It looks like after four years, MWC is back in near top form. Last year’s event was what many described as the Goldilocks event. Not too big, not too small. It was one of the more important years for the event as we saw the war in Ukraine reach a grisly and tragic anniversary, tensions between the US and China continue to rise with the spy balloon incident, the Open RAN movement continue to face reckoning and retrospection (a very good thing), and 5G scrapping the bottom of the trough of disillusionment as the industry at large struggles delivering the 5G Promise.
The unofficial theme of MWC 2023 borrowed from the film, “Jerry McGuire”-
“Show me the money!”
Our research agenda for MWC 2023 focused on the following themes:
- Security & trust + Privacy First solutions
- Open RAN
- 5G Advanced and the state of 6G hype
- mmWave and 5G FWA
- Satellite cellular services
- Test, measurement & service assurance
- Monetization, next-gen BSS
- Service Management & Orchestration (SMO) & the RIC
- Private networks for enterprise and industrial
- Connected car – CV2X and intelligent transportation infrastructure
I usually boil down my takes to five or six but this year there were too many. Rather that shortlist, here are neXt Curve’s key takeaways and highlights from Mobile World Congress 2023.
- Takeaway 1 – Open RAN Squid Game is in full effect
- Takeaway 2 – xApps won’t matter without the RIC
- Takeaway 3 – The 5G Advanced race is on
- Takeaway 4 – Modernization is the key to monetization
- Takeaway 5 – 5G FWA is a big deal
- Takeaway 6 – Telco cloud is an uphill battle for hyperscalers
- Takeaway 7 – The autonomous network is nascent
- Takeaway 8 – 50 shades of Open RAN
- Takeaway 9 – Metaverse is dead but has returned as a Web3 zombie
- Takeaway 10 – Enterprise private 5G networks in POC purgatory
- Takeaway 11 – The accelerator race goes into overdrive
- Takeaway 12 – The 5G API Economy is nigh?
- Takeaway 13 – eSIM is inevitable and a monetization enabler
- Takeaway 14 – Technology indigestion
TAKEAWAY 1 – Open RAN Squid Game is in full effect
It feels like this year, a small community of Open RAN players are getting bolder, and we are seeing some potential winners in round one, but the ecosystem is wallowing in what is effectively a POC and pilot purgatory. 2022 was filled with press releases about partnerships, MOUs, commercial trials, and test lab pilots. This dynamic which we have seen in IoT continues to limit opportunities for Open RAN vendors to expand their businesses and revenues.
In particular, the “Rip and Replace” programs in the US and the UK spurred on by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Clean Network campaign under the Trump Administration have not yielded the seismic event that the Open RAN community had hoped would shift the global RAN vendor landscape dominated by Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia, and ZTE in their favor.
As of January of this year, only $41.1 million of the $1.9 billion in funding has been issued to Supply Chain Reimbursement Program (SCRP) applicants with many of the larger applicants such as NE Colorado Cellular Inc., and Union Telephone Company in early phases of their replacement projects and awaiting funding approval.
The Open RAN movement is under increased pressure to spur momentum after a year in which substantial brownfield wins have been notably limited and marquee pilots such as DT’s O-RAN Town have faced setbacks providing little assurance that we are looking at a breakout year of Open RAN growth in 2023.
In my view, 2023 will be an urgent year for Open RAN players to get their “winning focus” on as the window closes on this next round of the Open RAN Squid Game.
TAKEAWAY 2 – xApps won’t matter without the RIC
At MWC 2022, there was a loud clamor about rApps and xApps as the subject of the RIC or RAN Intelligent Controller went into overdrive. We saw vendors across the board from Ericsson, Nokia, Juniper Networks, VMware, and Qualcomm (with their acquisition of Cellwise) come to the market with RIC and Service Management & Orchestration (SMO) offerings. Mavenir recently got into the fray with the announcement of their own O-RIC (Open RAN Intelligent Controller) back in February of this year.
The hope last year was that the RIC, in particular xApps that operate on the Near-Real-Time RIC, would be the engine of innovation for 3rd party RAN software developers and a channel for infusing AI-based intelligence into the far reaches of the RAN.
