Wow, did it feel good to be back at a bustling MWC Barcelona. In past years, connectivity has been the star of the show but this time, finally connecting with people again is what it was all about.
So, it was almost a bonus then that after a two-year hiatus, the industry’s biggest innovators were also ready to show off impressive leaps in technology and momentum in some of the most impressive developments in mobile communications.
As 2022 heats up, here are some of the key themes, milestones, and advancements we think helped mobile shine at the MWC22 show.
Private 5G networks + Wi-Fi as turnkey solutions
Private network buzz was everywhere. Carriers and equipment providers alike lauded private network positioning and capabilities as the industry recognizes the valuable role Wi-Fi will play in private network offerings, as well as the need for coexistence and convergence with 5G. (Something we’ve previously touched on here.)
HPE presented 5G and Wi-Fi as complementary technologies that should both be evaluated depending on the situation. This makes sense. Businesses can take advantage of both with seamless interworking between Wi-Fi 6’s cost-effective indoors connectivity and private 5G’s wide coverage, mobility, and high reliability.
Cisco’s private 5G offering also integrates with existing enterprise systems, including Wi-Fi. The lines will undoubtedly blur as 5G speeds become competitive with Wi-Fi.
The lines will undoubtedly blur as 5G speeds become competitive with Wi-Fi.
Turnkey private 5G networks: Both HPE and Cisco, as well as AT&T and Microsoft, announced turnkey 5G as a Service (5GaaS) solutions to make it easy for enterprises to deploy 5G private networks. AT&T’s Private 5G Edge announcement touted roaming outside of the AT&T private network by staying connected through the public cloud.
With these 5G-in-a-box solutions, enterprises don’t need the technical knowledge to build and operate the 5G stack’s hardware, software, and control planes. And they can quickly adopt turnkey solutions without lengthy and costly customization and integration. Check out Spirent’s Doug Roberts and his blog with more insights on this concept.
Private and 5G2B network slicing: There was no shortage of demos on private networks and 5G2B offerings. Some focused on network slice performance and security SLA orchestration in private networks. IBM demonstrated multiple use cases that integrated Spirent test capabilities into IBM’s Cloud Pak for Network Automation’s (CP4NA) intent-based, automated orchestration workflows. These ranged from 5G network slicing creation and service automation to private 5G network validations.
As I discussed on stage during my “Standardizing Cybersecurity for 5G and beyond” presentation, enterprises need dynamic security everywhere. That includes indoor and outdoor private networks, as well as public cloud. It’ll be critical to manage network slice security threats with slice isolation, continuous assessment, and active treatment.
mmWave shows its value for HD video in stadiums: The mmWave Summit panelists praised mmWave’s value for high-traffic venues. Verizon put more than 150 mmWave antennas inside the Super Bowl stadium to enable 1080p streaming videos through seven camera angles. Telstra deployed mmWave at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a 100,000-seat stadium, providing customers download speeds of 2 to 3 Gbit/s.
At Spirent, we’re seeing the same—if not stronger—enthusiasm for mmWave deployments in China, but for factory and industrial ultra-high-definition use cases.
5G Standalone is moving forward
SA deployments becoming (more) real: There were also numerous announcements around standalone (SA) 5G deployment plans, for example by Orange and Vodafone UK. Orange announced they had selected vendors for core networks, subscriber data management, and core signaling and routing, and are setting up a Network Integration Factory for testing and validation.
The business models and drivers for Standalone 5G are becoming clearer (and discussed more openly). Common themes were private networks, 5G2B network slices, and better network efficiencies, performance, and agility. Read a case study that examines our success in testing the 5G core.
5G SA Option 4 for migration to SA: Several service providers are now talking about using 5G SA Architecture Option 4 as a cost-efficient migration path to SA. It would increase ROI by enabling 5G NSA and 4G radios to connect to a SA 5G core network. By connecting to a single core, Option 4 would immediately enable optimization of current RAN investments.
vRAN before Open RAN?
The move to commercial Open RAN deployments: Open RAN (ORAN) proof-of-concept pilots and interoperability plug fests have been important, but the industry seems to be moving its focus to commercial deployments and what is needed to take Open RAN live with robustness and critical features.
vRAN: There was also lots of focus on virtual RAN (vRAN). A message at the show was that Open RAN is great for vendor diversity but, in the early days, the bigger benefit would come from virtualizing the radio with vRAN. vRAN would use the cloud and virtual infrastructure to host and optimize RAN workloads. Intel, Marvell, and Qualcomm announced silicon and accelerator cards to support vRAN workloads more efficiently. As a first step, vRAN would move the industry away from proprietary hardware and silicon. Software and open interfaces would then be the cherry on the cake. Read our eBook on ORAN.
Is this Open RAN’s big moment to prove itself in brownfield deployments?
Rakuten Symphony made perhaps one of the most consequential Open RAN announcements right at the end of the show. The company shared details about a PoC with MTN for network automation and orchestration for brownfield network transformations. This is significant because most PoCs tend to focus on greenfield, which is usually easier to do. But if Rakuten can be successful in brownfield environments, that would revolutionize and simplify network transformation everywhere. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out and if it can help move the needle for other brownfield operators that have been watching closely from the sidelines.
Autonomous networks in play: It seemed automation, self-driving network operations, maintenance or orchestration were on display in booths throughout every hall. We’ll be watching this year to see if the talk and hype translates to delivery.
Progress on going green, but how to measure?
Sustainability goals, carbon neutrality and circular economies were a hot topic. Vendors highlighted plans and solutions to reduce energy consumption while increasing network capacity. Huawei, for example, increased network energy efficiency from 89% to 97% and reduced the cost per watt by 20%. Meanwhile, Ericsson lowered power consumption 25% with its new RAN products. As I concluded in my “Can 5G & IoT Be Green?” presentation at MWC22, the industry has an opportunity to use 5G and IoT to lead by example to help limit global warming to 1.5°C.
One discussion was completely lacking, though. There was a no clear consensus on how to measure energy efficiency and carbon emission reductions. What do the percentages really mean? What’s being measured? What are they achieving? Were the energy reductions achieved by deploying more radios, which would just increase the multiplier, defeat the actual goal?
The industry needs to develop a clear understanding of the indicators and KPIs that can determine success. And, for transparency and to build trust across the industry, there needs to be a willingness to share reports.
Metaverse is coming fast and furious
Finally, we’d be remiss to not acknowledge that the metaverse hype machine was in full force. There were lots of immersive displays attracting crowds, but in the end, I came away with two unanswered questions:
What’s the role for service providers in the metaverse?
Is 5G up to supporting it as a commercial proposition?
There were many interesting ideas demonstrated but challenges are significant considering that networks are currently unable to provide the consistent low latency and symmetrical bandwidth needed by the metaverse. 5G hopes to satisfy this need but hardened solutions have yet to be delivered. Meanwhile, the metaverse demand, driven by virtual gaming, is accelerating. There will need to be a lot of work and investment to demonstrate that 5G can deliver that ambition in time.
We’ll continue to track developments in mobile communications throughout the year. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our 2022 5G report for real-world insights based on our work around the globe, across more than 1,800 5G engagements.