The organisers of the Mobile World Congress must have been relieved to see the footfall in the Fira show-floor in Barcelona during the opening day of the first proper MWC for two years.
And it will also be a great relief for the many companies who have come to show off their technology, announce new developments, and seek new business opportunities the old-fashioned way.
Furthermore, the GSMA deserves much praise for banning the Russian Pavilion and barring some Russian companies from participating following the country’s disgraceful actions over a democratic state such as Ukraine over the past week. Historically, the Association has rightly kept a low political profile, focusing on technology, the potential greening of the sector and “vendor diversity”.
The sector should also celebrate the fact that it has hugely helped everyone during the worst days of the pandemic by making it possible to learn, work, and obtain healthcare at home.
The director general of the organisation, Sweden’s Mats Granryd, made all the right noises to rally the troops for a fast evolving mobile communications sector.
Qualcomm’s CEO Cristiano Amon certainly accepted the baton as he took to the stage proclaiming that “Mobile technology is literally going everywhere”, as he reeled off over a dozen announcements covering advances for numerous applications and sectors.
Perhaps the most important in the company’s core technology sector is the Snapdragon X70 5G Modem-RF system that boasts its own built-in AI to achieve even higher speeds, and improved latency, coverage, and power efficiency. The set-up is targeting all global 5G bands and offers mmWave standalone support without the need for a sub-6 spectrum.
A key capability of the X70 Mobile-RF system was demonstrated by Qualcomm using a modified Xiaomi smartphone, that achieved an active call with concurrent connections to ZTE commercial networks (n78 + n41) – enabling video streaming and 5G voice experiences simultaneously.
Qualcomm is also touting what it suggests is the first commercial Wi-Fi 7 part that features 4K QAM and high-band simultaneous multi-link in the Fast Connect 7800 subsystem.
Meanwhile, on the networking side, the company showed off a RAN automation platform targeting private networks. Qualcomm has created what it terms a ‘partner ecosystem’ program to put together pre-integrated packages for vertical-specific use cases that it suggests will help expand and speed up the deployment of private networks.
In the same area, it has teamed up with Microsoft to combine its 5G technology with the latter’s Azure private MEC and core solutions for another approach to offer private network enthusiasts with a pre-integrated 5G solution.
On the automotive front, Qualcomm has come up with a novel as-a-service model for Snapdragon car-to-cloud operation with integrated analytics and both on-device and cloud supported applications.
Still with semiconductors, Intel focused on a new range of Xeon processors targeting network and edge deployments. The parts are based on the chip group’s Ice Lake platform and feature integrated AI and crypto acceleration, as well as embedded Ethernet.
The Xeon D-2700 and D-1700 are said to offer “breakthrough performance” for use cases including enterprise routers and switches, cloud storage, security appliances, wireless networks, and edge servers.
Intel demonstrated the open and fully virtualized cloud native infrastructure in collaboration with Rakuten Symphony Symware, powered by the new D processors, highlighting how communication service providers could offer what they claim is the first hardware subscription for radio access networks.
Meanwhile, on the infrastructure front, Nokia used the event to highlight commercial 5G edge slicing trials in collaboration with Telia and Israeli telco Cellcom.
The latter focuses on network slices specifically for business applications as well as enterprise interconnectivity over a high-speed metro network.
According to Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at the Finnish group: “Nokia was the first vendor to offer a network slicing solution and we are proud to continue this pioneering story by being the first to offer 5G Edge Slicing to our customers. These successful trials cover different use cases and customer requirements and demonstrate the possibilities of network slicing. I look forward to seeing this important new area grow and deliver opportunities to our customers in the coming year.”
The solution is the latest iteration of Nokia’s 4G/5G network slicing technology, which was initially demonstrated early 2020. The set-up allows operators to manage and control the network slice centrally, yet carry data traffic locally. The solution is said to be scalable so that the same virtualized infrastructure is able to support multiple customers in the same area.
This, for instance, allows an operator to offer 5G edge slicing to several different companies in the same business park.
Nokia is also highlighting its plans to deploy machine learning (ML) technique to address 5G network complexity. The company’s latest Intelligent RAN Operations solution is claimed to enable operators to improve network quality and efficiency, and at the same time cut emissions as well as costs.
To achieve these demanding parameters, the service is said to use ML to automate a selection of common network management tasks that improve the ability to identify and rectify network issues quicker than has been possible till now. This, says Nokia, is because human error has been eliminated from the equation.
Meanwhile Scandinavian arch-rival Ericsson is focusing on its environmental ambitions with an updated version of its 5G RAN portfolio that emphasizes energy efficiency. The flagship dual-band FDD radio 4490 HP is said to be lighter and to consume 25% less power that its existing version yet can achieve 50% additional output than equivalent radios.
The upgraded portfolio also includes the highly integrated, multi-band Antenna 4602 that is just 398mm wide, designed for best wind load durability and for maintained site build requirements.
And there are new Expanded Deep Sleep mode software solutions for new radios and Massive MIMO portfolios. These are claimed to consume up to 70% less power per radio during low traffic hours.
Meanwhile, while the buzz around the Open RAN concept has quietened down of late, it promises to remain a big debating point at the show. While testing of the Open RAN has accelerated of late, the main challenge remains whether the technology can really replace the classic RAN infrastructure on a 1:1 basis.
At the show, Marvell said it is working with partners such as Dell Technologies, Analog Devices and ARM on Open RAN solutions based on its Octeon Fusion baseband processor, featuring a comprehensive suite of 5G Layer 1 hardware accelerators and O-RAN standards support.
The open, virtualised DU and massive MIMO RU solutions, based on Marvell’s reference designs, are said to augment traditional 5G RAN set-ups that are built and deployed using the same processors and bring high performance and power efficiency to cloud-native 5G.
For instance, ADI’s stand features a demonstration of a 32T32R Massive MIMO C-band radio unit powered by the Octeon Fusion baseband processor and beamforming technology.
And ARM is showcasing an Octeon-powered O-RAN Accelerator platform that is built on the extensive compute collaboration between the companies that they say enables best-in-class 5G RAN features and performance in an open and virtualised data centre environment.
All these technology advances will, of course, have to compete with a raft of new smartphones and PCs unveiled at the Fira.