The Elephant in the Room at MWC16

By Mika Skarp

While virtual reality may have grabbed the headlines out of Barcelona, the elephant in the room was most certainly 5G. That's not to say it was a quiet elephant. Quite the contrary and it was encouraging to see 5G trickle up to use case presentations at the very highest levels and the consensus that new business models are the order of the day. Add to that the fun of continuing those discussions over coffee, mixers and meals with our mobile industry peers, and MWC2016 delivered in spades.

While the typically terrible first-come-first-served WiFi connection speeds at these conferences has played to the mantra of needing faster, smarter networks, Huawei seemed to have more than solved the problem this go around. With the largest brand presence and by far the best air coverage, the company certainly ruled the roost lending yet more credence to the impression of China's unrelenting rise.

Under the 5G tent, the term on everyone's tongue is "Network Slicing". Attributed largely to Ericsson, network slicing describes a feature set that allows a large number of different devices to be served by a single network. This is particularly interesting for Cloudstreet and especially when being discussed at high levels as we often find ourselves advising partners, colleague, peers and prospects on the technical limits of it as a solution to the 5G problem.

While the real solution to 5G will come from an all-of-the-above strategy, it's great to see that happening at a much faster pace than 3GPP and ITU are writing the standards. This can only spur on innovation, and that's exactly what was in the air n Barcelona.  To note, this also raised the question as to the degree of support and for Network Slicing at 3GPP andto what extent their mandate relates to it. 

For our own part, we are ever proud and pleased to present our US Government First Responder partners FirstNet and their recently published RFP. If ever there was an early roadmap for 5G features and specifications, this RFP is it. No surprise, Network Slicing is included in it. Following their own deployment roadmap, FirstNet will see the first coverage areas served as early as this year. For my own part on my home and business networks, I have been using network slicing for over two years. It is a amazing experience and there is no reason why it would not spread quickly and in advance of 5G in Europe and North America.

With all of this talk of 5G I would amiss not to mention some of the amazing experiences it will support en masse. Amoung the most popular demos at MWC were in the Virtual Reality stations. Certainly VR's first applications are and will be in entertainment. Other Commercial uses like education and training and will quickly follow. Given the enormous and literally game-changing experience VR creates this suggests that the App business may well start all over again.

A celebrity cornerstone to this year's congress, Mark Zuckerberg played straight to the essential marriage of VR and 5G by setting the quality target at a mind boggling 4K for each eye. This will requires improvements in encoding technologies, more air interface capacity for scale but also network slicing to remove network obstructions.

For all of this to be orchestrated properly, It is equally important to make sure that by 2020, the date set for the arrival of 5G, we have less than 1 billion people leveraging this kind of (4K/eye)  internet experience. For this target, Network Slicing provides an opportunity leverage the the high end side of the market to deliver the kind of pricing freedom that would allow for the delivery of an entirely free internet for the rest of us.