Focus on 5G, IoT, and the explosion of mobile data and video
But more emphasis needed on business issues, not technology showcases
ANOTHER year, and once again the Fira de Barcelona plays host to the annual gathering of mobile industry professionals at this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), the industry’s largest and most glittering event.
To be held from March 2-5 in Barcelona, MWC 2015 will centre on what many industry pundits believe is the new frontier for mobility: The exponential growth of mobile data and the convergence of connectivity, as well as advanced wireless technologies.
According to Gartner, one of the biggest stories for the industry this year is the continued growth of mobile data, fuelled by the phenomenal growth of PCs, smartphones and tablets, and the role video plays in all these platforms.
Jessica Ekholm, research director at Gartner, said that mobile data traffic would continue to show double-digit growth in 2015.
According to Gartner’s studies, mobile traffic is expected to grow 59% this year, driven by newer and faster networks, and the increasing number of users of these networks, she said in a research note.
On the consumer end, more affordable 3G and 4G ((Third and Fourth Generation) handsets will also help to increase data traffic, she added.
In terms of data growth by technology use, Ekholm said that while 4G handsets and their use have grown, and although 4G price tariffs are slowly coming down to be on par with 3G tariffs, 3G technology will continue to dominate the world, especially in developing markets.
“We predict that by 2018, half of North American mobile connections will use 4G networks, but in the Middle East and Africa, 4G users will amount to only 3.5% of the region's total.
“We expect 3G connections to grow by 45.7% globally in 2015 and this double-digit growth shows the longevity and importance of 3G networks,” she said.
Ekholm said that Gartner’s research shows that up to 50% of all mobile data from various mobile service providers comprise video streaming, and fast, uninterrupted, video experiences encourage people to increase their video usage.
Similar trends were observed by Ovum, which noted that global mobile subscriptions are expected to rise by 1.8 billion between 2014 and 2020, from 6.7 billion to 8.5 billion, equating to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.2% over the period and 28% in absolute terms.
In its latest Telecom, Media and Entertainment report (registration required), the London-based research firm pointed out that Asia Pacific will be the biggest contributor to growth in subscription numbers.
The region will account for 53% of total global subscriptions by 2020, and 55% of global net additions during the forecast period, while Africa will see the most rapid increase in subscription count, with a CAGR over the forecast period of 7.4%.
More business, less tech
One thing that is expected to be different at this year’s MWC is the emphasis on business strategies and solutions, rather than merely on technology, according to Forrester Research principal analyst Dan Bieler (pic).
He believes that more business-line managers without technical expertise are getting involved in the decision-making process for mobile technology solutions.
Bieler argued that in past MWCs, technology vendors failed to communicate the benefits of their solutions in a language normal people would understand.
“But I’m hopeful that leading vendors this year will start to talk about business solutions rather than technology,” he said in a statement.
“Ideally, chief information officers (CIOs) and business-line managers should spend time together at MWC to discover the opportunities that mobility presents to their organisations,” he added.
Concurring with this view is fellow Forrester Research principal analyst Thomas Husson, who believes that the list of this year’s keynote speakers is a good indication of what MWC has become: A priority event for leaders who are willing to transform their businesses.
Those speaking this year include the chief executive officers (CEOs) of Facebook Inc, Renault-Nissan, SAP SE, MasterCard Inc, and banking group BBVA SA.
Additionally, MWC will also witness more than 4,500 CEOs amongst the 85,000 attendees; and 25% of these expected to hail from operators.
But despite this, Bieler acknowledged that vendors would still use this year’s MWC to create hype and jostle for bragging rights as to who has the best mobile technology available to date.
“I expect network infrastructure vendors to start hyping the ‘huge’ opportunities that 5G technology will bring to telcos in the form of cost savings, network efficiencies, and new business models,” he said.
5G on display
One vendor that has signalled its clear intention to demonstrate 5G at this year’s MWC is Nokia Networks.
The Espoo, Finland-based company is a legacy joint venture between Germany’s industrial giant Siemens AG and Finland’s Nokia Corp formed in 2007, and was known then as Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN).
After struggling to make an impact in the business for several years, Nokia decided to buy out Siemens’ share of the business in 2013, after which the company was renamed twice – first as Nokia Solutions Networks, and then to its current moniker.
Nokia Networks has also made healthy financial progress after it divested its interest in its handset business to Microsoft Corp last April.
Under the helm of its current CEO Rajeev Suri, the company has tried to make some inroads in reclaiming its position as one of the leading mobile network vendors in the world, albeit amidst some challenges.
In an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Nils Kleemann, head of mobile broadband for Asia Pacific at Nokia Networks, said that the company will be demonstrating a whole gamut of applications and services.
But he said two showcases in particular would centre on 5G/ IoT (the Internet of Things) and Ultra-Dense network technology.
“The advent of the IoT in the next five years would herald a need for low-latency, extremely fast networks that are both reliable and secure,” he said.
“At Nokia Networks, we are already demonstrating key technologies like 5G that will make mobile networks the natural choice for bringing these possibilities to reality,” he told DNA via telephone.
Kleeman said that Nokia Networks would also be demonstrating Ultra-Dense networks, as the company expects mobile networks to serve 1,000 times the traffic levels compared with 2010, through a combination of technologies that deliver 10 times more cells, frequency spectrum and efficiency.
Besides Nokia Networks, all major wireless vendors – Sweden’s Ericsson, China’s Huawei, and ZTE and Franco-American Alcatel-Lucent – would also be featuring their versions of advanced networks.
Forrester’s Bieler however warned that although these technologies will receive quite a fair bit of coverage, executives visiting the show should be cautious about their potential as these are merely demonstrations.
“Though I’m looking forward to see what vendors have to demonstrate in the 5G space, I remain cautious about their pitch in the absence of clear technology specifications, let alone any working 5G devices.
“More importantly, at this stage I see very few business case scenarios that would justify the significant investments that are necessary for 5G; thus CIOs should listen and learn about 5G possibilities but not get worked up about its opportunities,” he said in his statement.
Daryl Schoolar, Ovum principal analyst, acknowledged that while 5G is currently a hot topic, there is still considerable confusion in the market regarding all of its aspects.
“The technology, commercial opportunity, application in verticals, and overall timeline for deployment [are some to name a few],” he said in the Ovum report mentioned above.
“This confusion is accentuated by the fact that the majority of mobile operators have still not come across a successful way to [even] monetise their LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks,” he added.
Schoolar noted that 5G won’t be officially standardised for several more years. However, he added that this doesn’t mean vendors won’t demonstrate these pre-5G cases in 2015.
“These demos and the various global research efforts will provide guidance on what the final standard will look like,” he pointed out.
“So, while the 5G standard will not be settled in 2015, we should have more clarity on what the final standard will look like by the end of next year.”
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