05 Mar 2015
Mobile World Congress 2015: news, trends, launches & themes
Our editor, Ian Poole visited Mobile World Congress 2015 to see what was happening in the mobile telecommunications scene today and find out what will be happening tomorrow.
Held in Barcelona, Spain, Mobile World Congress is the major event for the cellular telecommunications industry and in 2015 it was held between 2nd and 5th March.
Each year GSMA Mobile World Congress provides a conference with industry leaders providing keynotes as well as many others providing information about the latest technologies and trends. In addition to this it provides the opportunity to visit the huge exhibition and also to network amongst the thousands of other visitors and exhibitors that attend each year.
Others also use this opportunity to discuss and make business deals, making this one fot he most valuable occasions for the year in the mobile telecommunications industry.
Set against the backdrop of the Barcelona city with its impressive buildings, architecture and culture, GSMA Mobile World Congress 2015 provided the most complete overview of what is happening and what is going to happen in the coming months in the cellular industry.
The 2015 Mobile World Congress was seen as a major success. GSMA reported that more than 93,000 visitors from 200 countries attended MWC15 and both the Fira Gran Via - the main venue and Fira Montjuïc venues in Barcelona were used.
The 2015 Mobile World Congress featured more than 2,000 exhibiting companies that occupied 100,000 net square metres of exhibition and hospitality space.
It was also reported by GSMA that more than 3,800 international media and industry analysts attended MWC to report on the many significant industry announcements made at the Congress.
The overall theme for the Mobile World Congress 2015 was: “The Edge of Innovation”. Indeed the level of innovation within the congress was enormous, showing that the industry is moving forwards very quickly. It was exciting to see new products that are available now, but also see what we are on the edge of being able to do for the future.
But with an event of this size, there are bound to be many themes for different areas, different companies and different organisations. There are a number of major themes that come out of the four day event.
Some of the ones we saw at the Mobile World Congress this year were:
LTE deployments and ongoing developments
IoT and M2M communications
Networks & Backhaul
Components and design
Mobiles, manufacturers and apps
These developments are set against an ever growing cellular ecosystem. 4G is making a huge impact on the way people use mobile connectivity - data consumption is growing and new applications are now becoming a reality.
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 ongoing developments
LTE and LTE-A were now accepted as standard across the cellular industry and this was reflected across Mobile World Congress. The new LTE developments, GSMA stated were having a major impact on data usage and how mobile connectivity is used. There are around 350 LTE networks that are currently live around the globe (about 108 in Europe). This accounts for about 6% so there is plenty of room for growth and with operators seeing a doubling in data usage at the moment when users migrate from 3G to 4G, figures for current usage models and this rate is only likely to increase if the current trends keep on increasing.
Also VoLTE is now becoming more widespread in its deployment. Although still only in its early days, VoLTE is now starting to be used. The launch of the iPhone 6 with VoLTE as standard has certainly helped focus the need for deploying its use. Although revenues from voice calls are falling, operators need to deploy VoLTE if they are not going to give over this revenue source to over the top, OTT, Apps like Skype and WhatsApp.
One area that is of growing interest is that of Wi-Fi offload - a number of companies at Mobile World Congress commented on this. Some years ago, operators seemed to view Wi-Fi as a threat. Now it is seen as the converse. The Wireless Broadband Alliance talked about the increasing uptake by operators of Wi-Fi solutions to provide a solution to give in-building coverage. With around 70% of data traffic now being carried by Wi-Fi, this is a technology that needs to be encompassed by operators. Indeed many are including Wi-Fi as part of their overall offering in one way or another.
As part of this move to provide a more integrated Wi-Fi offering, there is an increasing interest in the use of VoLTE over Wi-Fi, VoWiFi. Although the IMS system should be able to handle both, there is an increasing need to be able to provide a seamless experience regardless of the bearer over which the voice is carried. One challenge at the moment is that of providing handover from VoLTE to VoWiFi.
Test providers like Spirent have produced test tools to enable operators to launch this capability, although currently the handover provides some interesting challenges and only one operator is geared up ready to start to implement it. In commissioning the new capability, the test tools will be essential in ensuring he network operates correctly when it is launched.
