This year's Mobile World Congress has come and gone, and after having a chance to settle back in and remember what I saw, there were some noticeable themes both present and absent. Most notably, the show no longer just focused on technology. Instead, I saw a general shift to and focus on business drivers and use-cases.
But first let me talk about technology and what I saw. As a general statement -- the foundations of what the New IP is built on were predominant, whether the term "New IP" was used explicitly or not.
NFV was everywhere
First, network function virtualization (NFV), a New IP mainstay, was everywhere:
- NFV from the perspective of individual virtual network function (VNF) vendors
- NFV from the perspective of orchestration and OSS vendors
- NFV from the perspective of NFV infrastructure (NFV-I) vendors
- NFV from the perspective of ecosystem builders (Also, "ecosystem" was everywhere at MWC, but it feels as if there is an over-rotation towards ecosystem building. If every vendor has an "ecosystem," no one does, after all.)
It is clear that NFV has gone from buzzword to mainstream at MWC 2015, even with only early, small-scale successes being proven out. I also found it rather interesting to find an array of "standards-compliant" VNFs and NFV solutions being marketed, as there has not yet been a clear standard for NFV. ETSI is undertaking this initiative now in Phase 2 and OPNFV is looking to build an open source community around NFV, but it is important to note that only a framework and domain descriptions are available at this point.
5G in full force
5G was also present in full force across multiple vendor booths, including the Next Generation Mobile Network (NGMN) announcement and in the GSMA Innovation City. Obviously, we are really early on in 5G, with standardization not expected before 2019 and deployments roughly in the same timeframe. As Orange CEO Stephane Richard noted during his keynote address on the "Road to 5G" at Mobile World Congress, "We must not jump too fast into the next generation of networks. Let's enjoy 4G LTE."
However, there are important data points to take away from the 5G demonstrations and a lot of questions to be answered. For example, 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) backhaul to the cell site and millimeter wave radio access should certainly cause the industry to think the distribution of functions in mobile networks, but how do we respond topologically to a ten-fold increase in the number of cell sites, each producing a ten-fold increase in data traffic?
Does it still make sense to maintain the concept of anchoring calls in centralized (read: 10s) of locations, or do we, as an industry, re-think both the control and user plane of the evolved packet core (EPC) completely?
NGMN, at least, has posed this same question in its NGMN 5G Whitepaper, 5.3.2 Core Network:
"The system design should move away from the 4G monolithic design optimized for mobile broadband. In this regard, a rethink of models such as bearers, APNs, extensive tunnel aggregation and gateways is needed. In addition, the UE state machine and entities which store UE context should be revisited and redesigned."
Now -- what was absent from the event?
IoT and M2M tempered down
If you attended MWC for the first time, you might think that Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M) were everywhere. Modules were everywhere. M2M platforms were everywhere. M2M analytics solutions were everywhere.
However, this year, the tone around M2M and IoT were more tempered -- and focused. Discussions focused on solving business problems with IoT/M2M and analytics, not about the module capabilities, or the platform features. Maybe we are past the technical feasibility phase (I call it the "show me" phase) that MWC typically represents and finally entering the planning and implementation phase (the "do it" phase)? This would align well to the original premise of this blog -- business drivers and use-cases.
Alternatively, has the industry realized that IoT/M2M is not as close to pervasive deployment as previously thought? What do you think?
LTE and 4G gone
Another thing I noticed was that LTE and 4G are gone. Long live 5G! Even though the vast majority of the world has not yet crossed the 4G chasm to deployment yet, and many countries are still awaiting spectrum auctions for licenses, 4G no longer steals the show at MWC.
At this point, there is an assumption that any vendor demonstrating any technology at MWC can deliver on 4G LTE capabilities. This includes infrastructure vendors, device manufacturers, service providers and application developers. To me, this is a positive sign for the industry because the forward focus on the art of the possible, to quote Otto Von Bismarck, creates a positive reinforcing loop that will drive the 5G standardization process and, quite frankly, gives MWC a more CES-ish feel. For those of us who attended, it made the event more fun.
I expect MWC 2016 will continue the pivot towards business and use-cases, economic models and service offerings for the New IP. The nice thing about automation, orchestration and abstraction (yes, the buzzwords were still present this year!) is that gratuitous technology complexity goes away in favor of these new business and operational models.
— Kevin Shatzkamer, CTO, Mobile Networking, Brocade, special to The New IP