Marketing what’s next? – A preview & quick guide to the MWC 2014

MWC2014We are just a few weeks away from the biggest mobile event in the telecom’s industry, the Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Spain, an event that typically measures the technologies and trends we will see during the rest of the year in the telecommunications’ world. What a better way of starting this year’s posts on The Madrid Telecom’s Blog, than providing a quick summary of the things you should know about the event and some predictions on the topics to discuss.

The show evolution

The “Mobile World Congress” (MWC) is a well-known show hosted by the GSM Association (GSMA) since 1995, originally done in Madrid in fact but moved to Cannes on 1996. On 2008, the GSMA moved the show to Barcelona, and hosted it there since then… and up to at least 2018 as the GSMA selected Barcelona on 2011 as the “GSMA Mobile World Capital”. Some might challenge the real purpose of the event, but a show that started as a way to purely encouraging technology evolution during the hype of the GSM technology, rapidly became a monster source of marketing and business for the rest of the industry. Some analysts estimates the GSMA represented an impact of around 3.5 million euros in earnings to the city of Barcelona during 2013, and no company in the technology or telecommunication spaces can afford not being present in the MWC show each year if wants to be known in the market.

The MWC2014 in numbers

The Mobile World Congress 2014 will take place from February 24th to 27th, once again in the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, Spain. The huge exhibition space has been slightly increased to 98000 m2 from the 94000 m2 of last year. Again there will be a total of 8 halls, from which 5 will be used as exhibition areas (halls 1, 5, 6, 7, 8). Huawei was the vendor with the biggest space last year, having a total of 240000 m2 and 8 pavilions used, and we can expect similar sizes this year. Ericsson will also have a huge space allocated. The full exhibitors map can be seen (here).

According to the GSMA a total of 1595 different exhibitors are registered until today, while MWC2013 had a total of nearly 1700. More than 72000 visitors are expected this year, having 72534 as the total record assistance seen during last year’s show. More than 200 countries are expected to be represented, keeping in mind last year’s attendees geographical split was: 67% from Europe, 15% from North America, 13% from Asia Pacific, 5% from the Middle East, 3% from Latin America, and 2% from Africa.

The agenda of conferences fully covers the four days, including 7 keynote conferences. The show is expected to have more than 60 conferences and seminars in total, with more than 10000 attendees. The MWC2014 will be having more than 3000 media and analysts covering the event.

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There are 4 types of tickets or passes for the show, visitor-silver-gold-platinum, ranging from 750 to 5000 euros depending on the access levels and options. The average price of a room in the hotels in Barcelona during the event is around 400 euros, while the regular price uses to be around 100. More than 25000 hotel rooms are booked in advance for the show with an expected occupation of more than 95% during that week. There will be around 50 restaurants in total across the exhibition spaces. The show will be open for visitors from 09:00 to 19:00.

Conferences Program

If you are lucky enough to have a pass to the conferences, the full schedule can be found (here). The keynote conferences include sessions from Alcatel-Lucent, América Móvil, Bitcoin, Cisco, EMC, Jasper Wireless, Millicom, SK, Telenor, Tele2, and WhatsApp, among many others.

Personally, I would specially highlight the following sessions thinking on what 2014 could bring to the industry:

  • Keynote 1: Industry Perspective: Mobile Operator Strategies (Feb 24th 09:15-10:45)
  • Creating the Next Access Networks (Feb 24th 14:00-15:30)
  • Building the Future Network (Feb 24th 16:00-17:30)
  • Keynote 3: The Connected Lifestyle: Transforming Industries (Feb 25th 09:15-10:45)
  • Smart Cities: Smarter Living (Feb 25th 14:00-15:30)
  • Driving New Revenues & Relationships for Operators & Brands (Feb 25th 16:00-17:30)
  • The Future of: Smart Buildings (Feb 25th 16:00-17:30)
  • Keynote 5: Up Close & Personal: The Power of Big Data (Feb 26th 09:15-10:45)
  • The Future of Voice (Feb 26th 14:00-15:30)
  • Complementing Coverage with Small Cells & Wi-Fi (Feb 26th 14:00-15:30)
  • Spotlight on Business Models for M2M Services (Feb 26th 16:00-17:30)
  • Optimising User Experience with Intelligent Network Assets (Feb 26th 16:00-17:30)
  • Keynote 7: Innovation Unleashed (Feb 27th 09:30-11:00)
  • Exploring Successful M2M Applications in Adjacent Industries (Feb 27th 11:30-13:00)
  • Rise of the Machines: Enabling the Evolution from M2M to an Internet of Things Future (Feb 27th 14:30-16:00)
  • Redefining Reality with Screens, Storage & Wearables
  • ·(Feb 27th 14:30-16:00)
  • Developing the Ecosystem for Mobile Identity Services (Feb 27th 14:30-16:00)

