01 Mar 2012
Mobile World Congress 2012 Review
Our editor visited Mobile World Congress 2012 in Barcelona to find out what is happening in the mobile / cellular communications field.
This year’s Mobile World Congress took place in Barcelona between 27 February and 1st March - a couple of weeks later than normal.
However the event was busier than ever. Not only were more halls and marquees used than in previous years, but thee seemed to be even more people in the halls, out on the Avenue or in meeting rooms.
The event is the largest in the mobile or cellular industry calendar bringing in people from all over the globe. Set in Barcelona, it is a meeting place for everyone in the cellular industry.
Not only does it provide a networking event, but companies are able to showcase their latest products. It is possible to find out where technology is moving to, and also by a little more investigation it is possible to find some of the problems and issues that are occurring.
In addition to the exhibition, the event also has a conference programme featuring many of the industry leading figures. With the by-line “Redefining Mobile”, topics about the direction, technology and business behind mobile telecommunications were discussed. Industry leaders including Vittorio Colao, CEO Vodafone, Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, Stephen Elop, President and Chairman of Nokia and many many more were present.
The figures for attendance were well up on 2011 when attendance topped the 60 000 visitor mark, with over 1400 exhibitors, 2900 press who were representing over 1500 media outlets. For 2012 67 000 people attended from 205 countries.
General View of Mobile World Congress
There were more than 1,500 companies exhibiting at the Congress and they occupied 70,500 net square metres of exhibition and business meeting space.
More than 3,300 international print, online and broadcast media attended the event to analyse and report on the many industry announcements made at the Congress.
There are very many exhibitors and delegates an event of this nature, each with their own agendas to push. However there are a number of major themes that come out.
Some of the major themes this year were:
LTE deployments and resulting issues
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.
4G in the form of LTE is taking off and will provide the levels of mobile broadband people are using. With the Internet usage steadily sifting to mobile away from desktop computers, mobile broadband is an essential enabler.
There is also plenty of development in the “Connected Living” arena. Applications such as mHealth are expected to rise. Cloud computing is also expected to have a major impact with open platforms and users better able to access data wherever they are.
Behind this security is another issue that is beginning to grow in importance. Reported revenues for organised crime through IT hacking were reported by one observer as around a trillion dollars. This places cellular security at the top of the agenda.
LTE deployments and issues
It was interesting to note that deployments in LTE have been quite polarised. In North America many operators are staring to deploy LTE. However the actual deployments seem to be quite limited – often only in city areas where density levels are high and as a result, LTE can be claimed as a sales point.
In Asia the story is very different. Korea seems to have lead the way – operators have set themselves demanding targets which they have exceeded. Japan too has seen some great levels of acceptance.
However speaking to some vendors they said that exactly the same issues are being experienced that they saw with the early deployments of GSM, and then W-CDMA. Insufficient handsets, and also issues such as short battery life are two major issues.
The battery life issue was one that manufacturers seemed to want to hide. Nokia admitted they were fitting a 1800mA hr battery to their LTE handset. It appears that many handsets only have a life of around 4 hours maximum when they are being used. However it must be said that most handsets remain idle for long periods so they are able to shut down and conserve battery.
One area where a lot of work is being done to conserve power is in areas such as improving RF power amplifier, PA efficiency. Envelope tracking company Nujira were showing their technology off, giving figures for the improvements that can be gained.
Another important innovation is that of proper antenna matching. This is technique has been known since virtually the beginning of radio, but often sufficient fixed matching has been incorporated to give reasonable performance. However with increasing numbers of bands, the reducing form factor of the handsets and the need for greater PA efficiency has created the need for more accurate matching.
Antenna Tuning CMOS MEMS
One company addressing this is WiSpry, although there are others in this field as well. WiSpry were showing their small single-chip CMOS RF MEMS. Their demonstration showed the way in which dynamic antenna matching can improve efficiency and help reduce effects such as what has come to be known as the death grip, where holding the handset in a particular way reduces performance to the degree that connections may be lost.
It seems incredible that a form of voice communications was not included in the early standards for LTE – it was only added as an afterthought. At the 2010 MWC, GSMA announced their support for VoLTE, the “One Voice” solution for Voice over LTE.
Since then a number of solutions have started to appear, although one of the major issues is that of operators having IMS compatible networks in place. Currently the LTE handsets appear to be using circuit switched fallback, CSFB, where the phone reverts to the 2G or 3G network for voice.
