Author(s): Ben Wood
Geoff Blaber, George Jijiashvili, Kester Mann, Martin Garner, Paolo Pescatore, Shaun Collins
5G Everywhere and Nowhere at Mobile World Congress
Walking around the show this year you might be forgiven for thinking that 5G networks, the next generation of mobile technology, are already in operation. Such is the hype and rhetoric. In reality, while there may be a couple of trials in North America and South Korea in the next year or so, 5G will not be commercially available until 2020 in most markets. But that's not stopping infrastructure suppliers and other companies such as Intel and Qualcomm talking extensively about the possibilities and potential of 5G. Many of the delegates we've spoken to point out that the technology is three years away; they question what's in store during the time before 5G is switched on. As we've covered in our research, a host of technologies are poised to bridge the gap, including LTE-Advanced Pro and other high-speed enhancements, and low-power technologies such as LTE Cat-M, NB-IoT, LoRa and Sigfox, to name but a few. They offer much more immediate connectivity options for IoT, broadband and mobile applications. More importantly, many are available to buy — and be sold — by the companies attending Mobile World Congress this week. There's no doubt 5G will provide a "wow" moment when it arrives. In the meantime, it's crucial that commercial deployments of other technologies are not compromised.
Operators Embrace Virtual Digital Assistants
Deutsche Telekom is showing its new artificial intelligence voice assistant, Tinke. This is a development of a project carried out at T-Mobile Austria as a chat bot for its customer service Web site. The concept is being expanded across Deutsche Telekom's other businesses. To illustrate its potential, the operator exhibited Tinke in the form of a 3D avatar. SK Telecom has gone further with a smart speaker powered by its Nugu voice assistant. This is a competitor to the Amazon Echo; first launched in mid-2015 in Korea, it has now sold more than 60,000 units. At Mobile World Congress, SK Telecom is showing a beta version of its English-language Nugu, which it plans to use for export markets, focusing initially on Asia.
Operators Struggle to Identify Uses for 5G
As detailed above, 5G has been one of the main themes of Mobile World Congress, but network operators appear little closer to identifying solid uses or business cases for introducing the technology. Indeed, at the press event for the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) alliance, attended by CCS Insight, there appeared to be almost a consensus that a "build it and they will come" approach will prevail. Despite much hype at this year's event, many of the early services touted for 5G networks will actually be more than adequately served through existing LTE infrastructure.
Xiaomi Announces Surge S1 Chipset
In tandem with the announcement of its Mi 5c smartphone, Xiaomi confirmed that it has developed its own chipset. The Surge S1 is the product of wholly owned subsidiary Beijing Pinecone Electronics and follows a 2014 agreement with Leadcore Technology for joint development. The chipset features an octa-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor and Mali T-860 MP4 graphics unit. We question the logic of Xiaomi's move, particularly given its current struggles. Although the Chinese manufacturer has cited the need for differentiation and stated that "the ability to create its own chipsets is the pinnacle achievement for any smartphone company", we are sceptical. The chip uses stock ARM processing and graphics cores, suggesting that differentiation compared with other fabless providers such as MediaTek and Qualcomm will be limited. Moreover, Xiaomi will remain dependent on third parties for the all-important modem and RF functions. This is an expensive and resource-intensive move for Xiaomi and comes at a critical time for the company as it strives to reinvigorate growth.
Virtualized Virtual Reality Concept Demonstrated by Citrix
The software company's V2R solution allows a VR headset user (in the case of the prototype, an HTC Vive) to become mobile by untethering them from a desktop PC and running VR applications remotely. To my surprise, the higher latency involved in a virtualized set-up was insignificant when I tried the demonstration. In the near term, Citrix's concept is unlikely to emerge as an optimal solution for consumer VR. However, it has a potentially big opportunity in enterprise settings where tethered VR headset set-ups would be impractical, costly or both.
Giroptic Issues Cleverly Designed iO 360-Degree Camera
CCS Insight believes there is tremendous potential in 360-degree user-generated content. We predicted that a host of more-affordable 360-degree cameras would become available in 2017, and the €249 Giroptic iO camera is a great example of such a device. It makes it easy for smartphone users to capture 360-degree photos and videos and share them on Facebook and YouTube with one click. Facebook and YouTube support 360-degree content, and with an addressable audience of over 1.6 billion users, the "surroundie" could become the new selfie. It's a smart accessory that's definitely worth a closer look.
Alcatel A5 LED Offers Bright Spin on Mid-Tier Smartphone
One of the enduring themes at Mobile World Congress has been the sea of sameness that's becalmed smartphones. This characteristic is even more acute in the low and mid-tier segments, where it's becoming almost impossible to differentiate. So Alcatel's A5 LED is sure to stand out from the crowd. The rear casing of the phone features an array of multi-coloured LEDs that light up in response to activity on the phone: incoming calls and messages, or music playing, for example. Once again Alcatel has shown it can use smart innovation to help its products shine in a crowded market.
Operators Announce LTE-M Commitments
Operators including Orange, KPN, KDDI, Telefonica and Telstra made the announcement in a major boost to the cellular IoT technology. Orange said it would initially launch in Spain and Belgium, with the rest of Europe set to follow. The move is significant as it comes in the wake of Orange's focus on the proprietary LoRa technology for low-power wide area networks in a bid to gain early leadership in the area. Indeed, IoT is one of Orange's principal focus areas of differentiation, along with banking and financial services. The operator's move to LTE-M contrasts with Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, which are deploying NB-IoT (LTE category NB1) networks. According to Orange, one of the reasons for pursuing LTE-M is its support for voice services as well as data, and the greater ease of deployment.
Vodafone Launches 4K TV Service in Spain
Vodafone will launch its 4K TV service in Spain on 1 March 2017. Video continues to grow in importance and more operators are showcasing video-related services at Mobile World Congress, including Vodafone, AT&T with its DirecTV Now, and Verizon with its Go90. In our view Vodafone's move is significant given its lack of major spending on content acquisition, unlike Telefonica. By beating rivals to the punch on 4K TV services, it provides a good example of a challenger shaking up a cutthroat market. We expect to see more telecom operators trying to differentiate by using video.
ZTE and Intel Partner for IoT
The two companies have announced a partnership to carry out joint research and development into IoT technologies, and to set up a joint innovation lab in China. In a long press release that contained few specifics or details, ZTE and Intel stated that their existing collaboration will be extended to include IoT, with the implication that 5G technology would be central to the work. Intel runs one of the largest IoT partner programs in the industry, and the arrival of a major network equipment provider will further strengthen its efforts.
Nokia and Sprint Demo "4.5G Pro" and "4.9G" technology
Sprint says that by using massive MIMO technology, it can boost cell capacity eight times compared with standard LTE and enable speeds well beyond 1 Gbps. A motivation behind this move is likely to be the carrier's abundant holding of 2.5 GHz spectrum and, unlike its rivals, a lack of 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands. According to Nokia, use of its AirScale antenna — part of the manufacturer's 4.9G technology — paves the way for theoretical speeds of more than 3 Gbps over LTE.
AT&T, Orange and Colt Collaborate on Software-Defined Networks
The initiative aims to accelerate the adoption of software-defined network services across the industry. The work also involves MEF and TM Forum. As part of the collaboration, AT&T, Orange and Colt have been working to ensure that software-defined network architectures from different operators are interoperable with each other and across continents. The move should, therefore, help improve efficiency and bring products to market quicker.