Next week, in a clear sign that summah is ovaah, many of us will be hopping on planes to Los Angeles to attend MWCA—the annual fall CTIA confab that is 25+ years old but only aged 2 in its recent partnership configuration. Aside from being not too thrilled about spending a week in land- and grid-locked downtown L.A. (why didn’t they build the convention center in Santa Monica?), this is proving to be an important conference. We still need a signature event in North America, especially with all the activity in 5G and IoT, and with so much of the innovation being driven out of companies based in or with a significant presence in the region. Here are some of the key themes I’m expecting next week.
Apple’s Annual "Newman" Move. In what has also become an annual event, Apple has scheduled its signature annual iPhone (and more) announcement event to coincide with MWCA, benefiting mainly the airline industry with all the change fees that will be incurred by journalists, analysts, and others who will have to shuttle up to Cupertino for the day. The best MWCA can do about this is make sure Wi-Fi works well in the convention center for those who will be livestreaming the event. Next year, maybe they should have FCC Commissioner Pai speak at the outdoor picnic grove at Apple’s HQ just before the event. Or, if they really want to stick it to Scott, do it in Mountain View.
Eve of 5G. OK, here’s a contest: Count the number of times you hear the words "5G" next week. We will remember MWCA as being on the "eve of 5G," with several operator commercial launches planned before the end of 2018—not just fixed wireless but also several "mobile 5G" deployments. We will hear a lot of discussion about 5G NR, and 5G standalone being available in 2019. There will be a lot of questions, and hopefully some announcements, related to 5G-enabled devices of various sorts. I am also hoping that there’s meaningful news about 3.5 GHz and other midband spectrum for 5G, and progress on innovative and more streamlined siting solutions for all of the small(er) cells that will be required for 5G.
From a 5G perspective, MWCA 2018 is actually making me think a lot about MWCA 2019. By a year from now, we will know:
- Whether FWA using mmWave really works and whether mobile can indeed take share from fixed
- What mobile 5G really means
- mmWave auction results, and the roadmap for midband
- A lot more about devices (and maybe a 5G iPhone at next year’s MWCA-disrupting Apple event?)
- Way more about the business cases
Edge. Edge computing and its role in mobile will be a major theme this year. With the growth of video traffic, deployment of 5G, and content plays, the edge assumes greater importance. You will also hear a lot more about how the edge can deliver significant improvements to 4G networks, including “get 5G performance with 4G” type pitches.
Blockchain. This will be the hot new topic at this year’s event. You will hear about blockchain’s role across the ecosystem: in distributed, decentralized networks, as part thinking about security and privacy, and as a new model for peer-to-peer transactions. Most interesting will be some thinking about blockchain’s role vis a vis mobile devices and the potential for them to become an even greater hub for transactions. The smartphone needs a "capital N" for 2020 and beyond, and blockchain could be it.
IoT. IoT is a big part of the discussion at any mobile event these days, since core subscriber/smartphone growth has plateaued. Don’t expect anything earth-shattering here. This is an area where we see a very steady march forward. There will be a lot of discussion about the next wave of LTE-based IoT connectivity (NB-IoT), and the role of IoT in a 5G world. Another key development will be maturing solutions in the "underbelly" of IoT: security, analytics, and so on. Major ecosystem-related news on IoT (connected car, smart home, smart cities, etc.) is more the province of CES and big tent MWC.
China. China will be the elephant in the room at this year’s show, and the subject of many over-drinks discussions at after-hours events. We’re faced with an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, China is playing a huge role in the evolution of 5G: massive R&D, leading products and devices, driving the spectrum debate, and so on. Very, very different than with 4G. On the other hand, China is being largely shut out of the U.S. (and some other countries now, too) network equipment and mobile device markets. Concerns about China have blocked deals involving Broadcom and NXP, with Qualcomm right in the middle of things. There’s also concern that tariffs could affect the pace of 5G rollouts.
Entertainment. With L.A. as a backdrop, we’ll hear more about the convergence of mobile and entertainment. Over the past couple of years, much of the discussion related to content/entertainment has been about how mobile networks will handle all that traffic. But with the approach of 5G, continued development of AR/VR, hype around Magic Leap, etc., I’m expecting a more consumer-y type discussion than we’ve had recently. Plus, all the major U.S. operators are playing more directly in the space: AT&T/Warner Media, Verizon/Oath, and T-Mobile’s expected launch of its OTT service sometime soon.
Overall, I think the mobile outlook will be very positive at this year’s show, given that much of what we’ve been talking about for the past couple of years is nearing reality.
Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is managing director of Mobile Ecosystem. Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter, or follow him on Twitter at @marklowenstein.
Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceWireless staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceWireless.