Global Mobile Broadband FOrum update

This week, we attended the Global Mobile Broadband Forum, held in London, and found several interesting points we thought we would share.  Much of the focus of the conference was about 5G wireless networks, and since the show was in London, many of the service providers who we met with and listened to were European.  The sponsor of this event was Huawei.

  • 5G is expected to deliver 10 times the bits per second for each dollar spent compared to LTE.  This is according to Johan Wibergh, CTO of Vodafone.
  • 2 year payback on microcells (small cells).  Telus EVP Eros Spadotto explained that the Canadian operator installed small cells in locations where 10% of traffic was occurring, and shortly after they were installed, these began carrying 30% of traffic.  Telus believes it met untapped demand.  The company views its strategy going forward to be installing more small cells and no more macro sites.
  • The 5G timeline appears to be for end of 2018 Fixed Wireless deployments, 2019 mobile trials and 2020 commercial deployment.  We consider the following in assessing this timeline:
    • According to Huawei, the Chinese government is pressuring China Mobile to be first to deploy 5G Mobile.  Additionally, Huawei’s work with radio chip companies leads it to believe that the 5G capable chips that enable smartphones will not be available in early 2018, and its assessment it will take a year to make 5G smartphones once the chips are available, so 2019 is the earliest smarphones can be available.  Huawei says it expects to deliver its own 5G CPE hardware for fixed mobile by later 2018.
    • BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson expects to have 5G commerical in 2020
    • Deutsche Telecom CTO Dr. Bruno Jacobfeurborn expect 5G in 2020
    • Orange SVP Radio Arnaud Vamparys expects 5G commerical launch in mid 2020
    • Telefonica CTO, CIO Enrique Blanco expects 5G not before 2020
    • Softbank VP Mobil Networks Makoto Noda expects 5G in 2020 before the Olympic Games
    • NTT DoCoMo CTO Hiroshi Nakomura expects 5G to be commerically ready in early 2020.
  • Huawei said millimeter wave 5G won’t be used for outdoor mobile, only potentially indoor and fixed wireless.  28 Ghz and similar frequencies are not suited for weather and obstacles, according to the company.
  • Huawei, like others large vendors, expects cellular baseband processing for the lower layers (PHY and MAC) will remain a specialized hardware function.  However, higher layer functions such as cell selection may end up in virtualized systems running CPUs.  We heard similar viewpoints from baseband processor company, Caviuum, at the MWC Americas show a couple months earlier.
  • Tower sharing is a major trend for the future.  All things being equal, as tower infrastructure gets shared by multiple operators, this reduces capital spending.  We expect tower sharing to be a major trend, which will put pressure on capex for many years to come.
  • There are two camps in 5G, largely surrounding spectrum and major vendors.  The first camp are Western vendors (Nokia and Ericsson) and the US operators, who seem to be embracing relatively low frequencies for 5G as well as millimeter wave, and then there is the 3.5 Ghz frequency camp, which has suporters in China, Europe and major vendor, Huawei.  We realize this may be an oversimplification of the industry dynamics, but there’s a case to be made that China + Europe may end up with a supply chain somewhat unique from the US-centric chain.
  • IoT is a major trend, and from what we heard from most operators is it’ll be running on LTE for a long time, despite how 5G is expected to be a big IoT capable network.
  • 5G business case still not there yet.  Most European operators are saying they haven’t seen a compelling business case to deploy 5G yet (BT, DT, Orange) and Telefonic said it’ll deploy 5G when it needs to competitively.
  • Fiber good.  Microwave not mentioned.  Every European carrier that we met or who spoke with (plus Telus in Canada) expects to deploy fiber to cell sites and made no mention of microwave.