Mobile World Congress 2023 was held last week in Barcelona, Spain, to an estimated crowd of 90,000 visitors. The annual event was hosted by Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) Association, an organization representing more than 750 mobile operators and 400 companies in the greater mobile ecosystem. It’s no surprise that the event delivered some exciting news on industry partnerships, innovations, and updates on the future of everything from XR to 5G. Furthermore, the event was for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, fully representative with attendance back to normal and the vast majority of vendors back on display. Below are a few of the most outstanding developments.
Qualcomm Technologies Goes Big on XR
At this year’s event, Qualcomm Technologies focused on expanding its development of extended reality (XR) with seven new partnerships meant to grow and further innovate its Snapdragon Spaces XR Development Platform. The goal is to nurse investments in a wide variety of industries to create more real-world use cases, as well as the availability of wireless smart glasses, phones, and developer programs. Partnerships included Xiaomi-OPPO-OnePlus, focusing on wireless AR glass and mixed reality devices; Vodafone, focusing on head-worn XR solutions; Deutsche Telecom and T-Mobile, focusing on an incubation program in Berlin using Snapdragon to find more XR use cases in entertainment and the enterprise; Telefonica, a multiyear XR collaboration; and China Mobile Communications Group Device Company, broadly based on accelerating the metaverse and XR.
While the Metaverse found itself going from the hottest thing in tech to a fleeting fad in a short period of time. The truth of the matter is that it was neither. It was always further away than what Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta launch would have insinuated, but at the same time, the applications for simultaneous and autonomous environments and digital twins for health care, manufacturing, and construction have very real “Now” applications. Furthermore, AR/VR/XR applications that enable front line workers to manage inventory and pricing or retail shopping experiences like nutrition or reviews in real-time on our edge devices are metaverse applications of the Now.
Qualcomm’s focus on Metaverse despite the conflicting market sentiment reiterates that the future of XR and extended reality is now, and it’s partnering (and spending) to bring real-life use cases to light.
Everything with a Side of AI
As Microsoft and Google set the world ablaze with the next wave of Generative AI, the applications for AI and ML in the mobile and telecom space are significant and were pervasive at this year’s MWC. From beamforming to RAN optimization to sustainable infrastructure, AI is becoming increasingly critical throughout the telco industry.
Generative AI did find its way onto the show floor with Qualcomm demonstrating Stable Diffusion, a large language model, which had been primarily deployed in the cloud, with the help of Qualcomm AI Research was optimized to run on an Android Smartphone. This meant that all of the inference was done at the edge, on device, rather than in the cloud. I had the chance to test this on the floor of MWC. Here I asked it to generate a unicorn in a field of wheat. A simple, but fun example of generative AI at the edge.
Lenovo Rollable Laptops
It’s not entirely new, and it’s not really ready for public consumption, but Lenovo went out on a limb to unveil its version of a rollable laptop and smartphone. There is currently no price or release date for the products, but a few other details are available. When “unrolled,” the laptop will display vertically with an 8:9 ratio (i.e. it’s tall). The screen rolls up and down like a mobile movie screen from the base keyboard, with the aim of allowing 20,000-30,000 rolls per product lifetime. Over the past few years we have watched the evolution of surfaces with foldables being the most notable new category. While these format types often take time to come to fruition, the innovation and potential of a technology like what Lenovo displayed gives a futuristic feeling and could make for easier portability and larger sizes in smaller footprints.
Meanwhile, the smartphone, temporarily called the Motorola rollable smartphone concept, offers a 5-inch display when rolled up, including a selfie camera and earpiece. It grows to 6.5-inches tall with a 22:9 ratio when unrolled. Earth-shattering, no. But it definitely illustrates that mobile developers are still playing with the idea of what a smart phone and laptop can do and look like. If nothing else, it is a shadow of what might come in the next few years and keeps the form-factor debate rife with intrigue for gadget enthusiasts.
Nokia Brand Refresh
Nokia was on-hand to switch up its identify with a new a new logo meant to show that the company is no longer focused on phones. Instead, the company is focusing on networks and digitization for business. Having built numerous partnerships with cloud and data center infrastructure companies, Nokia is focusing on helping mobile operators create custom, hybrid, or CloudRAN (cloud radio access) solutions. It had already launched its anyRAN initiative before the event and says it’s already successfully launched end-to-end 5G data calls with its solution. Not surprisingly, it also revealed the launch of its own Airscale Massive MIMO radios to boost capacity and coverage of 5G.
