27 Feb 2014
Mobile World Congress 2014: Main Themes
Editor, Ian Poole visits Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Spain and reports on some of the major themes he saw.
Held in Barcelona, Spain, Mobile World Congress is the major event for the cellular telecommunications industry and in 2014 it was held between 24 and 27 February.
Each year Mobile World Congress provides opportunities to attend a congress with keynotes from the industry thought leaders as well as an opportunity to visit the huge exhibition and network amongst the thousands of other visitors and exhibitors that attend each year.
Set against the backdrop of the Barcelona city with its impressive buildings, architecture and culture, Mobile World Congress provided the most complete overview of what is happening and what is going to happen in the coming months in the cellular industry.
This year the GSMA reported a record 85 000 visitors from over 200 countries attended Mobile World Congress 2014. More than 1,800 companies were exhibiting through exhibition stands and hospitality space across nine halls and outdoor spaces at the new Fira Gran Via and also at the Fira Montjuïc which the conference had previously outgrown.
The four-day conference and exhibition attracted people from the whole range of positions.
The overall them for the Mobile World Congress 2014 was: ‘Creating What’s Next”. But there were very many exhibitors and delegates an event of this nature, each with their own agendas to push. There are a number of major themes that come out of the four day even.
Some of the ones we saw at the Mobile World Congress this year were:
LTE deployments and resulting issues
Mobiles, manufacturers and apps
Data World Congress & IoT
5G: next generation developments
These developments are set against an ever growing cellular ecosystem. The number of connections has now exceeded the 6 billion mark, and it is anticipated that by 2015 there will be 9 billion which corresponds to 1.3 connections per person on the planet.
With LTE now well established and LTE Advanced features now coming to fruition, the market was very upbeat. Although there is naturally a huge amount of hype at these events, trying to cut underneath this, figures seemed to indicate that the sector was positive about the future
LTE deployments and developments
LTE and LTE-A were now accepted as standard across the cellular industry and this was reflected across Mobile World Congress. What was being talked about were some of the additional facilities. There was still some talk about carrier aggregation and the ways in which the highest bandwidths can be achieved.
There was also talk about VoLTE. With services now being introduced, there was the need for ensuring that it performed to its best straight from launch. With many people using services like Skype, FaceTime and the like, the user experience for VoLTE has to match these offerings. Excellent performance right from the initial launch is needed.
There was also talk about broadcast services. With talk of DMB and DVB-H and their lack of business cases long forgotten (these service required a complete new network to be installed and deployed), services based around eMBMS using the LTE system are now being trialled. The original MBMS technology used with 3G services suffered efficiency issues. As a result it was never commercially deployed. Enhanced MDMS, eMBMS used with LTE and can transmit up to 20 HD channels in a 5 MHz bandwidth without impacting the standard network operation.
This was demonstrated by Verizon in the USA at Superbowl 2014. For Europe, Vodafone Germany and Ericsson announced that they are trialling LTE Broadcast. Vodafone Germany is the first European carrier to conduct live tests with LTE Broadcast, in collaboration with Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung. It was also mentioned that LTE Broadcast might soon be rolled out in German stadiums beyond the one in which the trial took place.
This year again, the idea of NFC was being given a large push at Mobile World Congress. However there remains a large question mark over whether NFC will actually catch on in a big way. NFC is an excellent technology, but it has some drawbacks. When used in cards it can only be used for small transactions because no PIN is used. This limits the amount that it can be used for in transactions. It cannot be used universally, it is only one of a number of options.
Also for ticketing applications, people tend to keep their card in a wallet from which they do not remove the card. Passing through the gate they just touch the wallet onto the reader. If other NFC enabled cards are in the wallet the system does not know which one to use. In this situation people have found the wrong card being charged and for the wrong amount.
A further concern is the shock given to phones as they are roughly placed onto a reader. The repeated shock is not good for electronic equipment and some manufacturers are reported to have concerns of the usage on their phone and poor reliability resulting from rough handling reflecting badly onto their brand.
So will NFC take off? This is actually still a huge question. Has the industry moved forwards in real acceptance since last year. There are certainly many new initiatives, but there is not the buzz that there has been with other offerings in past years. May be it will slowly gain traction. This all remains to be seen.
In previous years at Mobile World Congress there has been a considerable amount of optimism about the use of a variety of types of small cell. The general marketing hype would have had small cells almost randomly deployed in many lamp posts as well as behind shop front signs and the like. These small cells would be the key to quick and easy roll-out of the 4G networks that are able to meet the data explosion that is already starting to happen.
