Mobile ecosystem and 5G dominate MWC 2017

Anders Pals

Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017 was notable for a lack of dazzling innovations, which meant there was more focus than usual on the ecosystems and infrastructures behind the scenes that would support emerging services and capabilities. This was highlighted by the remarkable fact that Nokia emerged from the ashes to dominate the headlines, at least among non-technical media outlets, with a retro version of its Nokia’s 3310 phone, relaunched nearly 17 years after its debut and 12 years after its phasing out in 2005.

Yet that isolated event served to emphasize how the mobile world has moved beyond those basic services of the 3310 era, confined largely to voice and SMS. Mobile ecosystems now have to sustain an increasingly complex and diverse array of services, applications and use cases. This was a major theme at the show and illuminated the big elephant in the room at MWC 2017, the next generation 5G technologies that must serve and support this diversity, catering for widely varying demands in data capacity and performance. There seemed at first sight to be extreme divergences of opinion over priorities for 5G at MWC 2017, with some voices championing speed, others efficiency or cost effectiveness, while yet others cited greater levels of automation and virtualization through Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) as most urgent.

But anybody stepping back and observing the debates impartially from a distance would conclude that these viewpoints collectively are pointing in a common direction. They show up the unprecedented level of variety and flexibility that 5G must accommodate, while also converging or at least coexisting with other wireless domains including Wi-Fi and the low power technologies like Zwave and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) optimized for the Internet of Things (IoT).

This diversity is reflected in the much greater spectral range of 5G compared with its predecessors, including 4G/LTE. On the one hand, it is extending right up into the Millimeter Wave band, so called because it spans wavelengths between 1 and 10 mm, also called the Extremely High Band with frequencies between 30 and 300 GHz. The higher the frequency the more spectrum there is available within bands, so operators will be able to provide wider channels capable of transmitting ultra-high bandwidth services including virtual reality.

At the same time there is a move down towards lower frequencies as mobile operators acquire spectrum previously used by digital terrestrial TV services, which is valuable for services, such as office productivity or the smart home, where high bit rates are less important than penetration and coverage.

Low Latency is also critical for many mobile services, including those that involve Virtual Reality and telepresence or video conferencing. These also require very high data rates but there are some emerging applications in the M2M (Machine to Machine) area, such as industrial control, which need low latency but are less demanding of bandwidth. Then there are some that require ultra-high reliability with zero data loss, but with no urgency so that neither low latency nor high bandwidth are required.

There are also differences in range, with some applications requiring only local connectivity within a given domain. In autonomous driving, vehicles will need to communicate with others close by to exchange status information for safe operation, signaling when they are braking for example. Such communications are mission critical and so must be highly resilient, but only need to reach vehicles within a range of meters.

Indeed, the distinctive mobile communication requirements of connected vehicles has led the automotive industry to set up a dedicated body, the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), to ensure that its needs are taken into account during the standards development. The 5GAA was very visible at MWC 2017, discussing the technologies that would be incorporated by next generation automotive systems. These include communication not just with other vehicles but also road infrastructures and even pedestrians, with a view to reducing traffic accidents. More specific use cases were also discussed, including remote vehicle health monitoring, real-time high definition maps, and technology to allow drivers (or eventually autonomous systems) to ‘see-through’ vehicles in front through shared camera images.

The 5GAA also discussed how it was incorporating the 3GPP standard framework, V2X, as the foundation for these applications.  V2X is already available as a 4G standard, allowing vehicles to communicate with each other as well as other connected objects and the question now is how to carry it forward into 5G. Tests are currently underway and Globetouch will ensure that its IoT ecosystem will be fully compatible with V2X as it evolves, along with other critical vertical IoT standards.

Globetouch has already built the critical components of an IoT stack, starting with the cloud based core infrastructure and working out from there to cover essential technical aspects including scaling, load balancing and integration. At MWC 2017 Globetouch was able to demonstrate its unique end to end IoT ecosystem now being extended to client devices with help from strategic partners.

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