-C cable. Beyond faster speeds and lower latency, it remains to be seen what other tangible benefits 5G connectivity can bring to AR headsets. Nonetheless, Qualcomm's continued commitment to this category is encouraging, and we believe that it will help fuel further development of AR technologies.


AT&T and Vodafone join for automotive IoT
Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst, Europe

AT&T and Vodafone's collaboration on automotive IoT points the way forwards for tier 1 operators with global reach: partnering to scale-up reach for combined technology approaches, and to extend their reach into as many markets globally as possible.
AT&T and Vodafone Business are working together to develop connected car services, including connectivity, entertainment, and telematics, in North America, Europe, and Africa. The companies aim to simplify the automotive IoT deployment process, improve operations, deliver innovative solutions, and make the network certification process easier.
Key areas of focus for the companies will be: 5G and autonomous vehicle technology; V2X capabilities; in-vehicle entertainment; connected car applications and services; global service quality models; and connected car in the context of smart cities intersection.

AT&T and Vodafone collectively work with nearly 50 global automotive brands and connect more than 43 million cars and trucks on the road today, which is a solid starting point for their collaboration. In terms of next steps, how the companies use this as a platform to grow their approaches to IoT automotive will be crucial to their success in this already hotly contested field.


As 5G finally begins to roll out, a new threat to service providers' hopes of renewed top-line growth emerges

Alexander Harrowell, Senior Analyst, SoHo and SME Services   

As the industry waited for 5G, it looked forward to a so-called "enterprise G" that would win it a bigger share of enterprises' overall ICT spend, and catalyze growth – a dramatic turnaround from making a living (but no more), while Silicon Valley prospered on the back of the smartphone boom. This seemed a distant prospect, but this year's MWC offers much more action.

There is no guarantee that it will be service providers that deliver it, though. At MWC, we met vendors who were confident of selling direct to enterprises, or at least through systems integrators or specialized suppliers, and bringing the 5G New Radio right to the factory floor without involving the operators. Regulatory initiatives such as CBRS are a key enabler here, but one vendor told us that their customers would take whatever spectrum was on offer if they could use it.

The challenge, though, will be whether 5G (and LTE) will ever be simple enough for IT departments to deploy. The usual comparison is Wi-Fi, but even that stops being all that simple once it scales up.



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Cloud gaming experiences a renaissance, spurred on by 5G

George Jijiashvili, Senior Analyst, AR/VR and Video Gaming

At the beginning of this decade, there was a spike in interest in cloud gaming. Most notably, OnLive made a big splash, offering instant access to popular game titles via an affordable set-top box or a desktop app. OnLive's cloud gaming concept was, however, ahead of its time, and hype surrounding it was short-lived as most users, even those with a very fast internet connection, experienced a choppy gaming experience caused by high or unstable connection latency. After going out of business, OnLive's assets were acquired by Sony, which went on to offer an improved cloud gaming experience as part of its PlayStation Now subscription service platform. Other competing streaming services have since emerged, most notably Nvidia Now and PlayGiga's services. However, given their inherent dependence on superior connection, adoption has remained lukewarm.

With 5G rollout imminent, promising high speeds and sub-10 millisecond latency, there has been a clear resurgence in cloud gaming in 2019. The cloud architecture has also been refined over the course of the decade, with companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Nvidia investing in this space. MWC offered several key cloud gaming developments, including the reveal of the OnePlus 5G smartphone capable of game-streaming while connected to a TV, and HTC's announcement of its 5G mobile smart hub capable of streaming VR content to standalone headsets. Meanwhile, operators eager to expand their service offerings have recently signed partnerships with cloud gaming providers, including AT&T, SK Telecom, and Verizon. Google's much-anticipated keynote at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March is likely to provide another significant boost to cloud gaming, which we'll be following closely.


RCS sees increased positive buzz, but little real change

Charlotte Palfrey, Senior Analyst, Communications and Social

Walking around MWC 2019 it would be easy to see the Rich Communication Services (RCS) demos as a sign that nothing much has changed for RCS in the past year. The use cases seem the same as we saw demoed in 2018, and we're talking about the same key operators and vendors.

What has changed though is the conversations around RCS. Brands that are using RCS are being vocal about the benefits they gain from using it – and vocal about the need for Apple to add RCS capabilities to iOS. Messaging aggregators see RCS as a great tool to offer businesses, as it has the reliability of SMS with all the visual benefits and analytics of OTT messaging apps.

There is also a lot more awareness of what Facebook is doing with Messenger and WhatsApp, especially around business messaging. This awareness of the threat that this poses to A2P revenue is giving operators, Google, and the GSMA that extra push to drive RCS. The GSMA, alongside Vodafone and 3C Interactive, launched the first global campaign for RCS this year; a key step in raising RCS awareness outside of the mobile community, and eventually getting it to a point where it can compete with the OTTs.


