Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016: Big Hype and Real Data

By February 10, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

It is hard to believe that it has been a year since our first trip to Mobile World Congress (MWC). And as we madly prepare for this year’s conference, we reflect on last year’s event, and look forward to what we will learn and who we will connect with this time.

The exciting thing about MWC is that everyone in the industry goes. But behind all the flash of new product announcements and press releases, the engineers and decision makers from the trenches are also there to show off their hard work. Here you can meet the key players, find out the real story behind what they are doing, and learn the actual state of play.

A year ago, the wireless IOT solutions movement was just gaining traction. And in the year since, it has become the biggest story in telecoms. Talk of low bit rate, low-power networks has dominated wireless conversations, and the term LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks) became the hot acronym of the year.

Last year we met a group of engineers from a little company called Nuel who had just been bought by Huawei in 2014. They were excitedly showing off their prospective wireless technology for IOT applications that they had just introduced to the 3GPP standards body. We were impressed by the simplicity of their system. It was a wild ride for them this past year, as their technology was put through the 3GPP wringer. It merged with other technologies and was renamed at least twice. I hope we get a chance to meet these guys at the Narrowband-IOT summit at MWC, hear their version of the journey, and compare notes on current proposed solutions.

Having spent the last year implementing LTE CAT-1 and CAT-0 and looking at LTE-M, we have a good grasp of the possibilities and challenges here. But 3GPP is offering multiple paths for IOT: LTE-M, NB-IOT, and EC-GSM. This leaves a lot of questions in terms of who is deploying what and where. We are going to MWC for answers. We will be talking to carriers, module makers, chipset manufacturers and infrastructure vendors to build a picture of the market’s direction and also build key partnerships.

Another company we met last year was SIGFOX. Almost exactly a year ago, this French start-up announced a $115M funding round to build out its network globally. They made a bold move to build a worldwide IOT network in unlicensed bands, and took an innovative approach to driving adoption: by giving away the technology. The team was passionate and confident. But in the last year, their success has generated many rivals. This year we will talk to them again, and discuss how their expansion is going. We will also talk to representatives of their top competitor, LoRa. I still have doubts that these ISM technologies can provide a scalable, sustainable solution in the long term, but I look forward to discussion and competing opinions.

Virtualization was a big topic last year. Both core and RAN are primed for radical transformation. Last year NFV was being promoted by all the big infrastructure and equipment vendors. During the year we were lucky enough to get a front row seat to some initial testing of a vEPC solution. I am interested to see advances in virtualization: vRAN or cloudRAN blows my mind. The possibilities on how spectrum will be managed in the future using virtualization are astounding. This will be the really transformative part of 5G. While there were a couple of interesting demos last year, I hope to see some truly innovative stuff this year.

MWC 2016 is a huge, exciting event where the big players put on a big show. But it also gives us smaller guys a one-stop shop for access to the key players – of all sizes – in mobile. While being in the thick of the hype will be exciting, we expect to achieve and learn a lot. And going to Barcelona, well that is just icing on the cake.