Alas, the footprint of Open RAN lacks the scale for RIC to have mindshare among network architect, engineers, and developers outside of test labs and early commercial pilots. In this regard, the incumbents such as Ericsson and Nokia have the upper hand by taking an O-RAN compliant or ready approach.
Ericsson, for example, has taken what they call a multi-technology solution approach which I covered in a neXt Curve article in December of 2021. Nokia launched its SEP or Service Enablement Platform a while back in March of 2021 which it developed in collaboration with AT&T. Even Huawei with their Intelligent RAN announced at MWC 2022 has gotten into the xApp/rApp game, non-O-RAN compliant, of course.
I think companies like Cohere Technologies with their OTFS (Orthogonal Time Frequency and Space) waveform technology have potentially transformative xApps for future open-ish networks. At the moment, there aren’t enough RICs in place to foster a community and market for xApp developers. Innovative pioneers like Cohere Technologies will have to continue waiting on the sidelines until RICs reach a critical mass of operator interest and meaningful deployment.
TAKEAWAY 3 – The 5G Advanced race is on
We got an earful of 6G at MWC 2022, but this year it was clear that we are entering the epoch of 5G Advanced as 3GPP working groups are pounding away at Release 18 that is anticipated to kick off the next set of features that will hopefully take 5G beyond eMBB into new industrial and enterprise opportunities for the industry.
The vendor with the biggest megaphone was notably Huawei. neXt Curve was invited to attend a special analyst briefing entitled “5.5G Is Coming”. If you have been following neXt Curve, you will recall that I have written extensively about Huawei’s 5.5G strategy for three years since they introduced the proposal at Huawei MBB Summit 2020.
Since their first 5.5G pitch, Huawei has dramatically evolved their framework to include fixed networks, what Huawei dubs F5.5G that closely references ETSI’s F5G-Advanced. In short, you can’t achieve the promise of 5G Advanced without fiber.
One staple of Huawei’s 5.5G vision continues to be uplink, which I have long asserted is the next frontier for 5G Advanced and beyond. Gan Bin, CMO of Huawei’s wireless product line, emphasized the demand from Chinese operators for Gigabit uplink and cited Flexible Uplink Carrier Switch and Aggregation, a Release 17 feature that will be supported by Qualcomm’s newly announced X75 modem-RF system and further advanced in Release 18. This is a big deal but notably something driven by Chinese operators who recognize the importance of uplink performance and capacity to enable new breeds of industrial and consumer mobile applications.
Qualcomm was equally vocal about its 5G Advanced vision. John Smee, SVP of Engineering, held a briefing to go over seventeen R&D initiatives that he and his team have been working on that could be candidate technologies for 5G Advanced and informative of the direction of 6G over the next five to ten years.
I found Qualcomm’s “Path to Full Duplex” and “Intelligent Scheduling for Virtualized 5G Private Networks” showcases most interesting with the former demonstrating Qualcomm’s deep research into advanced uplink techniques, and the later bringing SMO and RIC to private networks for industrial reliability and QoS.
The 5G Advanced race is on and it’s going to heat up especially as the geopolitical situation between the US and China continues to deteriorate and the two countries duke it out for 5G technological supremacy.
TAKEAWAY 4 – Modernization is key to monetization
The topic of 5G monetization continued to struggle at MWC 2023 leaving the industry with another year of largely unanswered questions.
We saw familiar PowerPoint slides and the same talking points by panelists from prior years. Each presentation more often than not concluded with proposals to the industry about making remote robotic surgery, cloud gaming, and XR big money makers from the estimated 1.5 trillion USD in 5G infrastructure investments expected in the next seven years according to GSMA’s latest “The Mobile Economy 2023” report.
In my discussions with Amdocs, who sponsored neXt Curve’s 5G modernization and monetization research agenda for MWC 2023, we pinpointed an urgent need for the topic of monetization to be brought down to earth, integrated, and synched based on the unique state of modernization of each operator and the broader industry.
A reset in how we approach and talk about the monetization topic is especially important given the challenging macroeconomic environment (high interest rates and slowing regional economic growth/recession) tempering 5G modernization investments by operators globally. The era of near-zero capital is over.