The reality does not seem to exactly match these original hopes. Femtocells on which early hopes were pinned have had only around 50 operators deploy them, and the figures have not been anywhere near those predicted by some. That said, Vodafone having introduced its Sure Signal for homes some years ago has introduced an enterprise version which could help with signals in buildings. This is far more likely to gain significant traction.
As for small cells, operators have generally been very measured in their deployments. Some industry watchers have commented that they seem reluctant to take on board the concept of small cells. They need to see a return on any investment within a reasonable time frame. Also the deployment of these small cells is not as easy as it may seem at first sight.
Said Kevin Lineham, CTO at CommScope: "You need to take a lot of care in planning contiguous lower layer networks, especially with aspects like RF containment."
Currently the LTE deployments that have been rolled out can accommodate the levels of data usage being experienced. However as the levels increase, commentators agree that they will start to employ these small cells. But there still appears to be two camps into which operators fall. Some have taken on board the idea of small cells and they say they will use them as a means to change their whole way of setting up and utilising networks, accommodating the new technology as they go. Others still seem to be in denial that small cells will be needed and that they will continue to roll out networks in the same tied and tested fashion as before.
Another associated area in which a lot of new product has come to market is within the in-building arena. With over 80% of data traffic emanating from within buildings, and only 2% of commercial properties having suitable in-built coverage, this is a great opportunity. In the past many offerings have been operator dependent, and only limited to a single technology. Systems are now being seen where a complete in-built coverage offering for all technologies, Wi-Fi, cellular, etc are covered at the same time. Axell Wireless and CommScope being two.
Backhaul is due to become an issue but many operators are focussing on the deployment of LTE first and then as traffic rises they will look at backhaul requirements.
Currently there are many options that are available. However with the lack of take-up of small cells, most operators are still using the traditional methods of backhaul, although much of the T1/E1 has been replaced.
As small cells start to be deployed, backhaul will present a major challenge to operators, because small cells are likely to be deployed in a great variety of areas. This is an area where traditional fixed line operators may be able to come to the rescue of mobile operators. Often they can easily provide links to many locations that are very difficult for mobile operators in view of the costs of installing new lines. By cooperating very beneficial cooperative agreements could be set up.
While looking at base stations, it is worth commenting on the technologies being used here as well. In some respects they may not have the buzz of the phones themselves, but they are equally important. Power amplifiers continue to show improved levels of efficiency. The Doherty amplifier configuration where one transistor handles the continuous power and another handles the peak continues to improve with specialised devices from companies such as Freescale continue to be launched. LDMOS is now standard, but in many applications there is a steady move starting over to gallium arsenide devices. Small but significant improvements in efficiency are being made, but there these improvements are getting ever more difficult to introduce.
Data World Congress & IoT
There was a considerable amount of talk about connected cities, connected cars and the like. Many exhibitors at Mobile World Congress were showing their ideas and developments. There is a huge amount of work going on in these areas and this is reflected in the work and products being exhibited.
Said Mike Short, VP Telefonica: “Mobile World Congress is more of a data World Congress . . . . . . . there are many software companies, many special network companies, other companies providing billing and customer care and there are solutions for the whole digital economy”
Mike Short, VP Telefonica
Talking to a variety of people across Mobile World Congress, it was obvious there is a large amount of work going on.
In terms of the auto mobile industry there is a lot of interest and development. While it is not expected all of the work will come to fruition in the short term, such as mesh networked cars where the networking elements can be used for crash avoidance, etc, there are other areas for in car connectivity that will be implemented in the shorter term.
Qualcomm were even demonstrating an electric racing car that not only used wireless communications technology, but also utilised wireless charging. In this way they were incorporating two developing technologies.
In addition to this, technologies like Weightless – the white space data cellular system have moved forwards. The original aim was for the technology to be used in the television white space to provide low powered data communications particularly for remote sensors and actuators. For these applications, cellular technology is too heavy. Dealing with complex waveforms like OFDM requires considerable processing and this is not conducive to long battery life – some devices ae expected to operate for months or even years from the same battery.
Neul has been working to develop the ideas further. They are now looking at using unlicensed spectrum instead of the TV white space. They have found that in urban areas, little white space often exists. Unfortunately it is often in urban environments where population levels are highest and there will be the greatest need for low power data communications.