The key Trends and Topics

Every year the event gets bigger and massive, having representation from all the possible areas in the industry. However, we can always identify a few topics and trends as the most commented, or the ones creating the most interest or hype. These give an idea of what the year will bring for the telecommunications.

We can expect the following topics within the most popular during this MWC2014:

1. New wave of smartphones and gadgets, now including wearables: There are unofficial rumours of new smartphones being presented as the new Samsung Galaxy S5, or Sony Xperia Z1 Compact & Z2, among others. The wearables will be everywhere, possibly including a Samsung Galaxy Gear 2, and new features of the Google Glass for developers and designers. This topic will have a lot to say during the show and the rest of the year.

2. Smart Cities: The industry is making an effort to encourage the concept of the Smart Cities. There will be a space for the GSMA Connected City which aims to show the business benefits of the connected life.

3. Spectrum efficiency and automatic networks optimization techniques: We will continue to see many solutions targeting techniques for automation of the networks optimization and organization, now in both the access and core networks. The spectrum efficiency will be also discussed in detail as the vendors and standardization organizations are already starting to plan the next generation of mobile wireless communications.

4. LTE-A & VoLTE: Most of the operators in the world having LTE will continue evolving towards LTE Advanced and/or implementing Voice over LTE. Having the lessons learned from Asia and their successful deployments, we can now see the leader CSPs making plans for the next step in the evolution.

5. NFV , SDN, and the Cloud: The biggest hype in the industry during 2013 will continue growing during 2014. In the show we will hear a lot about virtualization, as almost every vendor will claim to support it in some level for catching up with the evolution wave. We should follow the demonstrations the NFV leading vendors and consultants, as this is the only way to have a taste of reality.

6. Everything connected, M2M and IoT: The Internet of Everything, as the industry is calling the Machine-to-Machine and Internet of Things these days, will be a key topic during the MWC2014 and the rest of the year. There are important evolutions in terms of hardware size and cost reduction for the devices, as well as connectivity and “cloudification” of the software and data from these. We will see a lot of different approaches and fun gadgets for the connected industry, connected car, and the connected homes.

7. Indoor coverage, small cells, WiFi: The next step in the wireless evolution, after the LTE is well established as the leading outdoor access technology, is covering the gap for the indoor access. Interesting solutions will aim to cover the gap with a combination of WiFi, small cells, and optimization techniques. Keep a close eye on the big players and their solutions for this space.

8. Big Data & Predictive Analytics: Once again, Big Data is the common topic among the business and network intelligence experts. We can expect more mature and sophisticated solutions for prediction of network performances and business behaviours. We can also expect highly advanced analytics solutions based on big data globally collected.

9. Consolidation of core networks and services: As most of the operators are taking the consolidation path, installing solutions from the big players for unifying all of the access technologies in a convergent core network and services, we will see more maturity in these solutions for providing easier transitions and additional features to the mix.

Companies to follow

What to see and who to meet during the event, totally depends on your area and your strategy for this year. However, I would highlight the following as the most interesting in my view:

– The big players Google (through its associates), Ericsson, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent, NSN, Samsung, Sony, Telefonica, Vodafone, etc. are always a must see

– The ones covering the most evolved systems and products AT&T, EE, Oracle, Juniper, Cisco, LG, HTC, Ixia, Spirent, etc. are also interesting to check out

– The smart start-ups Jolla, Spark, Lifx, Stick n find, Smart Things, Cyan, Connectem, Affirmed, Metaswitch, members of the CloudNFV, and a BIG etc….