In an interview with Vardit Kuznik Bitan, VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at Amdocs, we discussed the vital role that operational systems (BSS/OSS) modernization and new Amdocs Customer Experience Suite (CES) features and products like Freestyle Billing plays in supporting and enabling monetization recognizing that most operators are dealing with diverse, complex systems and technology portfolios and facing challenging 5G journeys in front of them.
In principle, we agreed that before operators can contemplate aspirational monetization opportunities, 5G services, and business models, operators and vendors need to focus on three things to grease the wheels on their 5G modernization:
- Firstly, operators need to establish a flexible, cloud-native, and modular core systems architecture and a framework and tools for unifying operational data across the business and systems. Compliance with industry standards and frameworks such as TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) will be important in helping operators evolve their operational systems portfolios in a modular and flexible way making systems integration and modernization efforts easier.
- Secondly, ICT vendors need to help operators consolidate and simplify their systems and technology portfolios. This may mean encapsulating legacy systems in wrappers that allow them to “talk to” modern, cloud-native systems.
- Third, operators will want to evolve their operational systems portfolio (BSS, OSS, CRM, and accounting) in a way that prioritizes features and capabilities that that foster operational flexibility. This will enable the operator to quickly deliver and monetize new services that avail themselves as the operator’s infrastructure progresses along its 5G modernization path.
Acceleration is another topic we touched on. Amdocs and others are coming to market with packaged, ready-to-deploy solutions such as Amdocs’ eSIM Cloud that helps operators accelerate the buildout of new operational capabilities they need to go to market quickly with new services.
Amdocs is one of a growing and diverse field of ICT vendors creating aggregator/brokerage-style plays offered as an XaaS solution offerings taking the CPaaS and other solution models to new frontiers such as Amdocs’ Digital Brands for MNOs, and Subscription Marketplace for OTT and content services.
Ericsson’s bet on Vonage and plans to extend the CPaaS platform into Global Network Platform (GNP) is another great example of this trend. The combined company is gearing to help operators create new revenue opportunities by exposing advanced features and capabilities of their 5G networks to developers as consumable network services.
TAKEAWAY 5 – 5G FWA is a big deal
Speaking of 5G monetization, 5G FWA was the clear bright spot. Why? Because it has been more real than any other monetization proposition and thesis pitched to date. According to a recent Leichtman Research Group report, FWA account for 90 percent of adds in the US market in 2022.
As a 5G application, FWA promises to make significant traction going forward. Reliance Jio announced in September of last year their goal of connecting 100 million locations with their 5G FWA service. Unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of chatter in Barcelona about the prospect of Jio shifting 5G FWA into overdrive. Questions remain as to timing and if the company can execute to realize its lofty ambition.
Regardless, Jio’s effort will be promising for 5G FWA as well as a useful tool and revenue expansion opportunity for the operator. I expect that Jio’s foray into 5G FWA will yield important innovations for emerging market scenarios as their 5G deployments clash with India’s challenging infrastructure situation. Maybe Jio will make IAB (Integrated Access and Backhaul), a promising Release 16 feature that has gotten little press and traction, a thing.
On the technology front, companies such as Qualcomm continue to drive important innovations in the 5G NR fixed wireless access domain with their 3rd generation FWA platform announced a week before MWC. Qualcomm’s latest FWA platform features extended range mmWave AND extended range sub-6GH and Wi-Fi 7. The mmWave + sub-6 topologies look particularly promising in providing operators with significant versatility to achieve coverage and QoS for their deployments.
5G FWA is the monetization thing to watch. Let’s hope that through the course of 2023 it proves to be as killer as we would like it to be.
TAKEAWAY 6 – Telco Cloud is an uphill battle for hyperscalers
The role of the hyperscaler has been a question that has vexed the industry for the last few years as the likes of AWS, Microsoft, and GCP have made their expanding cloud and edge value propositions known.
Not all that is cloud is magic nor does their pitch resonate well for the telco cloud. Sure, AT&T and Dish Networks have famously deployed their network cores on the public cloud, but each instance has admittedly been an engineering feat.