The successful launch and later operation of VoLTE and VoWiFi is seen as a key step in enabling operators to retain the voice traffic. If they are unable to achieve this, the cheaper options of Skype and other OTT services will take over despite the poorer operation and voice quality and operators will miss out on this opportunity as well as other services they may be able to build onto it.
IoT & M2M communications
One of the points on which there was growing consensus was the fact that this year, machine to machine, M2M communications are now becoming more widespread. They are not just a future idea, but they are now a reality. Mobile World Congress provided an excellent demonstration platform for the new technologies and products being employed.
In view of this, considerably more applications were seen. Wearables (if they can be deemed to be M2M) were widely seen, but more than this, the concept of the remotely controlled home was gaining considerably more traction. Sensors and remote signalling for cars was seen as a growth area for the future as well.
While a number of technologies like SIGFOX, LoRa and others are deploying M2M networks, there is a significant opportunity for the traditional telecommunications carriers to use their networks for this. However LTE itself is not geared up to carry this type of traffic and a new variant called LTE-M using a new UE category referred to as Cat-0 is being defined. Initially this was included in 3GPP Rel 12, but further refinements will be included in Rel 13. This new approach will enable remote devices to have much longer battery lifetimes as well as providing he connectivity they need, i.e. short bursts of low data rate.
A number of companies were mentioning this new category, including Nokia, although comparatively few appeared to be close to any deployment plans.
5G: next generation developments
With 4G LTE deployments now well under-way, eyes in the development sector are now firmly on 5G. There was a lot of talk, and many stands had demonstrations at Mobile World Congress, MWC15.
The main issue at the moment is that 3GPP has not started to define 5G yet as the market has not completed all its studies and forecasts yet. This means that every company has its own view on what 5G will be. However a few trends are starting to come out.
Nokia seemed to crystallise the situation, need and the possibilities well. Their spokesman indicated that the system needs to be layered. There are three main scenarios currently envisaged:
High speed data communications: these could include smart TVs and other data heavy applications that would download video and other data over the network.
Driverless cars: these would communicate with each other and other essential nodes to drive cars safely and over the optimum route, saving fuel, etc. These will need high data rate communications, typically needing big data applications, and they will also need very low latency times to ensure they operate correctly.
M2M applications: these will typically require low data rates, latency may not be a major issue and the communications will often be bursty in nature.
From some of the conversations that were had, there is a real danger that 5G will become over-hyped. 5G could become a system that aims to meet the requirements of all users and as such will not meet anybody’s needs sufficiently well to be useful. Requirements management needs to be undertaken very carefully.
Nevertheless, timescales of 2020 for first deployments were widely discussed and with a two year period for standardisation, this still leaves time for investigations, development and discussion. Even so, 3GPP is starting to bring the parties together to gain consensus over the issues, technologies and requirements.
Networks and backhaul
Although the headlines often go to the radio access network technology, equally important is the operation that supports this - the backhaul and also the network itself. There was a large number of companies showing there technology at Mobile World Congress.
There are many elements to this. The first that the data from the base station sees is the backhaul. This is an area of increasing importance. Many base stations do not have easy access to wired connections of sufficient capacity and microwave links are becoming increasingly important. As data levels increase, these too need to have great capacity levels. An interesting technique from MIMOTech has used a patented form of MIMO technology to enable the forward and reverse links to use the same frequency, thereby doubling the capacity in a single stroke.
On the network side itself, networks are becoming increasingly complicated and operators need to be able to manage them more effectively if they are going to be able to
The issue of spectrum is one that is on the minds of many people, especially at GSMA Mobile World Congress in 2015. With data usage growing dramatically, there is an urgent need for more spectrum. More bands are being released, but this takes time. GSMA are actively involved in the process for global allocation of spectrum to the various competing users. The next World radio Conference is to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 2 to 27 November 2015. It is here that the decisions will be made as to which users are given access to which frequencies.