MWC2014_2

Your list will of course depend on your specific interests. The important is having a clear plan, as the four days typically pass too fast for all the information and space available and you are not just collecting “goodies” in such an expensive show. Also, do not miss the chance to explore Barcelona outside the Fira, as you will find better food, nice people, and a very interesting city.

A. Rodriguez

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Understanding NFV in 6 videos

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If the adage says a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video should worth a million. In today’s post I offer you a quick way to fully understanding Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), Software Defined Networking (SDN), and some of its related trends through six short videos, ranging from the very basics of virtualization and cloud concepts, to the deepness of today’s architecture proposed for the NFV installations.

What “the heck” are virtualization and cloud about?

A short and self-explanatory video from John Qualls, President and CEO of Bluelock, covering the very basics of data centres transition towards virtualized models.

What is the difference between NFV and SDN?

This great summary from Prayson Pate, Chief Technologist at Overture Networks, highlights the differences and similarities between NFV and SDN, and how are these complemented in the telecoms industry.

Let us talk about the architecture

Now the basics are established we can see the overall architecture. Look at these diagrams from HP and Intel where they show the main components involved.

HP SDN architecture

Intel SDN NFV

So, wait a minute, what is that thing they call OpenFlow?

The following video from Jimmy Ray Purser, Technical host for Cisco TechWise and BizWise TV, explains OpenFlow in a quick and straight way.

What about OpenStack?

This piece from Rackspace, featuring Niki Acosta & Scott Sanchez, makes a great summary about OpenStack, its origin, and its situation in the industry.

Now, what are the challenges faced and some real cases for the carriers?

Now that the concepts are clear and defined, we can study a couple of real use cases scenarios in the carriers’ network and its architecture, as well as methods for addressing the challenges faced in the NFV evolution. In the following video Tom Nolle, Chief Architect for CloudNFV, presents Charlie Ashton VP Marketing and US Business Development at 6Wind, and Martin Taylor CTO at Metaswitch Networks, covering some use cases like the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and the Session Border Controllers (SBC) based on NFV.

Wrapping up, where are the vendors and the operators at with NFV?

The following pitch features Barry Hill, VP Sales & Marketing from Connectem Inc., at the IBM Smart Camp 2013 hosted in Silicon Valley. It covers a summary of the market opportunity for NFV, their specific solution for the operators EPC, and a brief check on the carriers’ status with it.

Although the ETSI ISG group for NFV definition will most likely publish the standards for it in one year from now, it is already a reality, and all the vendors and operators are working on it in some way or another. No matter if you are just starting to explore this trend, or mastering it already, I hope these videos gave you something about it you did not know before.

A. Rodriguez

My hands-on experience with NFV for the EPC

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I have written many times about the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and/or Software Defined Networks (SDN) revolutions for the telecom operators, but last week I had the chance to attend to a hands-on workshop with some of the most advanced vendors for the Core Network virtualization field. I was able to test the products, ask all the questions I wanted, and get a real feeling on the vendors and operators opinions on the subject. Despite the trip to Silicon Valley in the sunny California USA, the beautiful San Francisco sights, and the unavoidable visit to the technology monsters (e.g. Google in Mountain View CA, Apple in Cupertino CA, Oracle in Redwood Shores CA, etc.), my objective was doing a reality check on the NFV trend which I will try to share with you.

What is ON with NFV:

The advantages of the NFV for the CSP’s are obvious, as previously commented in my article “The Network Functions Virtualization, a different kind of animal”, these includes: using COTS hardware, flexible automatic scaling & HA based on software, licensing costs reduction as a consequence of unified software domains, signalling load reduction, and pure IT software based maintenance & operation, among others. The operators are all well aware of this, either by their own initiative or because of the NFV/SDN vendors sales efforts, and that is the reason why most of them are researching the technology and have already done trials (e.g. Telefonica, AT&T, NTT, Vodafone, Verizon, Orange, Verizon, Optus, Telecom Italy, T-Mobile, for naming a few I know).