The telco clouds and the RAN clouds, as many of the hyperscalers and their telco customers are discovering, are purpose built for the industry. They are not your typical public cloud as Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Symphony, has told me on many occasions in the past couple of years. He is evidently correct.
One of the emerging headwinds challenging the hyperscaler’s telco ambitions is the gale of hybrid cloud that is churning through the ICT industry. Telco vendors that I spoke to are increasingly recognizing and testifying that operators are gravitating toward hybrid cloud strategies for their network infrastructure.
This is not necessarily the case for business systems such as the operator’s BSS, OSS, and CRM. For example, Amdocs has doubled down with AWS to host their revamped Digital Brands offering with a new serverless architecture and announced their collaboration with Microsoft in integrating Dynamics CRM with Amdocs CES (Customer Experience Suite) CPQ and order management all on The Microsoft Cloud.
I’m not suggesting doom and gloom for hyperscalers in the telco network. I merely sense a need for a rethinking of position and approach.
On my AWS stand tour, the company showcased a number of interesting use cases for telco cloud that made a lot of sense. For one, disaster recovery and backup for service resiliency and business continuity. Using AWS for “cost-efficient” failover or backup 5G core (courtesy of NEC) could prove a compelling strategy for operators such as NTT Docomo that operate in disaster prone regions such as Japan.
Another cool use case that AWS demoed at their stand was a testing and planning service for RAN optimization for sustainability. AWS showcased their collaboration with Juniper Networks, Viavi, and Aira Technologies for a ML-based network intelligence platform for dynamic power management. One of the nifty aspects of the solution architecture is the use of AWS Sagemaker to quickly implement AI data pipelines for integrating data across sites.
Regarding the role of the hyperscaler in telco, the question seems to be less about whether they will compete against operators which has long been an industry concern. Rather, how will they fit whether as a partner, vendor, or customer for the network and telcos that operate them?
I suspect we will have a better view in a year, but the hyperscalers will likely need to pivot as they learn what their optimal and valuable telco game needs to be through the course of 2023.
Most definitely a research agenda item to revisit for MWC 2024!
TAKEAWAY 7 – The autonomous network is nascent
Against the massive tidal wave of hype that is ChatGPT, many ICT vendors are pivoting hard on AI touting their chops and the promise of zero-touch everything. The question is how ready are operators? What is their readiness for adopting some of these AI solutions whether it network traffic optimization or the use case du jour, energy optimization (intelligent sleep or Zero Byte Zero Watt)?
In my discussions with vendor product and operator network engineers, this AI stuff is not going to be that easy or all that it has been hyped up to be. Firstly, it will require a massive amount of data that may be difficult to segment and harmonize even if an operator has it. Second, the model training will take months delaying benefit, diminishing the efficacy of the model, and a bevy of other risks to value.
I also noticed that the industry tends to forget the most essential thing about AI as it pertains to the network. AI is a probabilistic tool for an otherwise deterministic infrastructure and operations that is the telco.
The jury is out as to whether the system-level benefits of intelligent automation and optimization will be exponential as many claim or merely incremental. We hear about the need for sustainable networks but is AI the path to realization or will the AI overhead offset the benefits? This is a question rarely asked or mentioned in the numerous analyst briefings and sessions I attended but is one that will eventually have to be reckoned with.
For the operators, the challenge in front of them is reaching a lofty tipping point along the automation maturity curve needed to begin entertaining the idea of autonomy. Maybe not-so-intelligent automation will deliver the biggest bang for the buck which can be more realistically realized by operators given the state of their readiness and operational and tech maturity today.
It’s neXt Curve’s view that vendors that get this point will better position themselves to be valuable partners to operators versus those that are betting (and pushing) operators beyond readiness and their diminishing appetite for aspirational levels of autonomy.
TAKEAWAY 8 – 50 shades of Open RAN
Outside of the keynote halls and vendor sponsored sessions, talk of Open RAN was noticeably subdued. This year, it didn’t feel like the big deal that it was the last two years when Rakuten Mobile dominated the headlines with even most modest of announcements.
