MWC 2017: What are the hot topics this year?

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The great and the good from across the world of TMT are flocking to Barcelona for the 30th annual Mobile World Congress next week. Here are a few of the key topics we are looking forward to finding out more about this year:

Network slicing - Phil Laidler, Director

Network slicing is a vision for how future virtualised networks will work in practice. It is a concept that has been around for a while, but has gained prominence in recent months in parallel with the developments of 5G standards. It is essentially an extension of policy control, virtualisation, NFV and SDN, and their orchestration; the move towards software-centric, flexible end-to-end networks. As more network resources become virtual (rather than physical) and functions are broken out in smaller chunks, operators will need to learn how manage to allocate resources.  That's where slicing comes in.  

It is therefore important for operators to understand this vision... along with the practical challenges of reaching it.

At MWC this year I am looking forward to seeing more "proof of concepts" for network-slicing and the associated business models, in addition to any insights into how slicing will work in practice.

IoT market evolution - Roz Euan-Smith, Senior Analyst

IoT has been a hot topic at MWC for the last few years, but, operator and vendor IoT "go-to-market" strategies have developed significantly during that time. The battle between connectivity technologies remains fierce, but vendors and operators are now looking for more innovative ways to overcome the problem. For example, Telefonica - who is working on NB-IoT with Huawei - recently announced a global partnership with Sigfox. In addition, Nokia launched its worldwide IoT network grid ('WING') a few weeks ago, which it describes as "a 'one-stop-shop', full service model offering seamless IoT connectivity across technologies and geographical borders."

As we commented in our report, The IoT ecosystem and four operator strategies, the real value from IoT will be created when we can start combining data sets from different areas. A concrete example of this is the AirLouisville project in Louisville, Kentucky, a "Smart City" IoT project that combines data from connected asthma inhalers, providing location, pollution and weather data to create a near real-time map showing how asthma users are affected by the city's environment. This data will be used to make more informed policy decisions to improve the overall city environment.

As we see in the examples of Telefonica and Nokia, operators and vendors are moving away from focusing on cellular connectivity for IoT; in the case of Telefonica, the operator is taking a more agile approach, developing capabilities in multiple connectivity technologies at once, whereas Nokia is looking to act as the integrator of a complex, multi-connectivity ecosystem. Our hope is that these new approaches will allow the IoT market to evolve to the next stage, collecting and combining datasets to create new insights on a wider-scale than is currently possible today. At MWC this year I'll be looking out for examples of operators and vendors developing IoT use-cases that do just that.

5G - Peter Boyland, Senior Analyst

5G will undoubtedly be the next big thing in mobile wireless networks. But this time telcos face a whole new range of challenges compared to 4G, for example, there is unprecedented pressure on networks following an explosion in demand for mobile data which is putting increasing demands on available spectrum causing regulators to rush to release new bandwidth. In addition, there are also a raft of new use cases, from IoT to zero-latency uses, which have the potential to shape the future of 5G use.

However, the 5G proposition is far from complete. There remain a number of questions concerning technology, use cases, and cost. I'm looking forward to hearing the views of telcos and vendors on their progress in 5G development and their views on the future of mobile networks.

Blockchain - Amy Cameron, Senior Analyst

Blockchain has become one of the latest buzz words in telecoms and IT, thanks to a rapid increase in start-ups using it for new use-cases beyond its original application in financial services. Despite the excitement around blockchain the technology is still poorly understood by many, so operators need to explore the practical applications of blockchain and investigate whether developing these capabilities would be beneficial.

At MWC, I'll be looking out for examples of how blockchain is being used in practice right now, finding out what sectors blockchain start-ups and major IT firms are targeting first, and understanding what role telcos could play in this field.

Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) - Peter Boyland, Senior Analyst

AI and machine learning are expected to be hot topics at MWC this year, as everyone from tech start-ups to the movies seem to be making some pretty wild predictions about the future. But what is the practical potential of AI and machine learning? Industry sectors that have never previously considered AI are starting to apply machine learning models to their business. And as the technology and algorithms become more refined, early adopters expect to see huge cost savings.

Although nascent use cases for AI and machine learning are few, and many applications being touted are far from convincing, there are some interesting early adopters, for example Tesla. The electric car maker is using machine learning in its vehicles to learn about human driving habits so that their autonomous driving features can emulate a human driving more accurately. Machine learning requires data transmission, storage, and analysis, providing opportunities for both vendors and operators.

At MWC this year I'll be interested to hear what new AI and machine learning propositions are being applied, and how telcos and vendors can make the most of this promising new sector.