4th Industrial Revolution covers the gamut: MWC Preview

The GSMA has made IoT and what some call the “fourth Industrial Revolution” a key focus for this year’s Barcelona confab. (Image: Pixabay)

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With the theme “Build a Better Future,” MWC 2018 will showcase a slew of emerging technology areas, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital transformation, 5G (of course) and something that interlocks with all of these themes: the internet of things.

The GSMA has made IoT and what some call the “fourth Industrial Revolution” a key focus for this year’s Barcelona confab, and with good reason: the twin development of 5G and low-power wide-area networking (LPWAN) for industrial networks (NB-IoT/LTE-M) will enable new business models and deployments for connected things in 2018 and beyond.

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Taking the definition of fourth Industrial Revolution to mean moving beyond digitization into a permeating interconnectedness of all things, operators and infrastructure players alike continue to develop the promise of LPWAN. Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom will be talking up narrowband NB-IoT network technology at MWC 2018, following their initial commercial launches last year. Other operators, including Orange, AT&T and KPN, are focused on LTE-M, an alternative narrowband technology based on 3GPP standards. There will also very likely be news on rival cellular narrowband solutions, such as Sigfox and LoRa.

“LPWAN technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M will again feature strongly on exhibition stands,” said CCS Insight analyst Kester Mann in a research note, adding that attendees should expect plenty of debate over the merits of each, as operators adopt a range of strategies.

He added, “This year, early deployments should bring a dose of commercial reality to demonstrations at the show. But with connectivity still representing only a minority of the total value of an IoT project, it's time that debate focused on how operators can better monetize their investment.” Data aggregation, analytics and machine learning present fresh opportunities.

On the 5G side, the ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) and massive machine-type communications (mMTC) use cases will bring about new service capabilities for industrial stakeholders thanks to the enablement of unprecedented on-demand performance and real-time reactivity. Smart-city applications could abound, with energy and water utilities connecting to millions of networked devices, using edge computing environments to enable analytics and autonomous decision making in real time.

Sensors embedded in roads, railways, airfields and vehicles would allow them to communicate with each other through the 5G network and/or with smart vehicles. Vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communication will make roads safer and more environmentally friendly, while allowing buses and public transportation to run more efficiently.

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5G also paves the way for human-IoT interaction in new ways. Users will experience smart cars that are capable of communicating with traffic lights; there will be devices focused on transmitting touch and texture to realize the tactile internet (which could have incredible applications in, say, healthcare).

All of this has potentially immense repercussions for operators as well as society at large. The GSMA’s Innovation City pavilion is sure to be a hotbed of demos and future-think discussion around all of this, as will the conference program, which has a dedicated track on the fourth Industrial Revolution featuring speakers ranging from Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm to Fernando Alonso, Formula 1 driver and two-time Formula 1 World Champion.

On the new announcements and showcases front, several heavy-hitters and ecosystem players are expected to focus on IoT at the show. To name just a few, Software AG is launching the next version of its Cumulocity IoT platform, an open, cloud-based framework for industrial applications like supply chain automation and predictive maintenance. Silicon giant ARM will be talking up its just-launched ARM Automotive Developer Community (AADC) for next generation automotive electronic deployments, such as advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS), autonomous drive, digital cockpit technologies, V2X communications and vehicle electrification.

Ericsson will likely have announcements around its distributed cloud strategy, which is a programmable, virtualized blueprint for supporting data-centric processing, security, response time, scalability and resilience in industrial IoT. And Qualcomm will have a heavy focus on discussing how service providers can benefit from IoT by using AI to make sense of the data and device behaviors within these deployments.

In all, the industry can expect to see a gamut of IoT-related activity at MWC, all against the backdrop of broader trends in the mobile ecosystem.

“The big three will overlap and interlock: 5G, the IoT and artificial intelligence,” Rob Gallagher, research practice director at Ovum, said in a blog. “5G will be fleshed out with demo smartphones, radio access and antenna innovation, and use cases for network slicing, enterprises, and IoT. Progress with IoT won’t be limited to 5G; expect to see more announcements about LPWAN trials, deployments and commercialization strategies. AI will permeate everything from consumer and enterprise IoT, to self-optimizing networks and support systems, smart devices and digital assistants, though not all demos will be genuinely intelligent – or useful.”