Instead, it seems that the slow traction and perceived malaise of the Open RAN movement tamped down the level of excitement and interest in the exhibit halls. I heard a lot more about cloud RAN this year from the vendors I spoke to such as Wind River, HPE, Lenovo, Samsung Networks, and others. Yes, it seems that cloud-native, disaggregated RAN is in vogue coming in 50 shades from purpose-built to fully O-RAN compliant.
Ironically, on the keynote stage Ericsson and Nokia were quite vocal about their support of Open RAN. I had a chat with Ericsson’s Global CTO, Erik Ekudden, who assured me of the company’s full commitment to Open RAN. Yet, Ericsson seems to be taking a O-RAN ready approach that extends their Cloud RAN with their “multi-technology” Intelligent Automation Platform SMO that supports integrated orchestration, management, and automation of Open RAN, and Ericsson’s Cloud, and purpose-built RANs.
Nokia’s announcement of anyRAN made a similar “open” commitment to Open RAN by supporting various Cloud RAN architectures built around Nokia’s Cloud RAN SmartNIC for inline L1 processing. Like Ericsson, Nokia is keeping their options open to cater to their customers’ requirements and inclinations for O-RAN compliance.
I also had a chance to talk to Samsung Networks, the rising vRAN star. They announced their O-RAN compliant vRAN 3.0 software suite at MWC this year and shared some important wins and accomplishments, most notably, Vodafone advancing their Open RAN trails in Germany and Spain using Samsung vRAN as well as radios, and KDDI lighting up what Samsung touts as the first commercial 5G SA Open RAN site.
Samsung Networks continues to rack up important wins for Open RAN, but the movement has a long way to go as it seems OEMs and operators are prioritizing cloud RAN and vRAN for their network infrastructure modernization for both 4G and 5G as the principle of multi-vendor Open RAN diminishes as a selling point.
TAKEAWAY 9 – Metaverse is dead but has returned as a Web3 zombie
MWC 2022 was all about the “Metaverse”. At MWC 2023, outside of the keynote hall, you didn’t hear much about Metaverse. Vendors and operators were notably conscious of associating themselves with what has been an unproductive hype from the get-go.
Yes, there was a change of tone this year; a reasonable refocusing on immersive media, call it XR, and more immersive communications. Little mention of “metaverse-ready” networks that Meta tried to popularize at MWC 2022. There seemed to be little appetite for it in the discernibly more value-centric conversations that I had with vendors and operators.
Yet, the keynote stage continued to be disconnected from what matters to operators. The new pivot is Web3 which is equally as nebulous, unknown, and uncertain as Metaverse. In this regard, there was little if any explanation as to how Web3 would solve any of the challenges the telecommunications industry faces as it struggles to progress along the 5G journey. No tangible and realistic roadmap.
I suspect Web3 will also begin its decline as a talking point in 2023 as the telecoms industry loses its appetite and patience for fanciful distractions and is forced to get something done with renewed urgency. Hopefully the GSMA and key sponsors will pivot toward practical for MWC 2024.
Earth computing, anyone?
TAKEAWAY 10 – Enterprise private 5G networks in POC purgatory
The big news in private 5G this year was the announcement of HPE’s acquisition of Athonet. The headline was received with a great deal of buzz among analysts and media. Is it that big of a deal?
Much like Cisco, Ericsson+ Cradlepoint which provide a SASE umbrella under which their private 5G offerings can be presented with an “easier button” and as just another access option, HPE and its SASE-wielding peers have a better chance of taking out the friction of an IT organization’s decision to experiment with and deploy a private 5G network for their company in my assessment.
On the industrial private 5G front, there was a lot of talk about simplification, cloud-managed deployment options but private 5G networks will likely not be based on out-of-the-box solutions.
As we saw with Huawei’s “5G-oriented” (really a 4G eLTE) smart mine project with Debswana showcased at MWC 2023, designing the last generation network into an autonomous mining system takes time (over 2 years) and is a highly engineered process and implementation with the connectivity technology contending with increasingly smart and autonomous devices operating in these industrial environments.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that private 5G needs to deliver ultra-reliable networks and communications to justify the investment in most industrial sectors AND the enterprise. NB-IoT and 5G NR-Light are not likely going to drive industrial interest in private 5G in the near to medium term. 5G NR-Light is simply too new, and NB-IoT has proven not to be a viable beachhead feature.