Is Rakuten the new Reliance Jio?

Kris Szaniawski, Practice Leader, Telecoms Operations and IT

At this year's MWC, it has been difficult to avoid mentions of Rakuten, or sightings of the Rakuten CTO speaking at event sessions or round tables. The Japanese operator is working hard to become this year's poster child for zero legacy innovation, a bit like Reliance Jio in previous years. But this is no coincidence given that the CTO has come from Reliance Jio.

Rakuten's claim to fame is that it is building what it claims to be the world's first end-to-end cloud native network. The operator is working with a wide array of partners in implementing this totally virtualized networking, including Nokia, Intel, Cisco, Altiosta, and Tech Mahindra. But there is more to Rakuten than just network innovation. In the CTO's words, "We are not a telecommunications company, we are an internet services company driven by innovation." And one of the tools Rakuten will use to enable this customer-centric transformation is a next-generation digital business and operations solution. It announced this week that it has signed a major contract with Netcracker that involves the vendor's end-to-end digital BSS solution, as well as a unified OSS solution deal with NEC. Major OSS/BSS transformations on this scale are relatively rare and unlikely to set a new trend. But MWC always loves to hear from a service provider innovator willing to splash out.


Exploring the contentious relationship between mobile edge computing and 5G

Julian Bright, Senior Analyst, Service Provider Technology

The degree of interdependence between mobile edge computing and 5G is proving a popular theme at MWC 2019. While 5G is widely believed to need edge computing in order to succeed, some vendors argue that the reverse need not apply, and are already claiming significant commercial success for edge computing deployments running on 4G. Others see no immediate use case for edge computing other than for 5G itself, and argue that operators are still very much at an exploratory stage.

As the level of complexity involved becomes more apparent, the range of companies with an interest in the technology is growing. The larger network equipment providers believe that edge cloud is an enabler for many of the use cases envisaged for 5G, and are already focused on aspects such as the distribution and location of radio and core network resources.

Meanwhile, newer players in the value chain are emerging with a view to providing the link between edge cloud infrastructure and the wider developer ecosystem that is expected to grow around edge network deployments. These include software providers wanting to help commercialize edge cloud by aggregating operators' existing infrastructure assets.


Efforts to connect the unconnected continue at MWC

Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst, Europe

Each year at MWC, companies reveal their latest efforts to further reduce the cost of connecting the unconnected. This year, perhaps the two most visible initiatives so far have been made by Orange and Nokia, both with some level of joint work with internet players. Major players in the telecoms industry partnering with internet players to increase the number of connected people in developing and rural markets points the way forward to achieving the inter-related objectives of bringing the benefits of connectivity to as many people as possible, and profitably growing revenue.

Orange partnered with KaiOS Technologies and UNISOC to launch a 3G+ phone with Google Assistant built in, retailing for $20 in 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Orange plans to launch the device in Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast in April, with other countries following within the year.

Meanwhile, Nokia will join Facebook's Express Wi-Fi Technology Partner ecosystem, expanding its participation in Facebook Connectivity's initiatives to enable CSPs to provide quality internet access to customers in emerging markets. First deployments are expected later in the year. Nokia is already collaborating with Facebook Connectivity to help develop technologies for Terragraph, Open Cellular, Open Transport Networks, and rural access.


Ericsson reaffirms importance of antennas as part of the 5G network solution

Daryl Schoolar, Practice Leader, Next Generation Infrastructure   

At Monday's kickoff press conference, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm announced that the vendor was acquiring Kathrein's antenna business. As Ovum has highlighted in previous MWC coverage, new advancements in antenna technologies, along with access to new spectrum bands, are two of the biggest changes within the radio access network coming with 5G. Acquiring Kathrein certainly makes Ericsson a stronger player in this market. Kathrein wasn't the only antenna news coming from the CEO's morning presentation. Ekholm also gave attendees a sneak preview of antenna strips. Antenna strips basically turn the antenna into tape for attaching to walls and ceilings. But Ericsson hasn't been the only vendor focused on antennas.

Blue Danube, Commscope, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE are all using MWC to show their latest antenna iterations. One thing they have in common is a goal to shrink the antenna footprint. One of the bigger challenges with massive MIMO antenna have been their size, leading to difficulty in deploying them. Shrinking the antenna footprint makes them easier to deploy and lowers tower rental costs. For most of mobile networks' history, antennas were something of an afterthought. They were important but not something radio vendors spent much time talking about. Clearly 5G changes that. 



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Lack of big MWC headlines on 5G is good news for the industry

Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst, Europe

From whatever angle you look at it, this year's MWC has been quiet around 5G compared to previous years. The biggest 5G news, Samsung's 5G Galaxy S10 and foldable 5G smartphone/tablet, didn't even happen at MWC, which is perhaps a reflection of the show's seemingly dwindling relevance to the big companies for major product or news announcements. Similarly, Qualcomm's announcement that it is already on the second iteration of its 5G chipset happened well before the event took place, as did Gemalto's industry-first 5G eSIM.