It is essential that there is global agreement on many of these allocations because it harmonises the use across the globe, minimises interference, and particularly for the mobile industry in enables roaming, and provides economies of scale. It also means that having harmonised bands that mobiles do not have to operate on more bands than they currently do.
To investigate how much spectrum is needed, GSMA and others look at many reports into mobile usage, predicted applications, how data traffic will grow, and how this can be accommodated. Smaller cells being one opportunity. However, despite this, there is a considerable amount of requirement for new spectrum. It is currently expected that data traffic will grow by about 30 fold between now and 2020. This may seem to be very high, but normally predictions by respected market analysts have been shown to be very conservative when they have been analysed after the prediction dates have passed.
Currently the mobile telecommunications market has access to around 1 GHz of the frequency spectrum. For this next WRC, the industry will be pushing for between 600 to 800 MHz of additional bandwidth at frequencies up to around 4 GHz. This does not take account of the requirements for 5G that will be needed beyond 2020. This will be addressed at the following conference, WRC19 when the requirements, technologies and expected usage figures will be much clearer.
Components and design
As with any technology associated with electronic hardware, the components used are key enablers for the overall technology. This is totally true for the cellular telecommunications industry.
At Mobile World Congress this year, there were several demonstrations of new products.
One that made quite a headline was the introduction of a 200GB flash microSD card. With more people wanting to put videos onto their phones and tablets, memory is increasingly becoming an issue. While Apple do not provide a memory card slot, other manufacturers do and this is being increasingly used. Even with the larger memory sizes available, many are finding themselves limited. The new card is able to support read speeds up to 90MB/s and therefore is ideal for video playback.
In other developments companies like Freescale were showing new LDMOS RF power transistors. New versions are able to provide ever higher power levels within small packages as a result of developments in the technology, allowing base station manufacturers the possibility of making masthead amplifiers more easily.
In terms of the processors used, these are also moving forward apace. One area that is of growing importance is the processors used for nodes on the Internet of Things. Here, security is a major issue. Speaking to Noel Hurley of ARM, he stated that security has to be put in place at the outset. It needs to be part of the design, and not added later.
Security uses a similar approach to that used in smartcards, and is also being increasingly based on open-source techniques. Although it may appear that using an open source platform may be risky, Hurley stated: “Secrecy is not a secure strategy.”
Mobiles, manufacturers and Apps
As would be expected at Mobile World Congress, many new mobiles were launched. All the big names were there with new products on show.
Many of the launches appeared to be more of the same. Faster, bigger, brighter and with longer battery life.
One novel development was the iris scanning used by ZTE for opening up the mobile phone. With people carrying more personal and important data on their mobiles, this security feature could appeal to many.
It also fits in with the idea that the mobile phone is moving towards becoming the single computer everybody uses. Although many people have a mobile phone, tablet and desktop, that are synchronised, the use of a single computing element for all functions with peripherals to provide the required interfaces for the required location makes a lot of sense. Backup would still be needed in case the phone was lost or it failed, but this should not be an issue with Cloud and other backup solutions becoming more widespread.
Of course there were many other phone releases: Samsung launched the Galaxy S6, a standard smartphone, while the S6 Edge has a curved screen, where the display covers not just the main panel but both sides as well. Microsoft launched two new affordable Windows phones, the Lumia 640, and a larger, phablet version, the Lumia 640 XL.
In addition to the new phones themselves, there were many examples of wearable technology. Most of these were in the form of a wrist watch like the example shown below. These appeared to be particularly popular, as several manufacturers were showing them off.
In addition to the hardware, there was an ever growing industry in all forms of Apps. The complexity and innovation of these was impressive.
This Mobile World Congress has shown how the mobile space is changing. New developments are moving forwards towards 5G, where many new opportunities are being envisaged in applications. However before 5G becomes a reality, many new developments have been seen with the existing 4G networks, their backhaul, networks, testing and of course the mobiles themselves.
It is another year before the next Mobile World Congress. MWC15 was a really excellent event. Many new ideas were there, and of course it is so big that it is only possible to scratch the surface.
However look forward to Mobile, World Congress 2016. It is to be held between 22nd and 25th February 2016.
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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 the author of over 20 books.
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