MWC 2016 Overview: 5G, the Cloud, and the Internet of Things

This 8 page Telco 2.0 report gives an overview of MWC 2016 and what we took away from it, including…

  • Executive Summary
  • 5G: The Pace Picks Up
  • Networks are Software
  • The Internet of Many Fewer Things Than Expected is Here
  • Conclusion

Members of the Executive Briefing Service can also access the following additional MWC 2016 reports:

MWC 2016: 5G and Wireless Networks

Getting Serious About 5G

MWC 2016 saw intense hype about 5G. This is typical for the run-up to a new “G”, but at least this year there was much less of the waffle about it being “a behaviour”, a “special generation”, the “last G”, or a “state of mind”. Instead, there was much more concrete activity from all stakeholders, including operators, technology vendors and standards bodies.

Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri, notably, set a 2017 target for 5G deployment to begin, which has been taken up by carriers including Verizon Wireless. This is still controversial, but the major barriers seem to be around standardisation and spectrum, rather than the technology. Most vendors had a demonstration of 5G in some form, although the emphasis and timeframes varied. However, the general theme is that even the 2018-2019 timeframe set by the Korean operators may now be overtaken by events.

An important theme at the show was that expectations for 5G have been revised:

  • They have been revised up, when it comes to the potential of future radio technology, which is seen as being capable of delivering a useful version of 5G much faster;
  • They have been revised down, when it comes to some of the more science-fictional visions of ‘one network to cover every imaginable use case’. 5G is likely to be focused on mobile broadband plus a couple of other IoT options.

This is in part thanks to a strong operator voice on 5G, coordinated through the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance (NGMN)1, reaching the standardisation process in 3GPP. It is also due to a strong presence by the silicon vendors in the standards process, which is important given the concentration of the device market into relatively few system-on-chip and even fewer RF component manufacturers.

Context: 3GPP 5G RAN Meeting Set the Scene for Faster Development

To understand the shift at MWC, it is useful to revisit what operators and vendors were focusing on at the September 2015 3GPP 5G RAN meeting in Phoenix. Operator concerns from the sessions can be summed up as the three Cs – cost (reducing total cost of ownership), capacity (more of it, specifically enhanced mobile broadband data and supporting massive numbers of IoT device connections), and carbon dioxide (less of it, through using less energy).

At that key meeting, most operators clearly wanted the three Cs, and most also highlighted a particular interest in one or another of the 5G benefit areas. Orange was interested in driving low-cost mobile broadband for its African operations. Deutsche Telekom was keen on network slicing and virtualisation for its enterprise customers. Verizon Wireless wanted more speed above all, to maintain its premium carrier status in the rich US cellular market. Vodafone was interested in the IoT/M2M aspects as a new growth opportunity.

This was reflected in operator views on timing of 5G standardisation and commercialisation. The more value a particular operator placed on capacity, the sooner they wanted “early 5G” and the more focused the specs would have to be, putting off the more visionary elements (device-to-device, no-cells networks, etc.) to a second phase.

A strong alliance between the silicon vendors – Qualcomm, Samsung, Mediatek, ARM, and Intel – and key network vendors, notably Nokia, emerged to push for an early 5G standardisation focused on a new radio access technology. This standard would be used in the context of existing 4G networks before the new 5G core network arrives2, and begins to deliver on the three Cs. On the other side of the discussion, Huawei (which was still talking about 5G in 2020 at MWC) was keen to keep the big expansive vision of an all-purpose multiservice 5G network alive, and to eke out 4G with incremental updates (LTE-A Pro) in the meantime.

Dino Flore, the Qualcomm executive who chairs 3GPP RAN, compromised by going for the early 5G radio access but keeping two of the special requests – for “massive” IoT and for “mission-critical” IoT – on the programme, while accepting continuing development of LTE as LTE-A Pro.


