The dominant themes at MWC 2016 centred on 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Cloud services, with small cells and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software Defined Network (SDN) also a major part of the mix.
As expected there was a lot of noise around 5G, but was there much in the way of actual 5G technology around? Well, not a lot, although there were plenty of claims for ‘5G-ready’, or ‘on-the-road to 5G’ technology.
Naturally, the big infrastructure OEMs, – Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE and Nokia (now with Alcatel-Lucent in the fold) – had plenty to say on the subject. MWC confirmed what has been apparent for a while now – namely that 5G will happen in stages and that first stage will be very similar to 2G, 3G and 4G; ie faster speeds and higher data throughputs.
As Nick Carter, TM500 marketing director at Cobham Wireless, put it: ‘It is great that the vision and scope of 5G has now been defined, but it will be deployed in phases. What will be there on Day One is higher bandwidths, because we know that and can manage it.’
The wider vision of 5G as a network of networks capable of supporting the vast range of use cases being put forward will have to wait until after the initial 5G commercialisation date of 2020. However, it is clear that some of the building blocks for 5G can be deployed ahead of the 5G standard being completed in 2019.
Huawei argues that its 4.5G technology is a necessary step on the road to 5G, and its GigaRadio was launched at the show. 4.5G will deliver Gigabit speeds to support HD voice, 2K/4K HD video and much denser IoT deployments.
Massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) and Distributed MIMO technology is part of its 4.5G offering, and both are expected to play a key role in 5G later on. The company said it expects more than 60 commercial deployments of its 4.5G technology in 2016.
However, Huawei said it is also in field trials with NTT Docomo for new 5G radio access technologies, with China Mobile for 5G full duplex radio technologies, and with Vodafone for ultra-reliable low latency communications. At MWC, Huawei teamed up with Deutsche Telekom to demonstrate a millimetre wave technology at 70Gbps transmission speeds, and network slicing technologies.
Huawei’s Dr Wen Tong identified three key areas of 5G that still need addressing: the new air interface; the programmable application-driven network architecture; and a holistic set of capabilities to enable the vertical applications for new 5G services and apps.
Like Huawei, ZTE has grouped a number of new solutions under a banner – Pre5G – that operators can deploy well ahead of the 5G standard. Massive MIMO, Ultra Dense Networks (UDN) and Multi-User Shared Access (MUSA) are three of its core Pre5G technologies, which are expected to be commercially available this year.
According to ZTE’s chief scientist Dr. Xiang Jiying, Massive MIMO, which combines MIMO, beamforming technology and 128 antenna elements, will deliver three to six times the capacity of 4G and four times the data rates to handsets. ZTE developed its own chipsets to support the solution. ZTE demonstrated its Pre5G Massive MIMO base station with Korea Telecom at the show.
The UDN solution is designed to address the interference issues arising between densely deployed base stations with overlapping cells. MUSA helps solve the ‘near-far’ effect problem, evening out the signal across the cell to the edge, and is designed to support ultra-dense IoT deployments.
Later phases of 5G are expected to incorporate high-frequency centimetre and millimetre bands, which have short propagation capabilities, but beamforming technology can extend their reach.
ZTE offered demonstrations in tandem with China Mobile of its 5G high-frequency spectrum band prototype, which provides a multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) peak bitrate up to 10Gbps+. It also uses beamforming technology to enable mobile devices to be tracked by multiple beams, which adapt to the movement and orientation of the device.
ZTE also showcased its future 5G network architecture design concept and network slicing prototype with China Mobile. Network slicing is a key part of the 5G concept, enabling the right network resources to be swiftly allocated to best support the demands of particular applications.
In his opening address at the start of MWC, Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg focused on 5G, IoT and Cloud as the key themes. In 5G, the company reported some of the results of its 5G radio prototype field trials with US operator Verizon.
The 5G radio prototype was hitting more than 10Gbps peak throughputs, while supporting beamforming to extend the reach of higher frequencies while reducing energy consumption, and beam tracking to monitor the position and movement of end devices to ensure consistently reliable connections.
Ericsson has also been trialling its MU-MIMO solutions to increase network spectral efficiency by transmitting data to several user devices using the same time and frequency resource – and Massive MIMO, which improves both throughput and energy efficiency.
The company announced a collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies to further work on 5G technology development, interoperability testing and co-ordinating initiatives with mobile operators. The two will also continue to work on LTE Advanced Pro, the use of LTE in unlicensed spectrum and LTE for IoT.
The newly combined Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent was also out in force at MWC 2016. Nokia was touting its 5G-ready AirScale radio, which supports any radio technology and has the capacity to handle massive IoT connectivity and 5G speeds.
The Cloud RAN solution uses Nokia’s AirFrame IT hardware and the same Cloud RAN servers implement Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) services to enable easy integration of applications requiring low latency services.
An AirScale Wi-Fi version with indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi access points integrated into the Nokia Flexi Zone G2 base station is also available, with a cloud-based controller running on the Nokia AirFrame server platform.
