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.
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.
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.
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 6,000 vehicles – which haven't vanished?