What were the key themes of this year’s MWC show?
IoT, 5G and to some extent big data analytics dominated this year’s show. For 5G the expectations are quite realistic. Despite keynotes such as “Building the 4th industrial revolution”1, which included impressive showcases of what 5G can offer in terms of speed and latency, the general mood was more pragmatic. The focus is still on maximising and optimising 4G network investments, while starting gradual and localised 5G deployments.

However, 5G is not really a new technology or a new network layer – for operators 5G is more about finding new business models and partners. This sentiment was also echoed by the CEO of Ericsson in his interview2 with CNBC. The small cells and resulting capacity addition of 5G also increase the granularity of 5G network design and implementation. The requirements for 5G are therefore in more distinguished designs and more specific investment analytics.

As for Big Data analytics, we didn’t see much new at this year’s show. While analytics is becoming prevalent across different fields of industry, on the innovation side analytics is a laggard. Operators are good at preparing heatmaps and prioritising data but far more work needs to be done in predictive and prescriptive analytics. In practice, this means precise and business-driven investment analytics. We expect this to be the only way forward in our industry. Traditional budget planning no longer works.

We saw such many companies promoting IoT. What we like about IoT is that it offers a new segment and an opportunity for the industry to grow and add value. It is not yet a major piece (of revenue) to anybody, as the verticals have not fully thought of the possibilities IoT offers. The promise of IOT is there but it is still very fragmented.

What did you find particularly inspirational or positive in this year’s show?  

The positive thing was that no single truth was offered during this year’s event – less buzzwords were used. Instead, the event was more about practical and sober thinking. Nevertheless, we saw some interesting news and announcements last week, which will also influence network investments and the growing importance of predictive analytics.
Short video is becoming the dominant form of communication instead of boring old text. Besides cameras augmenting how we communicate in pictures and videos, companies such as Snapchat (which opened its phenomenal IPO in New York last week) are also gradually moving TV from the traditional cable TV distributors to mobile internet platforms and apps. A growing number of millennials only consume TV and video streaming content on their smartphones.

Echoing the same trend of TV and video content migrating to mobile, AT&T launched a two-tier update to its unlimited plans during MWC17 with the introduction of Unlimited Plus for entertainment enthusiasts supporting HD video and Unlimited Choice, its “basic” plan at lower speeds. In an interview 3 with Fierce Wireless, Glenn Lurie, president and chief executive of AT&T, made a clear point about the direction the industry is going in integrating TV with wireless services. “Customers want their TV, video and content on their smartphone and tablets – it’s the new TV… Most of the (capacity) growth in our network comes from video”, explained Lurie.

All of this is good news for MNOs and data usage in their networks … but only if their network design and the use of predictive analytics allow for foresight and the ability to rapidly build capacity where it is in demand by the video-loving consumers.

How are MNOs now approaching analytics?

Analytics is also finally engaging the network investment side of MNO operations. We are happy to see that we no longer need to educate the market about the need to switch the focus from network KPIs to setting the right QoS targets that have implications for network investments. Discussions now increasingly revolve around the “how” – putting predictive network analytics into practice throughout the operations and being more dynamic and clear about it.

Network virtualisation – moving the infrastructure to the cloud – is a new development area mainly in the core network that could allow for further cost savings especially for MNOs with group operations.

How do these key trends impact the mobile network?  

Besides cost effective processes, cutting costs and improving efficiency, the reality is that mobile applications are fragmented and have differing requirements. Mobile TV and live video streaming will become more commonplace (especially as the more widely “unlimited data” spreads across markets) and MNOs need to be prepared.

We are happy to see that the initial change (in analytics) has been realised, for example, managing costs and churn more effectively. The first use cases for predictive analytics have been deployed. Now it is about “industrialising” the practice and using analytics consistently for network design, forecasting and the precision of network investments.

5G provides the next level of data rates and the capacity improvement is huge. To be successful you need to really know where to put the capacity and why. We see 5G as a new frequency-efficient way to provide capacity. But operators can’t postpone their 4G investments because of 5G. Existing 4G still takes years of management. MNOs are making reasonable plans on how to implement 5G while maximising the return from 4G.

As we polish our shoes, rest our tired feet and sort out our business cards after this year’s marathon show, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of you who visited Omnitele at MWC17. It is our continuous goal to work with each of you to prepare your networks for whatever lies ahead – regardless if that means squeezing the last bit of juice out of 4G, getting ready for 5G or streaming live video in volume.

Read the latest White Paper about Increasing the precision of network CAPEX.

[1] The 4th industrial revolution: https://www.mobileworldcongress.com/session/keynote-8-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

[2] Ericsson CEO on 5G: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/27/momentum-is-building-for-5g-rollout-ericsson-ceo.html

[3] AT&T on unlimited and link to content: http://www.fiercewireless.com/wireless/executive-interview-at-t-s-glenn-lurie-launch-unlimited-data-initial-demand-and-more

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