MWC Preview: Hot topics will be eSIM, open RAN and mmWave

This year the MWC Americas conference is happening in Las Vegas, rather than the usual event location – Los Angeles.

The trade show will kick off with a session featuring (fittingly) executives from the top three wireless carriers in the U.S. – Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T. But after the first day’s keynotes, perhaps the more interesting learning opportunities will come from a few special summits that the GSMA is hosting.

The eSIM Summit

Did the GSMA have inside knowledge that Apple would announce its eSIM-only iPhone 14 just one month before MWC Americas? Perhaps the timing is simply serendipitous for GSMA, which will be hosting an eSIM Summit at its conference on Wednesday, September 28.

According to GSMA’s research, the North American eSIM market will grow about 15% from 2022 to 2028. 

Chris Jahr, the CEO and co-founder of an eSIM startup called RiPSIM Technologies, explained that the bigger, traditional SIM companies are Thales, Giesecke+Devrient (G+D), Idemia and Valid. Certified SIM companies are listed on a GSMA site.

RiPSIM has just released the Beta of its software-defined eSIM ecosystem. The company's goal is to help carriers “break free” from their dependencies on traditional SIM card manufacturers.

Jahr, who worked for G+D for about 20 years, said the traditional SIM vendors have a manufacturing mindset that is not compatible with software-based eSIM systems. He said they also have not responded to carriers’ desire to have more control over their SIM platforms.

But now that Apple has made the iPhone 14 eSIM only, the entire SIM ecosystem could evolve very quickly.

One thing is for sure: There will be plenty to discuss at the eSIM Summit next week.

mmWave Summit

On Thursday, September 29, the GSMA will host a mmWave Summit.

mmWave is one element of the 5G technology mix. It provides high data capacity at very high speeds and low latency.

Paul Challoner, VP of network product solutions with Ericsson, said, "While low and mid-band are critical to providing 5G coverage, mmWave’s ultra-low latency and extreme capacity are key to delivering the immersive and differentiated use cases that consumers envision when thinking about future technologies. These life-changing use cases require an increasing number of sensors, simultaneously sending huge volumes of  data in real-time, and using AI/ML to interact with the world around them. We envisage mmWave playing its part in this use case evolution."

But the spectrum, which was heavily hyped in the lead-up to 5G deployments, has been a bit disappointing in terms of its limited coverage. Unless a mobile user is very near a mmWave small cell, they often won’t get a mmWave signal.

Counterpoint Research analyst Neil Shah said, “Obviously, because of the nature of the signal you will see deployments in dense urban or selected suburban areas or private network settings. The operators need to cleverly deploy the spectrum where there are premium customers or where they can use the high-speed mmWave experience either in their workplaces or crowded places such as stadiums or malls, etc.”

Challoner agreed, adding that mmWave will be a Metaverse enabler in the future.

According to Counterpoint, all the key smartphone vendors have been supporting mmWave, including Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, Motorola, TCL, Kyocera and Google. He noted that the benefits of mmWave are not limited to smartphones, and the spectrum can also support Mi-Fi hotspots for multiple users.

mmWave is also being tapped for fixed wireless access (FWA) deployments by the likes of Starry. The company uses the spectrum in mostly urban and denser suburban areas.

Starry’s FWA is delivered over a purpose-built home broadband network and is capable of delivering a fiber-like experience with unlimited capacity and speeds of 1 Gbps.

Open RAN Summit

Also on Thursday, September 29, the GSMA will also host an Open RAN Summit.

Open RAN has been the darling new technology of the wireless ecosystem for a couple of years. But recently, after the open RAN vendor Parallel Wireless laid off many of its employees, people have questioned whether open RAN is really going to take off.

After the layoffs, Parallel Wireless CEO Steve Papa said that “a Covid constrained environment” had caused delays in open RAN development and that the process to transition to open RAN would be a “marathon” and not a “sprint.”

But it could also be the case that established vendors are benefiting more from open RAN than startups. And this would be a bit ironic given that open RAN is supposed to bring more diversity to the wireless vendor landscape.

Analyst Stefan Pongratz, vice president with The Dell’Oro Group, said the top three open RAN vendors are now Samsung, Fujitsu and NEC, which collectively accounted for around 75% of the open RAN market in the first half of 2022.

However, it should also be noted that Ericsson and Nokia are not among Dell’Oro’s top three open RAN vendors. And even though the top three open RAN vendors are not startups, perhaps the technology is bringing more diversity to the RAN ecosystem, after all.

Dell’Oro’s latest report found that open RAN revenues “accelerated at a torrid pace in the first half of 2022” and some of this was due to positive brownfield developments in North America. 

Although the analyst group didn’t specify which wireless carrier or carriers was driving open RAN in North America, Verizon has been public about its efforts to virtualize its RAN as a stepping-stone to open RAN. And Verizon is using Samsung for its vRAN equipment.

Asked if other carriers were focusing on vRAN, first, as a basis for open RAN, Pongratz said, “Regarding the order between vRAN and open RAN, it is all over the place now in the initial stages when looking at the three high level buckets, including greenfields, brownfields in Japan, and brownfields outside of Japan. At the same time, the overlap with these architectures will evolve over time and eventually most open RAN will also be open vRAN.”