Nvidia is the one to watch at MWC24

  • Chip giant is going to be the centre of attention at MWC24 in Barcelona
  • It’s at the heart of the AI revolution that is impacting almost every aspect of the tech and telecom sectors (and others) 
  • Its new relationship with Nokia points to a greater role in the radio access network (RAN)
  • BT executive believes Nvidia RAN approach hints at 6G architectures 
  • Everyone wants to be Nvidia’s friend

There are certain things we already know about MWC24, the telecom sector’s largest annual event and the current cause of much angst and expectation: It’s going to be packed, there will be little time for sleep, AI will play a role in most conversations and everyone will have an eye on Nvidia for many reasons, not least because of its financials and it’s new partnership with Nokia. 

A quick word on the financials. By the time you read this, Nvidia may have already reported its fiscal fourth-quarter results. Wall Street analysts are, on average, expecting revenues for the quarter of around $20.6bn, which would be a year-on-year increase of more than 200%, while earnings per share is expected to be around $4.63 compared with $0.88 in the same quarter a year ago. 

Nvidia is generating a lot of sales and making a lot of money because it has the key technology (hardware and software) that is underpinning generative AI (GenAI) workloads right now and it can’t get enough chip fab capacity to meet the incredible demand for its GPUs (graphics processing units). For more on the trends driving all this, check out our coverage of the company’s fiscal third-quarter results – see Nvidia’s sales triple as it capitalises on its AI advantage.

It seems like some analysts may have reached too far with their forecasts and, somewhat bizarrely, Nvidia’s fourth-quarter numbers might disappoint some industry watchers – that seems to be the reason why Nvidia’s shares dipped by more than 4% in Tuesday trading. But even after that drop, the company’s shares were worth $694.52 each, up by 44% this calendar year and up by 236% compared with this time a year ago. Those are crazy numbers. And there’s more: Nvidia’s current market valuation is $1.72tn. To put that number into perspective, the current market capitalisation of Intel is $188bn. 

Like everyone else, I don’t have a crystal ball that sees beyond the end of MWC24, so there’s no certainty about how Nvidia’s story will play out in general and in the telecom sector in particular. 

But we have some strong hints about the role of Nvidia tech in telecom.

First, Nvidia is already forging closer direct ties with network operators, such as Singtel, Swisscom and India’s Reliance Jio, which want to be able to use the “accelerated compute” capabilities of its technology as they evolve their networks and IT assets for the cloud-oriented, digital services, AI-enabled future.    

It has also been working closely with Japanese operator SoftBank on a multifunctional edge platform deployment that can host GenAI and virtual radio access network (vRAN) applications “on a multi-tenant common server platform” that is more cost and energy efficient than current deployment models, and does not require what Nvidia describes as “bespoke hardware accelerators or specialised 5G CPUs [central processing units]” – see Nvidia and SoftBank team on GenAI, 5G/6G platform.

The idea that such a platform might be rolled out at scale is hard to imagine due to the high demand for Nvidia’s technology and the high upfront costs, but in the not-too-distant future this looks like an approach that will tick a lot of total cost of ownership (TCO) boxes at network operators. 

Nvidia’s work with SoftBank has also attracted the attention of executives at other operators. During a recent briefing in London, BT’s director of network and spectrum strategy, Mark Henry, noted that “there are definitely network workloads that need hardware acceleration. There’s the whole discussion around what accelerator should be used for cloud RAN. And actually Nvidia has a GPU solution for Open RAN that looks quite interesting. So you can see a world where we cloudify the RAN with a GPU cloud and then the interesting question is – what do telcos do once they have a GPU cloud and what other services can be run on it?”

As for the expense angle of going down that route, Henry pointed out that the RAN is already really expensive. “We already have 18,000 base stations with loads of hardware acceleration on it today, but it’s in no way disaggregated or abstracted, so we can't use it for anything else. We’ve already paid for it and it’s just sitting there.” 

This is what SoftBank is trying to avoid in the future, so have Henry and his BT colleagues been looking at what SoftBank has been working on with Nvidia? Yes, is the answer. “That platform is really interesting – it’s probably a little hint about what a 6G base station will look like,” noted Henry. 

And it’s not like Nvidia isn’t aware that this will capture the interest of network operators, especially as they engineer and plan their networks for AI-enabled applications – see Nvidia smells blood in the RAN.

But Nvidia isn’t a RAN vendor, of course. Though Nokia is, so it’s very interesting to see that the two companies are “collaborating… to revolutionise the future of AI-ready radio access network (RAN) solutions.” The Finnish vendor will work with Nvidia on the development of cloud RAN solutions underpinned by the chip giant’s Grace CPU Superchip for Layer 2+ processing, coupled with Nokia’s high-performance, energy-efficient In-Line Layer 1 (L1) accelerator technology and cloud RAN software. In addition, Nokia will use “Nvidia GPUs for AI applications and vRAN acceleration, paving the way for AI-RAN.” You can find out more about that relationship in this press release

Interestingly, there was speculation recently that Ericsson and Nvidia have been collaborating on future RAN technology but the Swedish vendor denied that was the case (at least for now). 

Nvidia is currently in a very strong position in the networking sector, which it is clearly leveraging, but it will face increasing competition from AMD and, of course, Intel. Yet for this year’s Barcelona jamboree, Nvidia is the one to watch. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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