Indeed, Open Radio Access Networks (ORAN) were a popular topic, with companies like AT&T, Juniper Networks and EdgeQ announcing they were teaming up with Vodafone to grow their ORANS for enterprise users.
At MWC, Nokia has been a staple due to its massive influence over the mobile industry. The re-brand was more than just a new logo, but in my interactions with company executives it became evident that the rebrand was about greater collaboration, technological promise, and innovation that the company expects will propel its renaissance over the next decade with 5G+ and beyond.
Other 5G News
5G was definitely a hot concept at this year’s MWC, and this year GSMA used the event to launch its own Open Gateway Initiative. The new framework is meant to give the developer community universal network APIs, including Quality of Service on Demand (QoD), routing/device location verification, and edge site selection. Again, this isn’t an entirely new concept, as a similar idea was announced by Ericsson just last year. However, the Open Gateway Initiative seems to have some strong support from mobile network operators.
In other news, Cisco and NTT launched a strategic partnership to grow their own mutual private networking projects. This initiative would see the integration of cellular into LAN and WAN deployments in the enterprise.
On the HPE front, announced its plans to acquire Athonet, a mobile core networking infrastructure provider. The goal is to give HPE’s Aruba Networking capabilities the chance to actively pursue private 5G opportunities. I saw this as a big moment for HPE as the company had been quiet in the Telco space over the past few years. This acquisition being strategic for its long range plans and continues growth—especially with as a service solutions through its GreenLake portfolio.
Lastly, leaders like Intel and Cisco Systems used the show to promote enterprise 5G capabilities while Cradlepoint debuted new 5G network slicing possibilities. There was some insinuation at the show that we have reached maturity in the 5G space, but this is mostly inaccurate. We are still in the first few years of full commercialization of 5G and the opportunities are vast and the refinement and improvement of 5G networks around the world leave much opportunity for consumers and enterprises to fully embrace the power of lower latency, faster connectivity.
IBM and Nokia Partnership and More
Partnerships continued to play a big role at MWC 2023, and IBM and Nokia were ready. The two are hoping to build a seamless and simplified private 5G managed service for IBM Cloud Satellite enterprise customers. In terms of strengths, IBM will offer case-driven knowledge in automation, AI and hybrid cloud solutions, while Nokia will offer up its 5G and wireless experience. The point? To offer simpler, more flexible, and automated ways to meet the needs of enterprise users. At the same time, enterprises would enjoy secure and customizable connectivity solutions via the 5G cloud, with the ability to connect across different private 5G “environments.” IBM Consulting has been a driving force of the company’s turn around under CEO Arvind Krishna. It’s significant global footprint and key partnerships like the one with Nokia will enable it to expand its mobility and telco consulting footprint and deliver critical private managed 5G to industries needing reliable connectivity in complex environments.
Nokia’s partnerships seemed to be unveiled all across the show as it also unveiled an important partnership with Marvell to deliver more sustainable chip architectures that will also enable powerful 5G Radio Access Technologies. Sustainability was an underlying theme throughout the entire show, and I expect that to continue.
A Focus on Data Security
A new report was released by the GSM Association ahead of the MWC focused on quantum security threats facing telecom, as well as solutions for potential threats. The report featured contributions from GSMA members including IBM and Vodafone, among others. Named the “Post Quantum Telco Network Impact Assessment,” the report offers numerous ways that global telcos can work together to keep data safe. The focus on keeping data private will be a top priority for not just GSMA, but for the member companies as consumers are increasingly aware of their data footprints and enterprises are being held to higher cybersecurity standards. Telco is highly regulated, and operators will be held accountable for data breaches. It’s good to see this topic in focus however, there is much work to be done.
All in all, this year’s MWC saw lots of focus on 5G, especially for the enterprise user. While XR is perhaps more exciting on the consumer use side, big tech is recognizing new and interesting use cases for 5G, and they’re looking for more ways to deliver them, be it by new APIs, ORAN, or private 5G partnerships. This year’s show was encouraging on many fronts as we saw attendance normalize and a clear wave of optimism across the industry despite a complex macroeconomic environment.