With 108,00 attendees this year (up 7% from 2016) from more than 200 countries, and more than 2,200 exhibitors, MWC is still in its prestigious position as the biggest trade show in the telecommunications industry.
MWC17 reflected a sense of technological evolution as opposed to a “big bang” revolution. As a natural progression from the massive leaps forward that were highlighted at last year’s Congress in areas such as NFV, 5G, and IoT, this year was about moving past the hype phase and into the first stages of actualization.
5G, Full Speed Ahead
As with the overall atmosphere of the telecom industry at MWC17, 5G is a building wave rather than a sudden change. Piece by piece, the components of 5G are beginning to fall into place.
5G, originally planned for 2020, may not be ready for its official red carpet roll-out, but we are starting to see segments of it go into effect. Many of its supporting technologies are in development, testing, or trial stages, and a few are being currently implemented live by Tier 1 operators.
Generally speaking, 5G is expected to provide much faster speeds, broader and more far-reaching connectivity and signal accessibility, very low latency (crucial in cases where automated systems must make split-second decisions, such as with smart cars), multi-network redundancy and ultra-reliability, and much more bandwidth (able to handle 500x more traffic than 4G).
5G does not replace 4G LTE, rather, it is built on to existing 4G networks. Some operators are starting to offer support for LTE Advanced, and several mobile devices are set up to work with it already. With goals of gigabit speeds still ahead of us, different forms of LTE could be the midpoint while we await full 5G. Gigabyte LTE will in any case coexist with 5G for a long time, and help keep customer experience consistent as 5G is rolled out.
Several technologies do depend on 5G to function smoothly, or at all: nothing else can give them the speed and bandwidth they need to run. Virtual reality requires low latency in order to provide an immersive experience that won’t give users headaches and “cyber sickness”, the surreal nauseous sensation that can happen when the virtual world around you is moving slightly slower than your perception indicates it should. Mission critical services such as haptic remote surgery, or vehicle driving and safety systems (remote or autonomous), must have constant connectivity and near-nil latency. And of course, IoT as a whole will add even more complexity and huge amounts of data to the network, depending on 5G for full viability. 5G deserves the excitement displayed at MWC17 – it enables next generation experiences and solutions.
Connecting the Dots with IoT
This year’s MWC exhibitions and presentations did much more than imagine IoT (Internet of Things): they showcased some incredible IoT in action. From the flashy automated race car to the more prosaic and practical smart truck with its driving and maintenance diagnostics, IoT clearly has its foot on the gas. Other robotics and drones were also on display, showing off their IoT-enabled abilities for manufacturing and delivery. And health monitoring wearable devices are well on their way to improving connected wellness.
Smart city initiatives looked at the sustainability, greening, and safety benefits of an IoT-based city system. Sustainability in general was a big topic at MWC17: as technology pushes ahead, the hope is that as resources are better managed and monitored, increased efficiency and reduced waste will create a noticeably positive impact on society and the environment, while simultaneously accelerating business, employment, and production opportunities.
There was a lot of buzz at MWC17 around NFV, network functions virtualization, and SDN, software-defined networks. While these have been widely discussed in the last few years, this year was about embracing their growth into a a more automated, intelligent network. All major operators are planning to migrate to virtualized networks; some are at more advanced stages than others.
NFV transformation overall is cautious, stepping ahead onto a bridge it’s building as it progresses. Official standards are in the process of being defined. With every move taken in the moment, using the virtualization knowledge and technology that is currently available, it is not really possible to know exactly how things will fit together into a more finalized, articulated framework. That being the case, operators are keeping their virtualization platform options open and flexible; they don’t want to be locked into a set direction that they can’t back out of. It’s more important to the big telecom players to compete on services rather than on infrastructure, so it makes sense for operators to collaborate on NFV frameworks, as standards for virtualization technology emerge and merge. The latest merger is ONAP, which brings together two of the leading open source MANO groups, ECOMP and Open-O.
Despite the lack of a detailed and accurate crystal ball for what final virtualization platform standards will be, NFV itself is already defined, its direction is clearly future-facing, and pioneering virtualization projects are amassing experience and know-how for their participating companies as they live-test and continue to develop virtual-based functionality.
Another spotlight at this year’s MWC was on the move away from operators’ network-focused views of their business, towards a customer-centric philosophy that looks at the full subscriber lifecycle across all touchpoints.
Customer-centricity in telecommunications is all about delivering flawless quality of experience, serving the customer with every interaction that occurs directly between operator and subscriber, and with every use of services offered to subscribers. As Harley Manning, VP of Forrester Research, put it: “The only source of competitive advantage is one that can survive technology-fueled disruption: an obsession with customer experience.”
Operators today seek to differentiate themselves through quality of experience and service rather than winning customers over through price point alone. A rise in subscriber numbers but a corresponding drop in ARPU is not only unsustainable as a business strategy, it is simply not enough to bring in and retain today’s demanding and knowledgeable customers. Satisfying subscribers through positive interactions and reliably excellent service is a solid and time-tested strategy.
How can telcos work on improving their customer experience? Understanding subscribers, their quality of experience, and the details of network function is a good foundation. With the insights delivered by comprehensive monitoring and analytics, operators can get a better sense of what is needed to really satisfy customers and ensure their loyalty.
RADCOM at MWC17
MaveriQ A+, an NFV-native customer experience and probe-based service assurance solution, was presented at RADCOM’s booth at Mobile World Congress. RADCOM itself has been called a disruptor, leading the assurance industry in the software-based revolution. Certainly it is at the forefront of the transformation, partnering with AT&T in its massive strides ahead into telco virtualization. MaveriQ A+ is fully integrated with ONAP as well as OSM (Open Source Mano), which positions RADCOM well in the market as operators look for an assurance solution that is part of an open virtualized architecture. As with 5G’s move from hype to on-the-ground action, vProbe (virtual probe) -based assurance is one of the places where we are starting to see the reality of NFV, as well as some of its benefits.