5GWorld is part of the larger TechXLR8 conference and exhibition, held in London’s Excel Centre this year. The show has evolved considerably since it was LTE World, expanding the scope to include AR/VR, Connected Cars, Tech startups and AI. It aims to hit all the hot buttons for the tech savvy and attract a wide audience. Exhibition attendance is free, with premium tickets for the major conference sessions.
Part of a larger event
This means that the size of the 5GWorld part of the event is somewhat reduced but doesn’t necessarily seem out of place. Similar to last year, I view this event much like a department store – something to interest almost everybody but perhaps not the very detailed focus you’d find at a specialist store.
The conference program did attract a few fairly high level speakers, with eight CEOs and CTOs from various European networks. Vodafone’s Scott Petty cut through the 5G hype and made it clear he was buying into it for cost reduction reasons. He reckons that he can reuse the same cell towers to achieve similar coverage with 5GNR at 3.5GHz to match 4G at 2GHz but with much higher data throughput. The lower cost per bit means better return on investment. Telenor’s view was different, highlighting new use cases such as serving remote fish farms.
The main sponsors were the large RAN vendors – Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia – who all had large stands with some impressive demos. They’ve all clearly invested heavily in the technology development and can show some impressive test results. I did not see anyone other than these large companies offering 5G basestations, although several vendors offer supporting products such as test gear and radio planning.
Huawei and Ericsson booths shown below.
I spotted three independent RAN vendors – perhaps Small Cell vendor isn’t the right term – Airspan, ip.access and Parallel Wireless. All have outdoor kit and were mainly promoting their 4G solutions (ip.access and PW also have 2G/3G).
ip.access in particular have been targeting niche markets which might be overlooked by the major RAN vendors – it’s clearly difficult to compete directly against them. They launched a new S60z module with an expanded API which can be used as a platform for 3G/4G for system integrators building their own solutions. It handles anything between 625MHz and 3.8GHz, TDD or FDD mode, 2x2 MIMO. This has long been a significant part of their business and offers great promise. There are a wide range of opportunities for Private LTE networks that suit their product range. Rumours of their demise (since they didn’t exhibit at SCWS) are greatly exaggerated. It looks like their new CEO is already making his mark.
Parallel Wireless now have an impressive range of fairly high powered RF kit aimed at bringing connectivity cost effectively to underconnected rural areas worldwide. They offer 2G/3G/4G on the same hardware. Airspan, known best for their success with Sprint, Softbank and Reliance Jio, concentrate their resources on 4G only with some impressive results.
Other vendors with notable booths included several EPC vendors such as Athonet and Affirmed Networks. Perhaps the time has come for such companies which provide an important but often overlooked components of a private network. We reviewed the wide range of EPC vendors last week.
There were several seminar areas with sessions on a wide variety of topics available free to attendees. I picked out a couple which had slightly different messages from the common themes.
William Web, author of the 5G Myth book that we reviewed last year, spoke again about some of the misleading statements/assumptioms used to justify 5G. He believes that traffic from billions of IoT devices won’t overload the existing 4G networks. Income from such devices may be surprisingly low. He calculates that IoT traffic throughput might be in the order of 0.01% of total data carried, which remains dominated by video. A parking sensor in a car park only needs to transmit one bit of information every so often (to say if there is a car present or not). Unlimited time SIM cards are available to buy today for €10, with 100Mbytes allowance that is sufficient for 10 years of IoT service – effectively 8 cents/month. I asked if today’s LTE IoT devices were as power efficient as GSM (in terms of battery life). Apparently they are just about comparable, with future developments promising to give them a lead.
William Wedge, an architect at BT (who now own UK mobile operator EE), spoke about many practical difficulties he had encountered in deploying (mainly residential) small cells. The goal is to connect to each user as closely as possible, handing on and off seamlessly. The sentiment was that best effort isn’t good enough for BT and that a fully engineered and quality assured system is mandatory. A particular concern was backhaul, especially when using 3rd party links. Another was the need for macrocells to actively support small cell interaction. Even within the large RAN vendors, the Macrocell business units may not be aligned with what their Small Cell business units are engineering. Neutral hosting using shared spectrum (MORAN) involves complexities around ip addressing, security and visibility of alarms. His view is that operators are reluctant to embrace shared spectrum because they would lose visibility and control of the quality of service to their customers. Operators would have to agree a common approach and standards. His preference was for a fully virtualised feature rich platform that gave each operator their own customised view of the shared system.
My response would be that there are quite a few buildings and locations where no (or insufficient) service is available today. If small cells were more widespread and clear guidelines were given (and enforced) regarding adequate performance, then everyone could benefit. I'm not entirely convinced this needs the complexity of a fully virtualised solution, which due to the high investment and complexity involved would be available from very few vendors. The choice seems to be between no service or perfect service.
William's summary slide below:
Several delegates and visitors told me that they found the meetings and footfall worthwhile. Perhaps more so than the conference presentations themselves. I wouldn’t suggest this was a mainstream event for 5G, nor a particularly high profile event compared with others, but it provided another useful gauge of the temperature and direction of the RAN and 5G industry here in Europe.