Operators at MWC: It’s Not Only About 5G

K. Weldon
K. Weldon

Summary Bullets:

  • While mobile operators certainly made a lot of announcements (and showed a lot of demos) about trials, use cases, and upcoming plans for 5G, there were also a lot of other topics on the table.
  • Other announcements focused not only on existing services (e.g., 4G, IoT), but also on changes deemed necessary for operators’ future success, focusing on collaboration, simplification, and internal transformation.

MWC was expected to focus on 5G, with new buildout plans and service trials, a sprinkling of new 5G devices, and titillating demos of AR/VR applications, AI-powered use cases, and self-driving cars. As expected, leading infrastructure vendors including Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson, and Cisco were touting 5G deals with leading operators and showcasing technology enhancements to support new 5G-powered applications.

But, there were a few announcements from operators that signal some fundamental industry shifts: Telefonica and Microsoft aligning to design the ‘telco of the future,’ AT&T and Vodafone Business collaborating on connected car for seamless connectivity throughout their footprints, Vodafone and Arm designing embedded chipsets to eliminate the need for SIMs in connected devices, and collaboration between European operators under the auspices of the GSMA to facilitate data portability without compromising privacy. These announcements signify key changes that the industry acknowledges are necessary in order to succeed in the 5G era. They focus on: collaboration among operators to support not only their own aims to take advantage of 5G technology, but the industry as a whole; enhancements to simplify the fragmented IoT supplier ecosystem to support the coming wave of ‘massive’ numbers of connected devices; and operators undergoing internal digital transformation initiatives, leveraging technologies such as AI and blockchain to support internal operations as well as customer experience requirements and supply chain enhancements.

Each operator listed below had a number of public announcements, but they were also actively participating in keynotes and panels as well as showcasing new technologies and applications at their booths.

  • AT&T made eight announcements during the first three days of the show which included solutions for automotive, retail, and healthcare environments; enhancements to LTE-M connectivity and management; security monitoring for first responders; 5G-powered interactive VR trials at its Foundry; network edge computing tests with Microsoft; and data plans for Airstream travel trailers.
  • Vodafone’s announcements expanded its geographical reach in the connected car market via an alliance with AT&T, while an alliance with Arm points to potentially significant enhancements in programmable chipsets that could change the market (particularly if other chipset vendors follow suit).
  • Telefonica focused on the future; rather than make service or customer announcements, it noted longer-term issues it is working on with partners such as Microsoft, as well as work with other operators to determine data portability policies. It also discussed network enhancements it is implementing to take advantage of virtualization, edge computing, and converged access networks.
  • Verizon made a number of announcements regarding upcoming 2019 5G plans as well as a new collaboration with Cisco to support 5G devices via Cisco’s SD-WAN platform. It also disclosed details about its 5G vision as well as its vision for the entire Verizon Business solutions stack at an investor conference the week before MWC.
  • Sprint announced launch plans for 5G as well as a number of new partnerships for both IoT and future 5G services. While the merger with T-Mobile is clearly an essential part of its ability to succeed in these projects on a long-term basis, the announcements stand on their own.
  • Deutsche Telekom launched what it described as the first 5G-ready campus network for industry; forged a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to combine forces in areas such as LTE, 5G OTT media, security, and cloud; and demoed a prototype with T-Mobile Austria that uses oneM2M software standards for equipment interoperability on NB-IoT networks.

The diversity of operator announcements at MWC shows that while 5G is a major focus for all operators, 4G enhancements, new IoT use cases and technologies, edge computing trials, alliances between operators and partnerships with technology partners, and new services and customer wins are also newsworthy. After all, 5G is not really here yet (or, at least, it is not yet here in a standardized form, with widespread coverage or extensive device portfolios), while mobile operators are busily providing a wealth of services to enterprise customers over their 4G networks and LPWANs are stimulating the IoT opportunity.

For a complete listing of these announcements, with descriptions and an assessment of their market impact, see MWC19: Operators Focus on Transformation, Partnerships and the ‘Deep Dive’ into the 5G Future from February 27, 2019.

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