With Release 16 features just becoming commercial, we may have to wait a couple more years to see meaningful uptake of private 5G in industries that will require the enhanced URLLC features of infrastructure.
In the meantime, industrial private 5G will largely wallow in POC through the course of 2023 at the least. Most private 5G network initiatives in industrial sectors continue to be trials with most production implementations using LTE.
As far as private 5G for the enterprise, it will need to prove its worth. I think it must otherwise it could very well get caught up in the POC purgatory that created so much disappointment in IoT.
Gloomy outlook? No, justifiably cautious. I had a great conversation with Stephen Douglas, Head of Market Strategy at Spirent Communications. We went over the key findings of the Spirent 2023 5G Report which confirmed many aspects of neXt Curve’s private 5G thesis going into MWC 2023. Check it out and you will see where I’m coming from. It’s a great and important read for private 5G prospectors.
I’m looking forward to revisiting this important 5G topic at MWC 2024.
TAKEAWAY 11 – The accelerator race goes into overdrive
If you wanted excitement and drama, semiconductors were a hot ticket at MWC 2023, in particular accelerators and SmartNICs for L1 processing. Much of the interest in accelerators stem from the challenges that Open RAN hardware OEMs have had with handling L1 processing on an x86 CPU. It simply hasn’t proven performant or efficient versus purpose-built RAN systems.
There were a number of big announcements that injected a huge dose of dynamism, competition, and hope into the market that has prompted big “traditional” RAN players such as Nokia and Ericsson and established and emerging chipmakers entering the vRAN race to make innovative and potentially game-changing plays.
There was a lot of chatter about Qualcomm’s X100 5G RAN PCIe inline accelerator card which the company started sampling in September of last year. Its pioneering feature set continues to create a buzz in the accelerator scene with Rakuten Mobile and more recently NEC, and Dell. Earl Lum of EJL Wireless, cites that Qualcomm’s deep expertise in both sides of the air interface will likely make them an important and leading player in vRAN acceleration.
Another big buzz was Marvell’s announcement of its Octeon 10 Fusion which they touted as the first 5nm 4G/5G baseband processor in the market. Marvell also announced an L1 inline accelerator card sporting an Octeon 10 Fusion baseband processor. I spotted their stuff at the Nokia, Dell, and Arm stands. The new Marvell Octeon 10 family got a lot of props from both Earl Lum and Prakash Sangam of Tantra Analyst as a highly compelling full-stack cloud RAN portfolio of silicon.
The big RAN players were not to be left out of the party. Nokia announced their quirky anyRAN strategy that is largely anchored and built around their Cloud RAN SmartNIC that provides inline L1 processing based on Nokia’s proprietary IP.
The funny and ironic thing is everyone is creating a bit of a proprietary play with their accelerators. As Earl Lum was quick to note, the growing diversity of software may make thing less open and a bit more complex at the lower levels of the RAN. Unintended consequence or an oversight?
The chipmaker that grabbed the biggest headline was Intel with the introduction of its 4th Gen Xeon Scalable Processor based on long awaited Sapphire Rapids sporting an embedded accelerator called vRAN Boost. According to Cristina Rodriguez, VP and GM of Intel’s Wireless Access Network division, vRAN Boost will be able to handle L1 processing on chip making this vRAN-oriented Xeon processor ideal for DU implementations while also providing general compute resources for MEC.
Intel evidently worked very fast to get the 4th Gen Xeon processor in the hands of OEMs. I saw several pre-commercial DU server designs from Ericsson, Nokia, Dell, HPE, Supermicro, and Rakuten Symphony loaded with the new Intel processor.
Chinese vendors like Huawei are still sticking to their guns with their purpose-built stacks and chips emphasizing that globally, fiber build outs and deployment economics are not conducive to the disaggregated RAN splits that are the basis of most Open RAN and vRAN architectures. They could very well have a point.
Will these accelerators change the game for Huawei? Paul Scanlan, CTO of Huawei Carrier Business Group doesn’t think so. Not yet, but he claims that the company will be ready to pivot when it makes sense and is necessary.
