Previous Blogs

June 22, 2021
Global Foundries Fab Expansion Reveals New Strategy

June 16, 2021
Videoconferencing Challenge Looming

June 8, 2021
Cisco Extends Webex to Suite of Offerings

June 2, 2021
Computex News from AMD, Intel and Nvidia Demonstrates Strength of PC Suppliers

May 18, 2021
IBM Simplifies Automation with Watson Orchestrate

May 11, 2021
IBM Simplifies Automation with Watson Orchestrate

May 5, 2021
Dell’s APEX Brings Hardware as a Service to the Mainstream

April 28, 2021
Arm Brings New Compute Options from the Cloud to the Edge

April 21, 2021
Apple Announcements Accelerate Custom Chip Transition

April 13, 2021
Nvidia Steps Up Enterprise and Automotive Efforts with GTC Announcements

April 6, 2021
AWS and Verizon Bring Private 5G and Edge Computing to Life with Corning

March 31, 2021
Cisco Wants to Make Hybrid Work Actually Work

March 23, 2021
Intel Reinvigorates Manufacturing Strategy with IDM 2.0

March 16, 2021
AMD Refocuses on Business with Latest Epyc and Ryzen Pro Launches

March 9, 2021
GlobalFoundries and Bosch Emphasize Shift in Automotive Semis

March 2, 2021
Microsoft Brings AI Appliances and Improved Connectivity to IoT

February 23, 2021
Cybersecurity Deal Highlights Benefits of 5G and AI in PCs

February 16, 2021
Will Conference Rooms Help or Hurt in the Return to Work?

February 9, 2021
The Ever-Present Need for Simplicity in Tech

February 2, 2021
Poly Makes Videoconferencing Personal

January 26, 2021
2021 Shaping Up to Be Big Year for Automotive Tech

January 12, 2021
What CES 2021 Says About Our Future

January 5, 2021
Big Tech Trends for 2021 Are Hybridization and Customization

2020 Blogs

2019 Blogs

2018 Blogs

2017 Blogs

2016 Blogs

2015 Blogs

2014 Blogs

2013 Blogs

TECHnalysis Research Blog

June 29, 2021
MWC News Shows 5G Focus Shifting to Infrastructure

By Bob O'Donnell

To be honest, most people didn’t have particularly high expectations for this year’s Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. After all, vendor after vendor started pulling out several months back, and attendance was predicted to be (and has now proven to be) very light, especially compared to the large crowds of previous years.

Nevertheless, several big companies associated with the telecom market have been using the convention’s time frame to make announcements about new products, technologies, and partnerships relevant to the mobile industry. To no one’s surprise, the vast majority of those announcements have to do with 5G. However, whereas much of the big news from past shows focused on 5G-enabled devices or discussions of far-reaching 5G-driven services, this year’s news is primarily focused on the network infrastructure components necessary to power 5G networks. A prevalent trend at this year’s show: software-based solutions and platforms meant to drive the transformation of cellular networks away from the traditional, proprietary hardware-based network equipment of yore and toward software-based, virtualized networks running on standardized enterprise server hardware.

Still, there were some developments on the mobile device front. Samsung, for its part, actually generated some of the only non-5G news from the show with the debut of its One UI Watch for next generation smartwatches. Details of the forthcoming hardware remain uncertain—though it will likely not support 5G—but the watch’s software will feature a new user interface called One UI that’s designed to run on top of Google’s WearOS. The announcement is noteworthy, because it marks Samsung’s official exit from running Tizen on its wearables (though it said it would support existing Tizen-based watches for 3 years). It also shows a further tightening between the company’s Galaxy phone software efforts, for which it has One UI, and its wearables. Equally important, this move gives the Android ecosystem an example of interface and experience consistency across devices, something that Apple currently has cornered with the iPhone and Apple Watch.