  • Executive Summary
  • Getting Serious About 5G
  • Context: 3GPP 5G RAN Meeting Set the Scene for Faster Development
  • MWC showed the early 5G camp is getting stronger
  • A special relationship: Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel
  • Conclusions

MWC 2016: The Cloud/NFV Transformation Needle Moves

Enter the open-source software leaders: IT takes telco cloud seriously

One of the most important trends from MWC 2016 was the increased presence, engagement, and enthusiasm of the key open-source software vendors. Companies like Red Hat, IBM, Canonical, HP Enterprise, and Intel are the biggest contributors of code, next to independent developers, to the key open-source projects like OpenStack, OPNFV, and Linux itself. Their growing engagement in telecoms software is a major positive for the prospects of NFV/SDN and telco re-engagement in cloud.

OpenStack, the open-source cloud operating system, is emerging as the key platform for telco cloud and also for NFV implementations. Figure 1, taken from the official OpenStack statistics tracker at, shows contributions to the current release of OpenStack by organisational affiliation and by module; this highlights both which companies are contributing heavily to OpenStack development, and which modules are attracting the most development effort.

AT&T’s specialist partner Mirantis shows up as a leading contributor of code for OpenStack, some of which we believe is developed inside AT&T Shannon Labs. Tellingly, among OpenStack modules, the single biggest focus area is Neutron, the OpenStack module which takes care of its networking functions. Anything NFV-related will tend to end up in here.

Figure 1: The contributor ecosystem for OpenStack (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company and module)

Source: Stackalytics


  • Executive Summary
  • Enter the open-source software leaders: IT takes telco cloud seriously
  • And (some) telcos get serious about software
  • Open-source development is influencing the standards process
  • The cloud is the network is the cloud
  • Nokia and Intel: ever closer union?


  • Figure 1: The contributor ecosystem for OpenStack (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company and module)
  • Figure 2: Mirantis contributes more to OpenStack networking than Red Hat or Cisco (% of commits, bug fixes, and reviews by company, for networking module)
  • Figure 3: Mirantis (and therefore AT&T) drive the key Fuel project forwards

MWC 2016: IoT & Enterprise

IoT Enthusiasm Hits a Peak…

MWC demonstrated beyond a doubt that the IoT merits its recently-awarded reigning spot at the top of the Gartner hype cycle. The vendors present at MWC were more than keen to demonstrate their IoT solutions, using the full range of established and emerging network standards. Notable IoT announcements from operators at the show included AT&T announcing another round of lucrative connected-car deals; and Deutsche Telekom and SKT announcing a major IoT-focused strategic alliance (the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance). SKT even showed a range of Android-based devices for dogs, although it couldn’t run to an actual dog to demonstrate them.

There were significant announcements from ARM about low-power chips, from the Linux Foundation about device operating systems, and from Actility, Jasper, Gemalto, and Cisco about service platforms. We also noted that the special relationship between Nokia and Intel touches on the IoT – the two tech vendors took part in a (Narrow Band) NB-IoT trial with Vodafone.

According to one analyst firm, we’re now up to 300 identifiable IoT “platforms” – a testament both to the creative energy being applied to IoT development, and to the potentially crippling degree of fragmentation affecting it. For the industry to progress on IoT, a shakeout – and clearer winners on the standardisation of technologies and platforms – must be coming up somewhere along the line.

The fight between the platforms, however, is not the only important story. There’s also a big question about the level of the IoT stack at which the most value will accrue. The candidates: IoT devices, the network, the service-enablement platform, the data layer, or individual apps? This cuts across the question of which vendor’s platform will ‘win’. There will certainly be multiple IoT platforms that find traction, with some particularly suited to specific verticals and use cases, but understanding where operators and others can most effectively monetise the IoT opportunity is a fundamental question that most players still seem unclear on.


  • Executive Summary
  • IoT Enthusiasm Hits a Peak…
  • Identifying IoT value – IT vendor strategies, cognitive computing
  • NB-IoT: the LPWAN option that suits telcos, but does it suit customers?
  • …But the ’50 Billion Connected Device by 2020′ Dream Is Over


  • Figure 1: Selected telco involvement in key LPWAN projects
  • Figure 2: This used to say “50bn connected devices”. Now it doesn’t.