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Shiny new communications tech tarnished by old-fashioned communications strike threat

empty escalator

via Flickr © mlpdesign (CC BY-SA 2.0) Colour/contrast changed

Few doubt that this year’s Mobile World Congress, being held this week in Barcelona, will be bigger and brassier than ever. It will attract more attendees, will hatch more announcements and will occasion more hype than ever before.

That’s if all the delegates can get to it.. still uncertain as I write this as strikes on both the buses and the trains have been scheduled, just to add a little dose of  transport uncertainty to top off what is already a marathon of frenzied appointment keeping.

Why do we all do it?  Because everyone else does it and we can’t be left out.

But I’m not the only long-term observer of these shindigs who is currently wondering if it’s all finally getting a bit much and a bit costly to continue as it is. Of course it’s too early in the week yet to tell whether the thumbs downs outnumber the ‘likes’. Perhaps we should ask Mark Zuckerberg. He’s here, no doubt talking up the beneficial influence of free data.

European commissioners are here too, to talk up the European 5G effort (more on that in a moment) which is really a global effort but we in Europe like to think it’s probably got a European tinge to it…  just because.

We’ll leave the event judgements till the end of the week. Plenty of time to test the mood.  So what’s in store?

Well, like many of the preceding years, not much in terms of new gadgets. Yes, there will be some of those, including a new Galaxy from Samsung and no doubt a clutch of Internet of Things, things, will be apparent. But MWC is most of all about the new technology in the network behind the gadgets and that’s an area that really IS starting to come together.

Three major strands of technology are in play:  since 2013 the data network has been prepped for being virtualised and packed (mostly) into the data centre. That plan is pretty-much a done deal - now its just a question of how quickly service providers will move and who they will pay to move them.

That may depend on the other two strands which, it is becoming more apparent, will need that shiny new virtualised network to actually work to its full potential. First, 5G mobile.

This being ‘Mobile’ World Congress it’s hardly surprising that 5G will be a big noise here as vendors jostle to show how many partners they’re working with on 5G and service providers vie with each other to show how quickly they’re moving to put services in front of users.

It was always thus.

Both 3G and 4G were heralded in the same way in their time. Hype was generated, expectations were raised, hopes dashed and the world continued on its way with almost reasonable improvements in terms of data speed and latency across the mobile networks, but nothing that Moore and his law wouldn’t have expected as a bare minimum.

The truth is that these RAN iterations always overlap. Second generation voice service is still alive and well even as some vendors and service providers will this week suggest that they are waiting at the gate with 5G. Others are talking about 4.5G which for the most part involves enhancing and aggregating LTE into faster services.

And the third strand is Internet of Things (IoT). The telecoms industry has now woken up to the fact that intercepting an ‘M2M/IoT opportunity’ won’t simply involve embedding cellular technology into things like shipping containers.  It means designing, standardising and supporting new radio technologies designed to do a the low-powered, low speed data collection that will drive much of the IoT market forward.

We expect to hear a lot about that…  that’s if we can all get to the venue and, once there, can hear much above the din.

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