26 Feb 2016
Mobile World Congress 2016: news, trends, launches & themes
Ian Poole visited Mobile World Congress 2016, MWC 16, to see what was happening with mobile telecommunications today & 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 2016 it was held between 22nd and 24th February.
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 of the 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 2016 provided the most complete overview of what is happening and what is going to happen in the coming months in the cellular industry.
The 2016 Mobile World Congress was seen as a major success. During the event, the Barcelona Metropolitan transport system held a series of strikes making it a little more difficult to travel to and from the Fira Gran Via where the event was held. Fortunately there was a sufficient skeleton service on the days of the strike and it appeared this had little effect on the event.
This year GSMA reported that the number of people attending Mobile World Congress surpassed the 100 000 mark with nearly 101 000 attendees – an increase of almost six per cent over the previous year.
The 2016 Mobile World Congress featured more than 2200 exhibiting companies that occupied 110 000 net square metres of exhibition and hospitality space.
It was also reported by GSMA that more than 3600 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 2016 was: “Mobile is Everything”. Indeed the level of innovation within Mobile World 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 GSMA Mobile World Congress 2017 were:
5G and the development of technologies and the standards
IoT and M2M communications
On-going LTE evolutions
Networks, small cells & 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
Very many areas of 5G development were seen at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Large players were seen to be increasingly focus on the new technologies and techniques for 5G. Within this arena there are many areas of development: massive MIMO, millimetre wave, 5G air interface waveforms, network evolutions and many more.
The standards are only in their first stages of development and therefore it is not possible to finalise on a waveform – there could even be a number that are chosen adaptively according to the environment and the needs. With software enabling a variety of waveforms to be used it may be that we see a number of different waveforms used.
There is still a lot of work to be undertaken regarding the millimetre wave concepts. Millimetre waves are undoubtedly going to be used for the sorter links where very high data rates are needed. Issues from the semiconductor technology to be used – to keep costs as low as possible – to the format of the waveforms still needs to be finalised. Another major issue is the spectrum to be sued. There are several schools of thought here. But some ideas do make a lot of sense.
Speaking to Mark Barrett CMO Blu Wireless at this year’s Mobile World Congress, he stated: “There have been recent discussions which are still on-going, on the choice of millimetre bands for 5G between 28 and 71 GHz. Meanwhile WiGig / 802.11ad is already successfully operating in 57 to 64 GHz band and will be a mass market Wi-Fi technology by about 2017. Therefore Blu Wireless believes that leveraging the technology development from WiGig into 5G by using the directly adjacent band of 64 to 71 GHz, as also advocated by FCC and UK Ofcom makes sense from economic and technical viewpoints.”
The overall view seemed to be that there is a significant amount of clarity coming into the 5G developments. Only a year ago 5G was an assembly of technology investigations and a disparate set of visions. Now the technologies are being proved and the visions are starting to turn into more concrete requirements and a more defined roadmap.
One of the discussions that took place at Mobile World Congress 2016, MWC16 centred around the growth of video. Although video capabilities have been available for many years, it has recently seen some enormous levels of growth, particularly on mobile devices.
In the mobile arena, the use of short videos – those that are less than 12 minutes in length - has seen particularly strong growth.
The major provider is obviously YouTube and in an interview on Mobile World Live at MWC16, one of their executives stated that YouTube is now seeing millions of new videos uploaded. The site sees 300 hours of video uploaded very minute and the number of people watching YouTube is up 40% year on year.
There are many other players. Although YouTube is still the largest, new players like Facebook are also contributing to this huge increase in data.
Of this video a huge amount is being played on mobile devices – over 50% of the plays are now mobile. Although Wi-Fi will carry a lot of this data, a growing proportion is carried over the mobile infrastructure. LTE is carrying an increasingly large amount of the data and operators are increasingly moving away from 3G onto 4G to reduce costs.
This is being reflected into operator data traffic where the proportion of data resulting from video is rapidly increasing. The data explosion being talked about a few years ago at MWC is now really happening.
Mobile World Congress 2016, MWC16 saw a plethora of new mobile launches. Many companies save their latest offerings until MWC and as a result, a large number of new phones were seen.
Samsung set out its stall with the launch of its new flagship S7 and S7 Edge. The company had warned that 2016 would be a tough year in view of the stiff competition it is facing, so it was necessary to make the new mobiles offer something new and exciting. Samsung stated that its new designs offered “refined design, more advanced camera, streamlined software functionality and unparalleled connectivity to a galaxy of products services and experiences.”
One key point for their launch was the incorporation of a virtual reality capability into the phone. Although a headset is need for this, the phone easily clips into this attachment and then works seamlessly.
LG also aimed high with an aggressive launch of its new G5, hoping to push itself back into the top league of smartphone vendors. With an emphasis on “play” and enjoyment, they offered a variety of new features to their smart new phones focussed on gaming, music and virtual reality.
