neXt Curve was in Barcelona covering the largest mobile communications conference in the world, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2018, with 108,000 attendees from around the globe converging on the Fira Gran Via Convention Center. Much like CES (Consumer Electronics Show) MWC is an overwhelming event but we managed to cover a great deal over the four days. This year, the mantra of the conference was “Intelligent Connectivity” driven by AI and the great promise of 5G.
Here are our key takeaways from our coverage of Mobile World Congress 2018:
5G Still Has a Very Long Way to Go and Commercialization Faces Many Big Challenges
This year, the big deal was the Korea Telecom’s commercial trail of 5G at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Despite a lot of talk about 5G coming in 2019 it is still a long way off in the horizon. We were surprised (and pleased) by a small minority of speakers and panelists who put a spotlight on the technical and market challenges that 5G will face. In particular, a panel hosted by Chris Nicoll of ACG Research provided a very honest appraisal of the prospects of 5G.
5G is banking on marquee applications such as autonomous and connected vehicles and ultra hi-def video. Beyond this prototypical use case you get the impression that 5G is being driven by a lot of nice-to-have applications. We question and doubt the viability of autonomous vehicles as the 5G killer application for many reasons. It is clear that carriers and telco tech vendors are struggling with building a business case for 5G. While the industry continues to build its hopes and dreams for 5G, as I told Chris Nicoll, I’m still waiting for the 4G promise to be delivered.
Security and Privacy are Increasingly Critical as Computing Moves Between Data Center-Edge-Endpoint
Security is getting ever more complicated as enterprises and consumers are faced with an increasingly complex portfolio of computing environments that are now spreading beyond the data center and our devices, across the fast-emerging Edge driven by forecasted Internet of Things demand and anticipation of 5G. A common concern expressed in several of the operator and vendor presentations is a lack of an end-to-end security solution today.
On the privacy front, GDPR is top of mind for EU markets. There was a significant focus on privacy and the security infrastructure and practices that need to be in place to be ready on May 25 when GDPR goes into effect. However, there are concerns regarding the readiness of governments and businesses in complying with GDPR requirements. Privacy by design will be important for new businesses, and existing businesses may need to redesign their business models.
Can a Great Camera Win The Day? Smartphones are Yesterday’s News
The only notable smartphone announcement this year was the Samsung S9, which featured a new camera, but the news of the week was Apple, which was not present at MWC. The iPhone X notch was emulated by everyone ad nauseam! The smartphone category, which was the exciting tech category at Mobile World Congresses of the past decade, has lost its luster. The device business is no longer, and hasn’t been for a long time, about the hardware. The many copycat vendors are merely playing a commodity game. It was clear that Apple and its iPhone still dominates all things smartphone.
But there were bright spots. The Huawei’s P20 shows promise in challenging the iPhone X with a powerful, stylish configuration and a shooter designed by Leica. We will see if it makes a splash toward the end of the month. Maybe three forward-facing camera lenses will make a difference.
Today, AI is Predominantly Rebranding of The Old Rules-Based Decision Engine Applications
AI was supposed to be one of the big themes of the conference and a critical contributor to the vision of “intelligent connectivity.” However, AI claims and implementations were little more than rules-based algorithms running off of a decision engine or an analytics/modeling tool. AI has a long way to go outside of NLP, which is nothing new. Think lipstick on a data analytics pig. We can expect surprises next year as we see vendors implement AI in more robust and valuable use cases such as security and network management.
Say Bye to Cloud. Say Hi to Dynamic, Ubiquitous Compute – The Containerization of the IT & CT Stack is Underway!
This year, the cloud conversation is starting to evolve toward ubiquitous compute driven by edge computing and the promise of 5G. We saw an increasing number of cloud vendors as well as telcos showcasing edge computing offerings, such as Alibaba Cloud with their Cloud Enterprise Network, and AT&T’s edge offering for IoT. We will be keeping an eye on the ongoing convergence of IT & CT technologies and its impact on how we think of cloud computing and network services. It will change the game.
Show Me The Money! Telco Transformation Into a “Better Service Provider” Remains a Tough Pill to Swallow
Having worked with and advised some of the leading global telcos as well as their telco vendors, we at neXt Curve know that the operator’s digital transformation journey is a difficult one to justify and start. Telcos digital transformation in becoming a “better service provider” is still in need of a compelling business case. It is apparent that digitization and service expansion and innovation are significant investments and commitments that only pay off over time. It is clear that expected sources of new value services in the world of 5G are IoT and content/media. Maybe these are the service domains where 5G will get its mojo.
Implications for Business Leaders
The 5G journey will be a long one that will broadly and deeply change the ICT landscape and create new opportunities for incumbent and new players, but also present threats to the establishment. Business leaders should cut through the hype and understand the realities that will eventually deflate the hype that is currently inflating the expectations of 5G. Like Cloud, 5G means something different depending on the audience. Realize that 5G and its transformation is a lot bigger than a number and a capitalized letter.
Operators need to get real about the end user use cases that will drive the ROI of 5G transformation. Is it the autonomous vehicle? Is it virtual reality or augmented reality? All of the above? It will be critical to have a holistic view of how technologies and applications are evolving down to silicon, and to have clear visibility to the emerging computing models and market dynamics that could challenge the assumptions of your 5G roadmap.
Vendors that win will go to market with solid vertical industry value propositions and use cases for 5G applications. Hypothetical scenarios based on conventional views on an industry will not provide visibility to the end market opportunities that vendors can help their operator customers pursue to make 5G transformation a priority and committed investment.