According to the information seen these days the release of the ETSI ISG standards for NFV will most likely happen around October 2014, and this should unify the different approaches in the market today. In the meantime the vendors seems to be taking different paths, like virtualizing the current core network nodes one by one (e.g. virtual S-GW, virtual P-GW, virtual MME, etc.), or virtualizing the functions required in the core (e.g. virtual attach & register, database, bearer handling, policy, etc.). If you think the NFV for the core or the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) is going slow, and the tier-1 operators will wait years for testing these technologies, you had better think again. Many products are available now, and some mavericks in the industry are already betting hard for the change.

In terms of the actual products these already deliver some of the promises commented. I was able to see virtual EPC’s based on software running, and handling test traffic with the equivalent functionality of the traditional core while reducing the signalling messages, and having an impressive flexibility for the flow logic and scaling. I also saw OpenStack based orchestration working, and API’s connecting to the operators OSS/BSS. Some HA capabilities are also quite innovative, like methods for managing the SCTP flows when a virtual machine gets down and other takes over. All of this was running on standard Blades, or Bare Metal, having a ridiculous cost compared to the current traditional solutions.

What is OFF with NFV:

As you would expect the current NFV solutions are not all roses. The bad news are the lack of maturity seen in most of the solutions, typical of the starting and revolutionary technologies.

The automatic scaling is not yet mastered, and the management & monitoring capabilities neither. Some solutions are still not able to match the performance of the traditional cores when activating Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) up to layer 7, which is being optimized with virtual DPI’s now. Some challenges are also seen when handling distributed no-SQL DB’s for things like the HA. The standards support is still not complete neither, as most of the solutions still do not cover the 3GPP Release 12 for naming an example. The Policy and Charging features are very limited, often relying on external solutions, which potentially affects the improved performance. There seem to be a lack of security features in the products. Among other limitations.

These challenges combined with the fact a new EPC represents additional costs, as no operator would intend to fully replace the current core network yet, the fear for mentality change in the different areas of the carrier, and the lack of knowledge in the NFV/SDN details and possible use cases, are currently blocking the technology embracement. An interesting article on this is available in Light Reading (here), and reflects what I felt from some operators in the field.

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What is coming for NFV:

Lucky for us some intelligent carriers are solving those challenges by having a vision of the future today. Some operators in the US are thinking on interesting use cases, like having portable EPC’s for special events in highly congested areas (e.g. you can imagine installing a virtual core network next to the radios around the stadium during the Super Bowl day, reducing congestion and improving the QoE), they are already testing this as you read this article. Other carriers in the UK and Japan are thinking on dedicated core networks for M2M type traffic based on NFV. The NFV start-ups are improving their products, including vendors like Cyan, Connectem, Affirmed, among many others, making these more robust and solving the challenges faced. Some big vendors are also perfecting their NFV offers for entering into the game, including vendors like Ericsson, Juniper, Alcatel Lucent, among many others.

As soon as we start seeing production deployments in the field, and I anticipate you this will happen very soon according to what I saw, other operators will join the trend and learn from the competition. This is the future of telecoms.

A. Rodriguez

The Network Functions Virtualization, a different kind of animal

If you are involved somehow in the telecom’s industry, you should know the buzz that Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and its parent trend Software Defined Networks (SDN), are having in both vendors and operators. This in part because the NFV trend was originally encouraged by the main operators of the world themselves, with October 2012’s whitepaper (here), on an exercise where they seemed to explain what they wanted to see in their networks in the future. Which is in other words like commenting what type of technology they wanted to buy, or wanted to be sell on, for having that well-known list of NFV/SDN advantages in the future (i.e. reduced CAPEX/OPEX, simpler and standard networks, shared resources, faster services, etc.).

