5G at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

109,000 visitors flocked to Barcelona last week to see the latest use cases, products, software products and solutions for our connected and digitalized world. One can dispute about the point or pointlessness of gadgets such as a foldable mobile phone, but the topic of 5G definitely leaves behind a stale aftertaste.

5G clearly is one of the most strongly hyped topics in modern telecommunication. Which makes it all the more imperative to move away from a mere "could be" state to actual use cases. At the MWC, three groups tried to position themselves in the 5G arena:

  • Hardware providers
  • Service providers
  • Telco providers, including some alliances

The hardware providers

The hardware providers did not only present their latest 5G hardware, but also many use cases for 5G campus solutions using unlicensed spectrum. Most of them are positioning themselves as enablers for enterprise users and service providers. 

Huawei and Samsung were amongst those rewarded by a Global Mobile Award at the MWC.

The service providers

The service providers, too, have focused on campus implementations of mobile technologies, but not necessarily of 5G. While most service providers do have 5G on their radar (being important for lower latency and network slicing), most of the current use cases presented still rely on 4G, LoRa or other existing technologies. 

The Global Mobile Award went to Accenture for its Virtual Experience Solution (AVEnueS), which relies on standard Wifi.

The telco providers

The telco providers – at least in Europe – are struggling a lot with 5G. The fact that bands have not been assigned yet makes it hard for them to position themselves in the 5G market. Most therefore focus on unlicensed band for campus environments and on supporting customers with edge data center capacities and services.

Even though 5G use cases for telco providers are hard to implement, the Next Generation Mobile Network (NGMN) Alliance held a press & industry briefing at the MWC to present the latest use cases in this area. AT&T, China Mobile, NTT Docomo, Orange, Telekom Deutschland and Vodafone showcased their most compelling use cases in the context of augmented reality, smart power grids, 5G campus networks and healthcare (not all of them being in full need of 5G).

Telekom Deutschland received the Global Mobile Award for driving an ecosystem approach towards 5G commercialization and for its collaboration with Hamburg Port Authority and Nokia for the first large-scale, industrial/commercial 5G trial.

Key takeaways

5G is still in its infancy when it comes to commercial usage. The technology, i.e. chipsets and devices, is largely ready, but service providers and telcos are still waiting for the assignment of frequency bands, due to which Europe is losing ground against Asia. Especially in Germany, 5G will be available late compared to Asia, but also to Western Europe and North America. Not all use cases need public 5G, being campus-based, but in order to get investments telcos need public 5G, including clear use cases for private users, e.g. mobile gaming. Otherwise, 5G will become the same long-term investment as UMTS, with the same side effects of struggling providers and slow network expansion.

For more details on what happened at the MWC around Industry 4.0/automotive, please have a look at the blog post by Klaus Holzhauser.

If you would like to read on about what the MWC had to offer around connected devices and platforms, have a look at the blog post by Arnold Vogt.