Industry Voices—Schoolar: What to expect at MWC 2018 professionally and personally

Don’t expect to see much in the way of 5G devices during the industry's biggest gathering in Barcelona. (Image: Pixabay)
Daryl Schoolar Ovum

Once again, the mobile world’s attention is about to be focused on Barcelona. That of course means I, as an industry analyst, am obligated once again to write about my expectations for the event. With expectations for me there are two camps—the professional expectations and the personal expectations. The professional expectations are the ones I am expected to write about when it comes to a major conference. The personal ones, however, are just as important to a successful conference.

Professional expectations

  • Actual 5G commercial gear—Operators are promising commercial 5G compliant networks by the end of this year. That means vendors will be spending MWC showing commercial network solutions that support those service launch goals. This is the year that 5G gear moves from conceptual/trial/pre-5G stage to actual commercial platforms. Ericsson has already done so with its 5G NR announcement on Feb. 7th. As 5G is much more than just a new radio, cloud packet core networks for 5G and network slicing demonstrations will be prevalent as well.

  • 5G services will underwhelm—Here is the ugly truth: All those far reaching new 5G services like autonomous cars, ultra-low-latency services, and massive IoT will take years to develop. What we will get initially will be fixed wireless access and enhanced mobile broadband. Neither of these are exactly the most exciting 5G applications, especially now as companies like Qualcomm are coming out with 2 Gbps LTE modems.

  • 3.5 GHz will be the hot spectrum band of 2018—This is the year of 3.5 GHz. Outside of the U.S., initial 5G deployments will be in 3.5 GHz. Vendors will be showing solutions designed specifically for this band. In the U.S., we should finally see deployment of CBRS using the unlicensed part of the band for LTE.
  • Where are the 5G devices?—I don’t expect to see much in the way of 5G devices. AT&T has suggested its first 5G device will be a personal Wi-Fi device, like what kicked off the 3G and 4G eras. MWC 2018 won’t be the big show for 5G devices. That might come in the fall with the North America version of MWC or next year’s CES.

Personal expectations

  • The city of El Dorado is a nearly empty train to Fira de Barcelona—I am not sure if it exists, but I do believe at some point in the day, on specific routes, the trains move fast and are nearly empty heading to the Fira. Like a Spanish conquistador searching for a city of gold, I will never give up my search for the perfect commute.

  • Get stuck in a protest or strike—Barcelona during MWC week has been a good bet for a strike or protest. Cost of college and cost of living increase for transit works are two of the more recent occurrences. Given the political strife of the last year in Barcelona, I expect to see or at least hear about some sort of public protest during the busiest week of the year in the Catalonia capital.

  • I will be late for a meeting and so will you—I don’t care how well anybody’s conference calendar is planned, something will go wrong. Maybe the train will break down. Maybe a meeting will run late. Maybe a meeting room will get changed but the updated invite isn’t sent out. Doesn’t matter, everybody will be late for at least one meeting.
  • I will get sick of tapas—Bite-sized food on toasted bread is nice treat when I get there Saturday.  Wednesday afternoon I will be ready for real food.

Despite some of the headaches associated with over 100,000 people converging on Barcelona, MWC remains a must-attend event. For me it fuels much of what I will research for the year. It provides a chance to take measure of the industry’s progress and its failures. It really is a week well spent.

Daryl Schoolar is principal analyst of wireless infrastructure for Ovum. Daryl's research includes not only what infrastructure vendors are developing in those areas, but how mobile operators are deploying and using those wireless networking solutions. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him at @DHSchoolar.