The other manufacturers also launched new phones, each trying to push the boundaries of what they can do to provide an edge over the competition, although some have succeeded in this more than others. In many cases it is a case of more and better rather than bringing new innovation like the virtual reality offers that are starting to be seen.
IoT and M2M communications
There were also demonstrations of IoT technologies this year at Mobile World Congress 2016. Some comments were made by some within the industry that IoT had not really fully come to fruition – it was more that the green shoots were starting to grow. But there were many demonstrations of IoT applications – everything from smart homes to smart cites and much more.
There were demonstrations of LoRa – the low power Long Range technology that uses a form of chirp spread spectrum and very low powers to communicate over log distances.
Another very interesting development was seen from Qualcomm who had developed a technology using LTE Cat 1 for low power sensors. One of the arguments against using LTE is that it is too complex and battery life would be low. Costs are coming down, and but as many applications like smart meters will only need to communicate once a day or so with the network, it is possible to place the circuitry into a deep sleep. Using this mode it is possible expect battery life times of more than ten years.
On-going LTE evolutions
With LTE now firmly established as the key mobile technology, the technology is still evolving and its performance is improving to meet the growing needs.
With Release 13 scheduled for March 2016 many new functions including LTE-LAA, new UE categories and other improvements including elevation beam-forming, full dimension MIMO, indoor positioning, and more are being added. Whilst it will take a while for these improvements to be felt in the equipment that can be bought, nevertheless many demonstrations of these new facilities were being shown at Mobile World Congress 2016.
There is a lot of work being undertaken with MIMO. This not only addresses the talk of massive MIMO being developed for 5G, but there is also a lot of work going on realizing the new MIMO capabilities for 4G LTE.
Networks, small cells & backhaul
A lot of emphasis is often placed on the mobile phones themselves (because that it all the user sees), and the radio access network and air interface. However the core network is equally important.
Many networks are already moving towards the type of network that will ultimately be needed for 5G. A lot of good work has been done by the NGMN. Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance. SDN, NFV and the like are all now implemented on the leading networks. However this impacts on other aspects like operation with legacy networks, how features like SON operate and much more. How can all of these requirements be accommodated?
Commenting on this, Assaf Aloni, VP of Marketing from Cellmining said: “5G is going to enable personalization of services, on an increased scale. It will bring about demanding use cases which blend services at differential quality of experience, with low latencies. As we progress via LTE-Advanced Pro towards 5G this is already creating a proliferation of new KPIs and new parameters to manage.”
Aloni continued: “Since 2G, 3G and 4G are not going away, 5G networks will need to co-exist and interwork with these legacy networks while maintaining a high and competitive level of performance.”
Aloni summarised: “5G will be a multi-dimensional, multi-layered network. Operators will need to be more sensitive to degradation of user experience. This is why subscriber-centric SON solutions will become even more important than ever. “
In addition to this, increased levels of flexibility are needed. Base stations are expensive investments and with new technology being introduced all easy methods of upgrade are needed. Normally software can be upgraded but hardware configurability is less achievable.
However a small UK startup called Lime Microsystems launched its SoDeRa, low-cost software defined radio which through apps can be programmed to support any type of wireless standard, including UMTS, LTE, LoRa, Bluetooth, Zigbee, RFID, Digital Broadcasting, etc. This enables telecom operators to move between different generations of mobile technology by upgrading software apps without any complexity. Simple – cost effective and elegant.
The key to this technology is the use of field programmable RF ICs. In this way, not only can the software and baseband operation be reconfigured, but so also can the RF.
In addition to this many other companies are looking towards providing improvements in network design. Even companies like ARM who are more associated with having their IP in the handheld devices are working on network improvements. With networks having to be more flexible and responsive, increased levels of processing are needed. Networks need to respond to each individual differently according to their usage. Facebook and YouTube typically have different requirements and the network needs to respond to each user accordingly. Techniques like network slicing are increasingly being developed and implemented.
Components & design
There are many individual components that are used within mobile phone systems. Antennas are always a very tricky element to design and they often receive little visibility. With higher data rates, more users and higher performance expectations antennas are becoming increasingly critical and far more complex.
One interesting development came from a company called Ethertronics that has developed a small electronically steerable antenna. The small antenna is generally placed across the top of the smartphone inside the case. It is able to steer the antenna energy (in transmit) or sensitivity (I receive) to provide the optimum performance. In this way transmit power is utilised to its best and transmit power levels may be able to be reduced. Performance will improve and higher data rates can be achieved. Also interference levels will be reduced as the beam can be steered towards the base station and other interference accordingly reduced.
Mobile World Congress 2016 was the busiest ever. With over 100 000 visitors, Mobile World Congress is one of the largest exhibitions and conferences for any topic on the globe. This year the general opinion from exhibitors was that it was very successful, they had seen more customers and new contacts than ever before and their stands had been very busy.
Now the task of planning MWC17 starts. With a vibrant city like Barcelona, the backdrop is ideal and it has the infrastructure to cope with the enormous influx of visitors.
Mobile World Congress 2017 is set for 27 February to 2 March 2017 . . . see you there!
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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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