This year’s MWC event will be dominated by 5G in a way that will make last year’s seemingly heavy 5G tilt look quaint. Basically, if a company anywhere on the millions of square meters of show floor does not have something in their booth tied to 5G, they may want to re-evaluate their attendance – if not their technology – plans.
This is to be expected as MWC is predominately a mobile technology event, and 5G is the shiny new object in that space.
That dominance will be apparent by the near-universal mentioning of 5G across the MWC Barcelona agenda. There are dozens of planned keynote addresses and sessions, that are either directly or indirectly linked to 5G. Those keynotes and sessions will include both direct talks on 5G deployments from carriers and their vendor partners, as well as services that will be supported by 5G networks like IoT and connected cities.
There will also be sessions dedicated to the technical aspects of 5G, which comes at a critical time in terms of developing industry-wide specifications. While the initial set of standards have now been out for several months – and some operators have even launched “5G” services – work continues on finalizing specifications for the standalone (SA) 5G specification. That spec will include the deep technical requirements designed to power the futuristic use cases and business models that truly separate 5G from 4G.
Near but Far
One odd angle of this 5G dominance at the event will be the fact that those operators and nation’s physically closest to the action in Barcelona, Spain, are viewed by many as being the most distant from actually launching 5G services. A recent ABI Research report noted that operators in the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan were leading the charge in 5G deployments. Europe is notable by its omission from that list.
Some European operators have placed the blame at the foot of European-based vendors that they say are technologically behind vendors based in China. However, a growing number of Western governments are looking to ban the use of equipment from those Chinese vendors due to security concerns. This, operators claim, has left them as a casualty to circumstances outside of their control.
Germany-based Deutsche Telekom, for instance, is reported to have warned that the roll out of 5G technology in Europe could be delayed by at least two years if wireless service providers are forced to remove the China-based vendor from their lists of 5G equipment suppliers. And Vodafone CEO Nick Read told investors during the carrier’s most recent quarterly earnings conference call that a ban on equipment from Chinese vendors would create a “significant delay” for carriers’ 5G deployments and have a “significant implication” for related costs.
Executives from Nordic vendors Ericsson and Nokia recently stood up for their operations, penning blog posts that deflected blame to country regulators.
“The reality is that it is not technology topics, or the ability of European vendors like Nokia to deliver, that will define the speed to 5G in Europe,” wrote Barry French, chief marketing officer at Nokia. “Rather, it is about spectrum, which is not yet available in every country. We continue to encourage every country to make 5G spectrum available quickly and to ensure that it is affordable.”
Those comments are also backed by the previously mentioned ABI Research report that found countries and operators outside of Europe driving 5G deployments using equipment from the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung.
Despite the drama, European-based carriers will have a large presence at the event. Executives from many of the bigger names on the continent, like Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, and Telefónica are taking part in most of those 5G-specific keynotes and sessions. And they will be joined by their vendor partners – both Europe- and Asia-based – that could provide for some insightful conversations.