In another move announced at Mobile World Congress Orange announced that it is helping start up companies who are developing products for the IoT. Orange states that it wants to help them accelerate development and assist with marketing. This move is possibly a long term move, because it can only be approached with 4G, but with 5G anticipated to be more capable of meeting IoT requirements it should be able to enter the market more strongly when it arrives. It is anticipated that the main areas where IoT will start to grow initially are personal services, healthcare, the connected home and smart cities.
Mobiles, manufacturers and Apps
As would be expected at Mobile World Congress, many new mobiles were launched.
In addition to the variety of new mobiles is the ongoing question of how the industry will develop: Nokia phones being bought by Microsoft; Motorola handset business being sold to Lenovo; and the continuing saga of Blackberry.
The recent arguments caused by T-Mobile USA offering free upgrades to iPhones for Blackberry users created a sharp response from Blackberry. With Blackberry sales still well down, despite very good reviews from many quarters, their offerings have failed to catch the market. However many business users are still keen to use their secure messaging service.
Interestingly Blackberry were not exhibiting, but at one of the keynote sessions their CEO mentioned some of the issues within the company and some of the mistakes that had been made.
The other company that has lost significant market share in recent years is obviously Nokia. Apart from launching some more phones to their existing ranges – both entry level and also for their flagship Lumia phones using Windows 8. However they surprised many by launching a new series of Android phones designated their Nokia X range.
Stephen Elop Introduces Nokia X and X+
The phones have a Windows like user interface layer over the top of Android, along with many Microsoft Apps preloaded. When Stephen Elop, head of Nokia Devices was asked whether launching an Andriod phone was an admission of failure of the Lumia series he replied that this was seen as a way of guiding people into the use of Microsoft operating system. The Nokia X uses the open source Android OS and then builds a Microsoft like layer on top, and the phone is also pre-loaded with Microsoft applications.
Naturally there were many other phone launches at Mobile World Congress. All the large vendors had new offerings: Samsung, HTC, Huawei, ZTE . . . the list goes on.
One Samsung phone incorporated envelope tracking – a technology used to increase the efficiency of the transmitter RF power amplifier. This technique is now just beginning to hit the real world, having taken many years to perfect for smartphone applications where data bandwidths are high.
5G: next generation developments
With 4G LTE in is relatively early stages of deployment, many are now looking towards the possibilities created by the next generation of cellular deployments. This was reflected in a number of the conversations we had at Mobile World Congress along with the exhibits and demonstrations on the stands. No standards have been set in place yet, but many organisations are carrying out research into the possibilities.
A number of technologies are being investigated. So far the industry has seen a number of links set up between research departments or projects, often within academia and test equipment companies.
Many technologies are being investigated: massive MIMO, exceedingly high data rate communications, different modulation schemes – typically using multicarrier techniques and even non-orthogonal multicarrier systems, advanced carrier aggregation and many more technologies. Interestingly one issue is that people are looking for 5G to fulfil every need.
Often there is a requirement for exceedingly high data rates, but many have long hoped for cellular telecoms systems to also be able to carry M2M data for everything including turning light switches on, etc. These applications, as we have already mentioned, normally need to be low power and very low cost. The complexity of most cellular standards rules these types of communication out. As a result some are looking into this issue.
Another area for research is associated with in-building coverage. One solution being developed uses the LED lights used to light rooms to carry modulation that could be picked by the handset. With LEDs having very wide bandwidth levels there is the possibility of a high speed downlink – the issue that could kill this approach is how to handle the uplink.
It is obviously far too soon to speculate on the outcomes of these research initiatives. What is certain is that there are a lot of interesting ideas. But these need to be matched to what people really need.
Apart from the various research projects that are ongoing, the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance launched a global initiative to define systems for 5G. The first major milestone of this initiative will be an industry white paper published towards the end of 2014 which will help the standardization of 5G and its expected availability around 2020.
This Mobile World Congress has shown how the mobile space is changing. There was a general optimism about the way the industry was developing and long gone was the talk of whether the industry had come out of recession.
Data was on the agenda in most areas. Backhaul, capacity, connected cars and connected cities were all being talked about in many areas.
For the future 5G is now firmly on the agenda. Exactly what it will be nobody knows, but there are certainly many ideas being researched, some far more likely to succeed than others.
How well all these ideas succeed and where the industry will be next year is difficult to predict with accuracy. May be we’ll have to visit Mobile World Congress, MWC 2015. This is to be held a week later between 2 - 5 March 2015.
Dates for Mobile World Congress 2015
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About the author
Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is an author of over 20 books.