MEC will also be a key component of 5G, but again it is something that will be available much earlier. Nokia and EE demonstrated two MEC applications over LTE with one combining LTE and Wi-Fi with MEC and one combining MEC with LTE broadcast (eMBMS).
Edge video orchestration was used to deliver a mobile live TV programme to multiple LTE devices simultaneously; and multiple live video streams from LTE-connected bodycams were transmitted to control room staff as an illustration of venue and event safety management.
Nokia also demonstrated ultra-low latency whereby a robot was used to co-ordinate and react to keep a ball balanced on a moving platform. The idea was to illustrate closed-loop control applications in industrial automation, which will require virtual zero latency and high reliability to prevent equipment failure.
The Small Cell Forum (SCF) used MWC 2016 to launch new research that indicated that 13.3 million small cells have been deployed, while more than three million were shipped in 2015 – in the last quarter almost 40% of those were non-residential small cells.
Enterprise small cell shipments more than doubled in 2015, with growth forecast to be 270% in 2016. Some 60% of the 500 companies surveyed said they expected to deploy small cells by the end of 2017.
SCF chair Alan Law hailed the findings as evidence of real progress, but added: ‘It is also clear that as an industry, we have to continue to deliver the innovation to realise the potential of this market. We will need multi-operator small cells, we will need to integrate licence-exempt technologies, and we will need to simplify deployment.’
The SCF also launched its latest guidance document, Release Six: Smart Enterprise, a suite of 14 documents on how to deliver new solutions and services for enterprises using small cells.
Nokia seemed to agree with the SCF’s optimism, with Mark Atkinson, VP Small Cell Business Line, Mobile Broadband, telling Wireless that the company ‘shipped a lot of small cells in 2015’ and he expects things to accelerate in 2016. It is shipping to some 200 customers around the world now that it has added Alcatel-Lucent’s considerable presence in the femtocell market to its portfolio.
Atkinson said that he reckoned Nokia was ahead of the curve in its ability to offer different combinations of LTE, LTE unlicensed and Wi-Fi in its FlexiZone Pico cell product. He added that the company is investing heavily in LTE-U, LTE-LAA and in the shared access model such as the 3.5 GHz band in the US.
At MWC, Nokia also unveiled its Wi-Fi portfolio in the shape of 2x2 80s.11ac Wave 1 access point and both indoor and outdoor 4x4 802.11ac Wave 2 access points, which use a central cloud controller.
One of the issues still plaguing the enterprise small cell market is how to make enterprises aware that the technology is ready and waiting. CommScope unveiled new research that revealed only an estimated 2% of commercial buildings have dedicated technology to ensure strong and reliable cellular coverage indoors.
However, the research also showed that good indoor wireless coverage can increase a property’s value by 28%, which might encourage property developers to invest in small cells.
The report pointed to several challenges, including confusion over who is responsible for providing cellular coverage indoors (and who should pay for it), while cost, complexity and a lack of skilled workers to install, manage and maintain systems was also cited.
CommScope showcased its latest OneCell C-RAN small cell solution at MWC, the fruit of its purchase of Airvana last year. On the access side, ip.access and SpiderCloud were prominent among the other independent small cell vendors.
Ip.access unveiled new 4G small cells including the E60 access point (AP) aimed at larger buildings, the S60 SoHo AP, and it announced the addition of US frequency bands for its existing E40 enterprise AP.
In addition, it launched a new 4G access control gateway to provide mobile operators with a single interface between their existing core network and all LTE small cells. The network just sees the small cells as a single macro cell, helping to ease deployment and management.
The company also launched a new small cell technology platform called Viper – a virtualised, in-premise enterprise RAN solution. Ip.access collaborated with Intel, whose Transcede T3K and T2k system-on-a-chip products are a key component in the Viper platform.
SpiderCloud showcased a licence-exempt 4G small cell prototype. The vendor is working with Qualcomm to develop small cells using most of the current unlicensed options including LTE-U, LTE-LAA and LTE MulteFire.
Art King, Director of Enterprise at SpiderCloud, told Wireless that the two companies were starting with LTE-U, which is to be trialled this year by US carrier Verizon. The company said it was also expanding its partnership with NEC to offer UMTS/LTE, dual-carrier LTE, LTE-U and LTE-LAA small cells to enterprises of all sizes.
Russian independent InfiNet Wireless unveiled its latest product, the InfiLINK XG, which it claims is the most spectrally efficient point-to-point wireless broadband solution on the market. It has non-line-of-sight (NLOS) capabilities and is aimed at relieving backhaul bottlenecks and access in urban areas.
Radwin also introduced new products including its JET base station with beamforming antenna delivering 750 Mbps throughput.
Small Cell Backhaul
The small cell backhaul vendors were also in action at MWC. NEClaunched a new E-band (71-86 GHz) millimetre wave radio, the iPASOLINK EX capable of providing a wireless transmission capacity of 10Gbps and ready for LTE-A and 5G.
CCS (Cambridge Communication Systems) introduced a new variant of its Metnet backhaul unit capable of integrating an access small cell. The aim is to speed up deployment by helping to overcome planning difficulties as many sites, such as lampposts, have weight restrictions. The example on display at MWC combined an ip.access small cell within the CCS unit.
