On May 18th we gathered in Galati for TechTalks – a live event hosted by our very own R Systems experts – to find out what technologies will shape our future. We got together to network, enjoy some wine tasting, and talk about the main technology highlights from Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2023 in Barcelona. If you didn’t get a chance to meet us at TechTalks this year, worry not! We got you covered with an overview of the topics that our colleague Cristian Constantin, Practice Lead @ R Systems, discussed during the event!
Mobile World Conference 2023 – an overview
For those of you unfamiliar with MWC, it is the largest and most important telecom event happening every year in Barcelona, organized by GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association).
This year’s event marked the first major opportunity telecom operators and companies in the industry had to truly network and come together after three years clouded by a huge pandemic, lockdowns, and restricted travel. Approximately 88.000 visitors showed up at MWC 2023, roughly 30% more than the previous year.
Innovation was at home in Barcelona, as major players in the industry brought forward their own take on emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, cloud infrastructure, and AI. Pragmatism and practicality stood at the core of these innovations, focusing on applicable scenarios and profitability rather than futuristic concepts.
All in all, the event encompassed the general feeling present throughout the industry right now, especially when it comes to the boom of AI technologies (think ChatGPT) – we all know it’s major, but how can we use it in a practical way that improves day to day activities?
5G – Practicality over Hype
Perhaps the most important topic at MWC 2023 was 5G technology and finding practical use cases for it. One important aspect that 5G technology brings is the opportunity to have everything interconnected – from smartphones to Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and even intelligent cars.
As of now, things seem to be on the right trajectory, with an estimated 1 billion subscribers utilizing 5G connections in 2022 and 229 commercial networks available for clients in 95 countries.
However, because 5G subscriptions are 10-20% more expensive than 4G ones, customers aren’t always willing to upgrade. This prompted telco operators to join partnerships with other companies, to provide bundled deals that include services such as gaming and video streaming together with 5G subscriptions.
One thing we noticed is the increase in demand for private 5G mobile networks, which are owned and utilized by private organizations and presented as an alternative to corporate Wi-Fi networks. These could be used by educational institutions, hospitals, shopping centers, and manufacturers, but the industry is still developing, making it far from being profitable just yet.
Only a few hundred clients have currently embraced it, but more and more practical use cases are being contoured. One use case, in particular, could prove very efficient – intelligent factories based on a network of industrial robots.
A few other examples of the real applicability of 5G technology presented at MWC were:
- Real-time monitoring and controlling industrial machinery
- Autonomous cars and drones
- Augmented/virtual reality in work environments
- Intelligent farming technology
- Real-time monitoring of shipments
As for demonstrations, telco players presented some very interesting scenarios. The highlight was the concept of teleoperated cars – a premiere brought by Deutsche Telekom in collaboration with Ericsson and a more practical alternative to the concept of autonomous cars. This service allows for cars to be controlled remotely and delivered to the client’s location, eliminating the need for parking spots.
Other interesting use cases were Orange’s immersive running experience, Vodafone’s IoT-based drone that can be remote controlled and utilized, among others, for delivery, remote emergency services, or in case of dangerous work such as remote inspecting of high voltage wires, and Telefonica’s holographic telepresence (3D virtual avatars).
Being still fresh, 5G technology comes with a series of challenges that were also discussed at MWC. These include the pressure to monetize and deliver returns on 5G investments and the absence of a „killer app” – a revolutionary app that justifies the need for more bandwidth than what 4G offers now.
Important Cloud Providers Enter Telecom
As vendors searched for ways to replace their proprietary hardware with virtualized software that can run on any standard computer, one option emerged – the possibility to incorporate virtualized software into cloud environments.
This led to companies such as Google Cloud, Microsoft, and AWS beginning their venture into the telecom field. They promise to deliver scalable and cost-effective solutions for a cloud platform that can be shared by several clients. So, their presence at MWC was a massive one – huge booths, telecom-dedicated product launches, and partnerships with operators.
Each of these major players brings its own unique approach to the table, but all aim to facilitate the development of telecom services using containers or Kubernetes.
Google, for example, announces they will stay away from providing network functions, to avoid competing with telecom operators. Microsoft promotes a platform called Azure for Operators, which provides functionalities for cloud migration, monitoring, and data analytics. And last but not least, AWS provides a platform for services dedicated to telecom operators, partnering with Swisscom.
But these major players are not the only options available for telecom operators. Verizon also revealed plans to keep their services on their own cloud platform based on a RedHat solution and Oracle provides a more flexible solution that allows deployment on multiple could environments, eliminating concerns that telecom operators may get stuck with one single cloud provider.
This fragmentation of the cloud layer leads to solutions with high complexity, coming from the fact that vendors must develop the application layer to be compatible with several cloud platforms. There is, however, an initiative called Sylva, run by important operators from Europe, which aims to standardize cloud infrastructure for telecom.
Collaborations – Telco and Big Tech Join Forces
Speaking of collaborations, more and more of these are seen throughout the industry. Two of the most important ones are:
- Open Gateway – an initiative to provide universal access to operators’ networks for developers, to expose specific telecom capabilities through a common set of APIs available globally, for several operators from several countries. This initiative contains a set of standards and specifications for connecting different devices to mobile networks. There are many operators and partners involved in this initiative, and some (Nokia, Ericsson, Telefonica) had presentations at MWC related to this.
- OpenRAN – a similar initiative, with many supporters, aiming to standardize the interfaces between radio equipment and to offer operators the opportunity to choose equipment from several vendors.
There are also many collaborations involving private 5G networks, as well as “frenemy” discussions between telecom operators and big tech companies involving the costs of developing these networks.
Future Tech to Look Out For
In terms of actual devices, there were quite a few impressive ones presented at the MWC. Among them are:
- Smartphones: from retractable screens and foldable phones to the ingenuous Nokia G22, which is affordable and contains replaceable elements, making for easy repairs.
- Kulun glass – Huawei’s innovation in terms of (almost) unbreakable glass that can be used for phone screens.
- Snapdragon Satellite Capabilities – a new feature developed by Qualcomm, available for phones equipped with a Snapdragon processor, which allows for satellite SMS communications through the Iridium satellite network. This could be especially useful for emergencies.
- Extended Reality – Various augmented reality devices were present, taking over from last year’s Metaverse buzz.
- Nuralogix Anura – a very interesting device able to analyze more than 30 vital signs using a selfie video. The software works with an impressive accuracy of 95%, by comparing the received signals with a very large database of patients.
The general direction of the market, in addition to optimization and cost-reduction, seems to focus on allowing operators to be better prepared, more adaptable, and innovative so that they can play a bigger role than just providing infrastructure for connectivity.
There was still a lot to unpack from this year’s MWC event, done over a delicious wine-tasting experience assisted by a renowned sommelier. Because networking goes so much better with a glass of pure Romanian wine!