So apart from Sprint's important update on its 5G launch (set for May), the remainder of 5G news for the event was not major announcements, but what were essentially incremental updates from the major vendors on evolutions to their 5G product lines. Which is good news for the industry as a whole. Why? Because it shows that the 5G technology value chain is maturing just as it should to enable operators to roll out services.

Barring any problems around vendor inter-operability, the industry has succeeded in coming together to make 5G a commercial reality just two years after a group of major vendors announced at MWC 2017 that they were going to accelerate the timeline for a stepping-stone approach to 5G standardization as part of the so-called "non-standalone 5G new radio (NR)" initiative.

Fast forward to today, and, according to Ovum forecasts, there will be 721,000 5G subscriptions by year-end, which will leap to 37.4 million at end-'20. This would be an incredible level to reach for a new technology just two or so years after it was introduced. If 5G has another quiet news day at MWC 2020, the industry should again have a lot to celebrate. 


Mobile AR is a bit of a no-show at the show

Guillermo Escofet, Principal Analyst, Media & Entertainment

For the biggest show in the mobile industry's calendar, MWC 2019 has so far featured very little on mobile AR. There has been plenty of buzz around immersive AR – such as the launch of Microsoft's HoloLens 2 headset and Qualcomm's platform for 5G-powered XR headsets – but hardly anything on AR via smartphone screens, which is somewhat surprising, given the big mobile AR push made by Apple and Google in their respective developer conferences in 2018.

Google has, however, gone to some effort to place floor markers around the exhibition center which, when scanned via a dedicated app using ARCore-enabled Android phones, allow delegates to go on a treasure hunt, following virtual arrows and signs, and collecting virtual pins. All very gimmicky, but an illustration of how such technology could be used to navigate consumers around large spaces or events, such as shopping malls or the Olympics, and feed them with relevant information on what they are seeing. 


The public cloud gets some limelight at MWC 2019

Adaora Okeleke, Senior Analyst, Telecoms Operations and IT

In the run-up to MWC 2019, some vendors made announcements regarding the launch of the public cloud service offerings of their OSS/BSS systems. Service assurance vendor MYCOM OSI launched its public cloud offering, called the Experience Assurance Analytics (EEA) suite of applications (branded Assurance cloud), while BSS vendor Optiva announced that its Revenue Management Suite is now available as a public cloud service offering on the Google Cloud Platform. Both solutions have been re-architected using the cloud-native architecture (based on microservices) to take full advantage of the speed and auto-scaling capabilities that come with running on the public cloud infrastructure.

While CSPs have been slow to move core OSS/BSS applications to the public cloud, we expect this trend to pick up. Ovum's ICT Enterprise Insights 2018/19 survey indicates that the number of CSPs that plan to move workloads such as revenue management and network management to the public cloud in 2019 is expected to be almost double the number that indicated they planned to do so in the 2017/18 survey. Key drivers influencing this move include the need for an agile, fast, and cost-effective approach to deploying new services, and investment being made by public cloud service providers such as AWS and Google Cloud Platform to address initial barriers of security, privacy, and reliability.

As CSPs migrate core applications to the public cloud, they must be prepared to transform internal operations toward the DevOps model. DevOps practices focus on developing the discipline needed to maintain operations running on the public cloud, ensuring that the business can respond to customer demand and deliver quality when required.


MWC 2019 sees enormous buzz around LoRa

Alexander Harrowell, Senior Analyst, SME & SoHo ICT Services

Operators and vendors alike are being increasingly candid in their embrace of the so-called LPWA technologies, and in fact these are being offered more and more consistently as part of 5G. We have repeatedly heard that the "massive IoT" element of 5G itself is in trouble, with the early chipsets being far too power-hungry and expensive for anything but the most lucrative, ultra-broadband applications. By the time it’s ready – some players are now putting this as late as 2022, or beyond – the LPWA technologies are likely to have conquered.

That said, there remains a lot to do. There is enormous buzz around LoRa at MWC, but roaming among other things is expected to be demonstrated later this year. And that’s just a demo. Despite the GSMA’s championship of NB-IoT, vendors and operators we spoke to often reported they were in reality using LTE-M, LTE Cat-1, or traditional cellular while waiting for the delivery of something better. This doesn’t seem to be holding anyone back, though: launches like the innovative prepaid-only IoT MVNO, 1NCE; and alliances like that between AT&T and Vodafone to provide better global support for connected cars, alongside a host of new use cases and applications promise much. Who knew American car dealers use the IoT to check their enormous stocks – as many as six thousand vehicles – which haven’t vanished?



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