CCS also announced a global distribution agreement with Ericsson, which will greatly enhance the marketing and distribution of its Metnet solution.
Fastback Networks (which acquired UK firm Sub10 last year) had two new products on show: the Intelligent Backhaul Radio (IBR) 1300, which delivers 900 Mbps performance and a small form factor; and the Liberator V1000 (V-band) and E1000e (E-band), which now come with dual ports.
The dual ports provide the flexibility of either GigE Copper or fibre SFP, allowing daisy-chaining of a copper or fibre hop. ‘A lot of customers want to daisy chain down streets with one cable so we’ve reduced the complexity,’ said chief sales and marketing officer, Stuart Broome.
The Internet of Things
IoT has become an increasingly important area for MWC over recent years and this year more so than ever. Everyone was talking about it, especially as most of the new use cases being envisioned for 5G are a form of IoT.
What was also apparent was just how complex it is to put an end-to-end IoT solution together. Any enterprise or organisation wishing to engage with IoT has to consider standards and ecosystems, types of sensor, chipsets and modules, gateways, types of network, IoT platforms, device monitoring and management, data management, data analytics, applications, and of course security – among other things.
In terms of networks, low power wide area networks (LPWAN) were without doubt the most prominent story at MWC. The non-cellular providers such as Sigfox, Ingenu and the various LoRa players continued to make advances in this sector.
Semtech Corporation unveiled a new LoRa gateway reference design platform, while MultiTech Systems launched the MultiConnect Conduit IP67 ruggedised LoRa base station, the MultiConnect Conduit LoRa gateway, and MultiConnect xDot, an endpoint module to communicate over LoRaWAN networks.
Meanwhile, the rival cellular LTE standards to the above providers (which use unlicensed spectrum bands) are beginning to close the gap. 3GPP is finalising specifications for two variations of LTE for LPWANs and one for 2G GSM, now called Extended Coverage-GSM-IoT, (EC-GSM-IoT) for Release 13.
The two LTE variants are LTE-M, part of the eMTC (evolved machine type communications) family and Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). LTE-M is due to reach commercialisation in 2017, while the specification for NB-IoT is expected to be finished in June 2016.
LTE-M and NB-IoT will enable mobile operators to use their existing 4G LTE spectrum holdings for low power wide area IoT applications in a cost-effective and spectrally efficient way.
Most of the big infrastructure vendors had NB-IoT demonstrations at the show, while Ericsson also demonstrated EC-GSM-IoT at its booth, based on a trial it conducted with Orange and Intel earlier this year for connected vineyards.
In a note posted by Machina Research after the show, its analysts noted that: ‘IoT discussions are no longer confined to just a handful of leading MNOs. Rather, the rest of the MNO world is catching up.’ However, they face plenty of challenges.
One of which is; how will they handle the potentially millions of devices looking to connect to the network simultaneously? These IoT devices may only want to transmit a tiny bit of data, but the sheer number of them can clog up the network and affect its performance.
Robin Kent, Director of European Operations at Adax, told Wireless: ‘They have to look at the ability of the GTP (GPRS Tunnelling Protocol) and SETP (Secure Electronic Transaction Protocol) baseline protocols to handle thousands of connections into the core network. From a control point of view they set up the connection and SETP authenticates the connection. But how do you maintain enough capacity in the network and, more importantly, manage that many connections without creating bottlenecks?’
Kent said that dealing with basic network transport protocols was where Adax started out, and it is enhancing its GTP products to move from handling 25-30,000 packages per application to 250,000, but it has already had requests to push this up to one million. ‘These are tiny packages with not a lot of data in them, but without proper management they can wreak havoc,’ he warned.
Starhome Mach pointed out the importance for mobile operators to be able to handle the steering of roaming for IoT devices to help them control and monetise areas such as service levels, device identities, network availability and coverage, quality of service for every device domestically and globally. Its new HD-IoT platform is designed to enable this, allowing operators to create differentiated, saleable service packages to suit enterprise customers.
Machina Research estimates there are around 300 IoT platforms of various sorts and reckons that the consolidation underway ‘may well see an acceleration in activities in the coming months’. The most notable recent one being Cisco’s acquisition of Jasper, which believes it is the largest in the world in terms of the number of enterprises on its platform – nearly 3,500.
Like a number of others, Jasper was keen to talk up the virtues of its eSIM initiative with Gemalto. Embedded SIMs will make life a lot easier as it eliminates the need for physical substitution of SIMS, enables local configuration, and with Jasper’s platform users get a single interface worldwide.
There were plenty of interesting IoT use cases on show at MWC from the likes of Gemalto, Sierra Wireless, Jasper, AT&T and KT Corporation, although Italtel’s new range of IoT services, especially in the field of Smart Health relating to providing real-time after care for outpatients to provide communications with the hospital from, therapy and a medicine scheduler was particularly impressive.
IoT is one area that will just keep on growing, but it requires a lot of different partners to be properly aligned to deliver a full end-to-end service and somehow each of them has to make money from it.