One of the major issues with VoLTE will be that of voice quality. Users of the premium priced very fast data phones will need to feel that they are receiving a fully premium service, not only for data but also for voice.
To ensure that this is achievable, voice quality will need to be at least as good as that of the 2G and 3G services. To ensure this happens a number of voice quality measurement systems we on view – along with a video quality tester as well.
Many people have been talking about small cells, and for a while it appeared that there may have been a battle between the femto community and those using other small cell style technologies. With the renaming of the Femto Forum as the Small Cell Forum a couple of weeks before MWC, all small cell technologies and their associated apps are being addressed by the new organisation.
Ubiquisys G3 Mini – a typical home femto
The technology is now establishing itself as a mainstream technology to address the growing data demands that will be placed upon the industry. What may be termed the traditional femto technology is now being adopted by more companies.
During the week, the Small Cell Forum released the results of an Informa study that predicted that small cell deployments will dominate the base station marketplace and they are likely to grow from a 2012 figure of 2.5 million to 59 million in 2016. Additionally many new operators are signing up for femto technology.
One of the challenges that the widespread use of small cells poses is that of backhaul. One of the keys to small cell technology will be cost reduction. This will need to be in terms of both capex and opex.
Femtos themselves use the home DSL or other link, and enterprise solutions will be able to use the similar data links into the operator network.
Other solutions like small cells deployed on lampposts and general street furniture does not have the benefit of an existing line in place. Several solutions are being proposed.
Nokia Siemens Networks proposed their Flexi Zone system. This system uses multiple, locally managed access points to create a network of interconnected small cells. These are wirelessly interconnected and then use a single backhaul line to the operator network.
Other solutions prosed by companies such as RADWIN use low microwave MIMO links relying on the reflections to provide non-line of sight links. Of course a host of solutions were demonstrated.
It seems like many years since NFC first appeared on the scene – it actually now a very mature technology. Unlike many other technologies it refused to lie down, and now, finally, it being accepted. The time appears to be right in terms of the business case. Banks and others are now in a position to utilise the technology.
1.5 million handsets were sold with NFC live in them, and NFC payment systems are being launched in Spain and Germany. The number of NFC handsets enabled is only small, and this will need to grow dramatically if NFC is to gain a real foothold.
As it does seem that NFC use will start to grow rapidly, methods of fitting NFC to existing phones would enable take-up to be much faster. A number of options have been proposed, but any system will need to be supported by the major banks that will ultimately control the success of NFC. Although there are options where the NFC circuitry could be added to the back of the phone, or into a battery. However the most favoured solution is to add it to the SIM, as this is a more controlled and secure environment. By simply replacing SIM, NFC capability could be added.
This poses a number of technical challenges as the environment is noisy. However a number of manufacturers have solutions that are ready to run, so we could soon see NFC widely deployed.
There is huge money associated with Apps. Not only are they sold in their own right, but they are also used to bring in custom and keep people engaged. As such they are an essential and growing elements within the cellular ecosystem.
This has been reflected in the growth of the App Planet, and the inters tint his area.
On view were many new apps and related ideas. It was a field of innovation in terms of software programming, gaming, and the like.
There were many areas of discussion that people were talking above the concrete developments. Who will succeed in the operating system battle? With Apple and Android leading the field, who will come in third. Will it be Blackberry or Windows? As many feel there is only room for three operating systems, Blackberry and Windows have everything to play for.
Blackberry had a disastrous year both in terms of the huge network issue they had and the lack of innovation in their new phones. Windows seems to be well placed as Nokia seems to have got its act together very quickly under Stephen Elop. They seem to be launching phones that look good and have very high levels of functionality. Where will it all end – only time will tell.
Of course there was a huge amount that went on at MWC in Barcelona and it is impossible to cover it all here. We’ve picked out some of the headline stories and trends we saw.
Next year, the show promises to be as interesting and exciting. While it remains in Barcelona which has now called itself the “Mobile World Centre”, the Congress has moved to another Fira - Fira de Barcelona Gran Via, and the dates are 25 - 28 February 2013.
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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 free-lance 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.
Radio-Electronics.com is an Internet only publication for electronics engineers. Providing resources and analysis for engineers, it covers everything from circuit design to antennas, cellular technology to wireless, and RF design to processing and embedded.
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