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The excitement and kind of “shark behaviour” of all the involved can be seen by the fact that more than 100 companies or organizations are directly involved in the NFV standardization, via the ETSI (here), without mentioning those involved in the SDN standardization, via the ONF. Being realistic I believe these trends will not be so great in the short term, but most likely not so terrible in the long term neither, on a classical Amaras’ law fashion. The operators are simply pushing for securing the future of their business, and we know the current traditional networks will not be migrated or replaced to virtual networks in the short nor medium term, but the new ones being installed in the mid-term might be a different story depending on the NFV/SDN evolution pace.

Now what are the NFV and SDN trends after all? I remember an interview I especially liked with one of the Technical Experts for Networks Virtualization initiatives from Telefonica I+D, during the SDN World congress in Barcelona last June 2013. He made a simple explanation by saying, “Current traditional networks are like having a group of dogs and cats for pets, you must feed them and take care of them independently, each one has its own different needs, and sometimes you cannot have them together. What we (the operators) are looking to have with NFV are networks like a herd of horses or cows, where we can maintain them and work with them as a group, despite having faster horses or some dedicated to specific jobs, but sharing the same needs and therefore requiring around the same resources and skills for maintaining those”. This is an analogy that explains by itself with the fact the operators spend huge amounts of money in OPEX for the current networks. This without mentioning that any upgrade, integration, or evolution, requires huge CAPEX with its consequent increased OPEX during the nodes life cycles. Now you can imagine having a whole IMS network hosted in highly efficient and cost effective COTS hardware in a rack, with separate and automatically orchestrated virtual domains in software, dedicated for each function. Note I say function instead of node, since the idea is again simplifying the architectures, so if a SBC and a CSCF share a functionality it would only appear once in this new approach. That would represent multiple advantages compared with the traditional approach of multiple different nodes, with different hardware and software for each stage of the IMS flow, including: power consumption reduction, less signalling messages required, lower latencies, flexible and automatic scalability, and a lot less resources for maintaining the operation… among many others. Now imagine that in the core network, or in the Value Added Services (VAS), etc. So that is the operators’ panacea, and some vendors are already having some solutions thinking on that, starting with the nodes more easy to handle in the virtual world without affecting performance and reliability, like: policy & charging, firewalls, signalling routers, or some IMS network elements.

Therefore if we were to define the NFV and SDN trends in simple terms, the SDN would then be as splitting the control plane from the data plane in the networks, while NFV would be like splitting the software from the hardware; both could be implemented together, or independently, depending on the path followed and the specific needs. A third and final flavour is added to the mix with Cloud computing. Most of the industry experts believe the real gain of NFV/SDN applied to the carriers should be the same already proven in the enterprises’ data centres world, and that is having most of these architectures in the cloud. In the previous example of the IMS network, you can imagine that rack hosted by some cloud provider taking care of its capacity and maintenance on an outsourced model of SaaS, and opening a set of API’s with the operator’s services. If you are concerned about security in that approach you can even consider having that cloud hosted in your own data centre, having then a private cloud, etc.

NFV_vs_SDN

Even when some vendors are already claiming to have carrier grade NFV/SDN solutions for the operators, I think no one has yet offered a full and solid product for this year. According to a survey from Heavy Reading this year, 32% of the respondents think the SDN will be widely adopted by 2015, and 36% think by 2016 or later (here). I would say the vendors closer to have these solutions ready for the operators are Alcatel-Lucent with the CloudBand, and Cisco with the Cisco ONE. Some groups of small vendors are also working together to offer interesting things in the near future, like the CloudNFV group (here). And some specific services oriented vendors are just offering a virtual version of the same nodes previously owned, like the Policy and Charging vendors, including: F5, Amdocs, Openet, Tekelec, etc. A report from Informa Telecoms & Media, with Juniper Networks sponsorship, states: “…operators consider mobile SDN to be a critical technology for the future of networks: Ninety-three percent of operator respondents expect SDN to be implemented in mobile within five years, and half expect it to be implemented in the next one to two years” (here).

As the momentum for NFV/SDN is building rapidly, make sure you are prepared for the new and different kind of animal in the farm.