Qualcomm also had some device-related news with the debut of its speed-bumped Snapdragon 888+. The new SOC, which is expected to arrive in devices by the end of the year, kicks the main CPU speed up to 3 GHz from 2.8 GHz and offers a 20% improvement in AI performance. The other news from Qualcomm highlights the network infrastructure focus of the show, as the company debuted a second-generation FSM200xx line of chips designed to power Open RAN (Radio Access Network) platforms in mmWave-capable 5G small cells. What’s interesting about the chip is that it’s touted to be the first to support all the latest 3GPP Release 16 standards. These are essentially the second-generation extensions to the original 5G standard and include such things as Enhanced Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications (URLLC) for industrial applications. The support for O-RAN is also notable, because it is yet another example of the growing range of technologies designed to power the software-defined infrastructure mentioned earlier.

Speaking of which, IBM made several announcements regarding its 5G software efforts, including the new IBM Cloud Pak for Network Automation and enhancements to its existing IBM Edge Application Manager. Part of the promise for software-defined network platforms is the ability to manage and automate them, and that’s exactly what Cloud Pak for Network Automation is designed to do both more easily and more quickly than existing hardware networks. Edge Application Manager, on the other hand, allows service providers to manage and distribute network-based applications to edge computing devices. Enhancements for the new version include support for 4x the number of edge devices and collaborations with over 30 partners. The company also discussed an expansion of its partnership with Verizon to power certain elements of its 5G network. In particular, Red Hat and IBM’s Global Business Services (GBS) division plan to help Verizon create an open, cloud native, containerized platform for the carrier’s 5G core network using Red Hat’s OpenShift hybrid cloud platform.

On the topic of cloud technology-based partnerships, Amazon’s AWS also made a series of announcements around its efforts both with a new carrier partner (Dish 5G here in the US) and a traditional one (Swisscom of Switzerland). More than simply driving towards software-defined network infrastructure (that might run within a carrier’s private cloud), Amazon highlighted the possibilities of running carrier networks on public cloud resources like AWS offers. (Not surprisingly, that’s a goal being targeted by Microsoft’s Azure and Google Cloud as well.)

Through its online AWS Virtual Village, the company hosted a number of speakers that laid out the details of both its software and hardware offerings, like running cloud-native virtualized network functions in Kubernetes containers within the AWS environment. Given the wide geographical reach that any cellular network needs to support, Amazon talked about not only its major computing zones (i.e., data centers), but also local zones and even private zones enabled with its Wavelength and Outpost onsite offerings. In other words, you could even run these network functions in a single rack server AWS Outpost box at the base of a 5G cell tower. Interestingly, the company also discussed how those Outpost devices could be powered by traditional x86 CPUs from Intel and AMD, but also by Amazon-designed, Arm-powered Graviton2 CPUs.

Of course, the theory of what’s possible with these advanced network infrastructure-focused technologies, and what carriers will actually be willing to adopt, are often far apart. Indeed, one of the big challenges in making the transition is the huge investment in traditional network infrastructure that most telcos already have. Even if the software-based, virtualized, and O-RAN initiatives are all demonstrably much better than traditional hardware offerings, it’s still going to take a long time (and a lot of money!) for most carriers to make that transition. Given that fact, the AWS event highlighted both the opportunities that a new entrant to mobile networks, like Dish, can quickly enable by adopting its cloud-based model completely (because it has no existing infrastructure), as well as the more tempered, step-by-step approach a traditional carrier like Swisscom needs to take. The end results can be positive for both, but the income streams back to a cloud-based provider like Amazon will be radically different.

Although this year’s trade show won’t likely amount to much, it is interesting to see that MWC can still serve as a catalyst for driving the news cycle of the mobile industry. The increased focus and attention on 5G network infrastructure coming out of this year’s event clearly reflects an important shift that will likely grow as the networks’ demands for 5G services also grows. Here’s to hoping we can see how it continues to develop in person at next year’s show.

Here’s a link to the original column:

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

Leveraging more than 10 years of award-winning, professional radio experience, TECHnalysis Research participates in a video-based podcast called Everything Technology.
  Research Offerings
TECHnalysis Research offers a wide range of research deliverables that you can read about here.