Needless to say, 2023 is going to be a super exciting year for vRAN acceleration and cloud RAN.
TAKEAWAY 12 – The 5G API Economy is nigh?
The GSMA Open Gateway is described as “a framework of common network Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs) designed to provide universal access to operator networks for developers.”
GSMA CAMARA is “an open source project within Linux Foundation to define, develop and test the APIs” in an industry wide effort to harmonize APIs that expose network functions and services to developers.
While the specification of a global standard for network APIs would be a great thing, it is important for the industry recognize that APIs are just interfaces that facilitate and simplify integration to other systems and service access by developers.
What is arguably more important are the underlying network AND computing capabilities and services that APIs expose to developers. This understanding is one that I oddly found deficient in conversations I had at MWC. I know, really weird.
Furthermore, these network APIs would expose infrastructure services that address the non-functional requirements of an end user application unlike most CPaaS applications such as voice, email, messaging, and CRM that we associate with communications APIs.
What is more important than the API is the maturity of network services that are available in a brokering MVNO’s portfolio and its ability to consistently deliver requisite Quality of Service on Demand (QOD) across the service (not just coverage) areas of participating operators’ networks. Otherwise, these APIs won’t matter much.
Shortly after the announcement of GSMA Open Gateway and CAMARA, I heard chatter of the impending doom of Ericsson’s Global Network Platform. Well, there is a reason why Erik Ekudden, CTO of Ericsson is featured prominently in the CAMARA promo video.
Someone has to do the hard work and provide a platform to make these APIs matter and scale their value to developers.
I have my eye on this topic for the foreseeable future. Keep following neXt Curve to be in the know.
TAKEAWAY 13 – eSIM is inevitable and a monetization enabler
Let’s face it. Apple changed the game with the introduction of the eSIM-only iPhone 14. While operators continue to resist the adoption of eSIM for whatever reason. The experience for consumers is fantastic if done right and provides operators with the flexibility and simplified activation capabilities to cost-effectively support new revenue models across what could eventually be a much broader range of cellular connected devices beyond the smartphone.
Amdocs, which has a six-year legacy with eSIM and offers eSIM as a service for operators that they call Amdocs eSIM Cloud. Shahar Yaacobi, Head of Global Marketing at Amdocs demoed the eSIM Cloud service configuration and management features as well as the activation process for me on my personal iPhone 14 Pro.
As a consumer, I found the experience incredibly convenient compared to the process I suffered in the past of procuring a prepaid physical SIM at a local convenience store and going through the torturous registration and activation process.
The ease and simplicity of the eSIM Cloud experience made it obvious to me that eSIM and iSIM could significantly reduce the inconvenience and cost barriers that have prevented many classes of industrial and consumer IoT devices from connecting to an operator’s network. That’s potential revenue and value creation that is being unrealized that eSIM could unleash.
eSIM could very well open up one of many floodgates of new revenue opportunities for operators. Dare I say that eSIM is a critical capability for 5G monetization? It certainly seems inevitable.
eSIM’s impact on monetization is definitely a research item for 2023 and MWC 2024. Make sure to follow neXt Curve for news and updates that matter.
TAKEAWAY 14 – Technology indigestion
As we enter the 3rd year of 5G we can say with confidence that there is no shortage of technologies providing vendors and operators with expansive opportunities to reinvent themselves for the 5G era. The challenge, especially in Europe, is a digestion problem given the challenging macroeconomic environment, war in Ukraine, geopolitical and trade tensions with China.
With all the talk of 6G, which was notably tame this year versus last year, the industry and standards organizations should consider the sizable challenges that operators face in the 5G era. Borje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson, regularly mentions that the transition to 5G SA has been slow limiting the value operators can realize from 5G SA network features. According to Counterpoint Research 42 operators around the globe have lit up 5G SA networks. The others that have started their 5G journeys continue to operate 5G Non Standalone (NSA) networks.
While subscriber numbers look great according to GSMA versus the LTE, we have to remember that during the LTE era we saw the emergence of the smartphone. Feature phones dominated.
