If mid-December is the time when analysts get asked about their predictions for the New Year, mid-February is when we have to put forward some reasoned thinking about what we'll be seeing at Mobile World Congress (MWC). It's not actually a part of my job description, but it might as well be.
Earlier this month, I telegraphed some of my thinking in this column, arguing that CES already gave us an idea of what we'll see at MWC. Just about at the same time, we began seeing pre-MWC vendor messaging begin to kick into gear, giving yet another view into the likely news out of Barcelona next month. This week, however, my colleague (and all around brilliant analyst) Ed Gubbins really got me thinking with his take on MWC themes and vendor messaging. It's worth a read but I can summarize it pretty quickly: this year, big themes in the mobile network should include 5G, RAN virtualization, mobile core virtualization, and LTE-LAA; smart vendors looking to get attention for their MWC product launches will try to put them into the context of these themes, but pushing this too hard can ruin a company's credibility.
I'd like to take this one step further by arguing that there will be one theme that dominates MWC 2015 and that, by the end of the week, we will all be thoroughly tired of hearing about it because everyone will be linking themselves to it in some way. Yep, if you haven't yet figured it out, I'm talking about 5G.
Why will 5G dominate MWC this year?
- More Real. Circa 2015, most experts still seem hard pressed to serve up a definition of 5G. At the same time, we have a better idea of what it's supposed to be, the use cases it's trying to serve, and the technologies that will make good on all its promises. People feel they can say more about 5G this year than they could last year.
- Preparedness. Just because you can say something about 5G doesn't mean you should, right? Well, maybe. As much as 5G was once positioned as a 2020 technology, we all know that some carriers plan to put on 5G showcases before that (when's that Winter Olympics in Korea?). A few years out, then, those carriers and their vendor partners (or would-be vendor partners) are eager to show that they'll be prepared. If nothing else, some vendors will want to set themselves up to benefit where they didn't do so well (or aren't doing well) in 4G.
- All-Encompassing. Remember back when I said 5G is a little more "real?" Remember how I didn't actually detail the 5G use cases or technologies? Left you wanting more, didn't I? In reality, if you want to know what use cases and technologies define 5G, just name any hot mobile and RAN technologies you can think of. Massive MIMO and antenna innovation? Check. Virtualization? Check. Unlicensed and millimeter-wave spectrum? Check. IoT and every other use case? Check. OSS/BSS evolutions to gauge and deliver the resources necessary to support use perception of infinite bandwidth? Sure, why not? 5G is nearly everything to everyone. The beauty, here, is that by touching so many different topics, nearly any MWC theme or message CAN BE a 5G message.
- 5G Marketing Bonanza. The fact that 5G is so very "current" and yet potentially touches so many other themes gives marketers a prime opportunity to link whatever it is they are doing – nearly any random product launch, for example – to the topic. I recently saw a PR firm tweet that a good way to get media attention is to link your message to a broader industry theme. In that vein, 5G is pretty much as broad as it gets.
On this last point, however, there's a very real risk. It's just not credible to link every random, vaguely-related, product launch to every hot topic. In his blog, Ed talked about this as "over-reaching" and "communicating a lack of authority." I'll be a little more blunt. This type of exercise just makes you look desperate. It screams, "I can't get attention based on the merit of my products, so I need to link them to something that you do care about. Hey, look at me. LOOK AT ME!!!"
Unfortunately, we all know this will happen.
Just like we've seen vendors rush to link anything they do to SDN and NFV, or slap an "IoT" label on every product or service they launch, we'll see a lot of "5G-washing" this year at MWC. As we all leave Barcelona, some people will be quick to position this as the year that 5G took over MWC. I suspect that's more likely to be 2016 or 2017. 2015 will more likely be the year that 5G annoyed everyone at MWC.
Peter Jarich is the VP of Consumer and Infrastructure at Current Analysis. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.