This year’s Mobile World Congress will focus on a perfect storm of developments, all taking place imminently, all with small cells at their heart. The first commercial 5G networks; the expansion of higher frequency spectrum; urban densification and smart cities; and edge computing are among the hottest topics, to judge by the conference and events programme promised for Barcelona.
In all these areas, SCF has active work programmes and has already contributed to the developments to date. Of course, 5G will be the dominant theme of the show, given that the first standards have been finalized and the first network switched on for consumers (for the Korean Winter Olympics).
Many studies show that, in most countries where operators want to move early with 5G, their focus will be on boosting capacity, while keeping LTE as the coverage layer for some years. That means there will be a heavy emphasis on densification, and there will be plenty of MWC announcements focused on two key enablers – capacity-oriented spectrum bands and new base station form factors to support 5G cities and enterprises.
With the next World Radio Conference due next year, there will be intense debate at MWC about the bands which will be allocated there as global 5G spectrum. Before that takes place, however, many regulators and operators are focusing on midband spectrum between 3.4 GHz and 4.2 GHz, whether licensed (as in China and the EU) or shared (like the US’s CBRS scheme). Either way, expect to hear a lot about these capacity-rich airwaves, and the kind of equipment which will go into them to boost 4G and 5G densification.
For instance, Ericsson and Nokia will show off ‘mini-macro’ base stations, designed for high performance outdoor usage, but installed on street furniture and ideal for midbands. And vendors will also talk about 5G versions of their indoor small cells too, such as Ericsson’s 5G Radio Dot.
Barcelona will be a good chance to move several debates about densification forwards, especially when it comes to urban deployments. These will be high on the agenda because of the global interest in smart cities, and their huge potential socio-economic impact. Any smart city project will be reliant on having high performance, low latency wireless connectivity in every nook and cranny to support applications like intelligent transport, and these initiatives will be a major driver of densification. As well as city-oriented products on display, there will be companies exhibiting applications and services in this area, as well as participation by city authorities, tower companies and transport specialists – including the inevitable autonomous vehicles driving around the Barcelona campus.
In the excitement about 5G, we shouldn’t forget 4G, or the fact that nearly all densification between now and the early 2020s will be enabled by LTE. There is still a long roadmap of enhancements to LTE-Advanced ahead, and those will feature in many of the products on show at MWC.
Another important trend, which is accelerating now, is the convergence of telecoms networks with cloud and computing infrastructure and services. In dense networks, in enterprises and cities, this is most clearly seen in the move to combine local connectivity with edge computing, in order to deliver content and low latency services close to the user. Edge computing will support a wide variety of innovative applications from self-driving cars to interactive signage to virtual reality gaming, and will be at the heart of a large number of demonstrations at MWC – and also an important driver for small cell deployment in the coming years.
These will be just some of the expected themes in Barcelona this year. There will also be plenty to see and hear about artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, network slicing, robotics and many other developments which will add up to the new platforms of the 5G era. It is certain that small cells will evolve rapidly in shape, size and functionality to support all the emerging use cases, and will play an increasingly central role in next generation wireless services. To discuss near term densification, or look in the 5G crystal ball, come to visit SCF in Hall 7.