In the 5G era, smartphones are king. Furthermore, companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek have done an incredible job making smartphones coming onto the market 5G-ready from basic to premium tiers with each annual refresh cycle.
Yet there is an impedance mismatch. Operators around the globe continue to struggle with and delay their transition to 5G standalone while smartphone OEMs will be shipping devices loaded with Qualcomm’s X75 that supports Release 17 features that can’t be leveraged on a Nonstandalone 5G network.
Many of the telco technology leaders I spoke to don’t see a reason to move to 5G SA. They are in a wait-and-see mode as they do not find the value associated with a bold and challenging 5G SA transition apparent. This is a big problem for the 5G movement.
6G will likely not be what people theorize today. It will have to inevitably reset based on priorities formed around the perceived deficiencies of 5G technologies, the practical needs of operators new and old, and an acknowledgement of the pace of industry indigestion. Short of this, 6G will simply be the repackaging of broken 5G promises badged with a 6G moniker.
We need 5G Pepto Bismo, quickly! For my non-American audience, it’s an indigestion medicine.
Whether the industry wants to admit it or not, it and 5G are in the trough of disillusionment. 5G needs a makeover and 2023 is a good year to have a healthy reset if the industry can acknowledge the state of affairs and muster the will to work the problems with a keen focus on value.
In my view, the operators and the vendors who slay hype and expend less time, energy, and capital on often unrealistic, futuristic distractions will do better if not win. Yes, win!
It will also be essential for the industry as a whole to solve the modernization and monetization problems. We can talk aspirational state all day long, but it won’t help the industry make those important and better first and second steps on what will be a long industry transformation in the era of 5G.
Overall, I was encouraged by the notable shift toward practical and value-oriented agendas in the conversations I had at this year’s Mobile World Congress. It made for more productive and fun conversations.
I hope that this grounding of perspective and purpose continues throughout the year. It’s very good for the industry and will likely prove essential going forward.
I’m very excited to work with the many companies that I will engage with and advise this year in getting them and the industry to a better place. 2023 promises to be an exciting and pivotal year one way or the other.
I’m certainly looking forward to MWC 2024. See you there!
Many thanks to all the companies that spent time briefing neXt Curve at MWC 2023 and contributing to our research and analysis:
- Cohere Technologies
- 5G Americas
- Spirent Communications
- Samsung Networks
- Samsung Electronics
- Red Hat
- Tech Mahindra
- Wind River
- Aira Technologies
Associated neXt Curve Media
- neXt Curve MWC 2023 YouTube Playlist (link)
- neXt Curve MWC 2023 vlog – Day 0 (link) – check comments for takes.
- neXt Curve MWC 2023 vlog – Day 1 (link) – check comments for takes.
- neXt Curve MWC 2023 vlog – Day 2 (link) – check comments for takes.
- neXt Curve MWC 2023 vlog – Day 3 (link) – check comments for takes.
- neXt Curve MWC 2023 vlog – Day 4 (link) – check comments for takes.
Recommended Media & Press Releases
- Qualcomm – Singtel, Ericsson and Qualcomm Achieved 5G Upload Speed of More Than 1.6Gbps in an Enterprise Deployment – an Industry First (link)
- Lenovo – Lenovo Ushers in New Era of Edge Automation at Scale (link)
- Ericsson – Ericsson and Aeris Communications showcase combined IoT capabilities at Mobile World Congress (link)
- Red Hat – Red Hat Expands Collaboration With NVIDIA to Advance AI and 5G Solutions Across the Hybrid and Multi Cloud (link)
- Aptiv – Wind River Studio Releases Single Core Support with Latest Intel Processors to Deliver on 5G Needs for CSPs (link)
- Cisco – Cisco and NTT Collaborate to Bring Private 5G to Enterprise Customers to Accelerate Industry Transformation (link)
- VMware – VMware Announces Innovations at Mobile World Congress 2023 that Enable Service Providers and Enterprises to Expand 5G Capabilities (link)
- HPE – Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Nokia to collaborate on Cloud RAN solution for CSPs and enterprises (link)
- Amdocs – Amdocs and Microsoft expand strategic partnership to reimagine the telco experience, introduce intelligent customer engagement platform (link)