CTIA Super Mobility Week: Day Zero – 5G Comes to America

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

Summary Bullets:

  • Six months out from Mobile World Congress, CTIA’s Super Mobility Week provides an opportunity to take the wireless market’s pulse – even if with a North American bias.
  • Even before the 2015 edition officially kicked off, it was clear that 5G was going to be a dominant theme.

There’s no shortage of opinions about the value or importance of CTIA’s Super Mobility Week. Some vendors – Ericsson and Microsoft, for example – are showing up in full force. Others are opting out, figuring that it’s just not that good of an opportunity to meet with customers and prospects. Keynotes and CTO roundtables featuring every major U.S. operator, along with the FCC Chairman, highlight insights to be gleaned from the event. Yet, if you are in the mobile device business, you’re likely to think there are greater insights being gained in San Francisco, where Apple is revealing its latest innovations.

While much less flashy than the next iPhone, a number of announcements from the day before CTIA’s annual trade show kicked off spoke to its continuing value as a an innovation and technology showcase: Aviat’s new all-outdoor router; Commscope’s acquisition of Airvana; and Parallel Wireless’ mobile edge computing work with Saguna and PeerApp.  Current Analysis customers will find analysis of all these moves in our Mobile Access Infrastructure practice.

Beyond any of these announcements, however, one key theme seemed to be on everyone’s mind as the show got ready to kick off: 5G. On the one hand, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. With commercialization broadly discussed in the 2020 timeframe, 5G has been a dominant topic of discussion across the mobile infrastructure landscape throughout 2015. On the other hand, while Europe and Asia have seen plenty of 5G partnerships and industry initiatives, the U.S. has been pretty quiet. So, industry watchers would be excused for not expecting Super Mobility Week 2015 as a 5G watershed. And yet, a number of events suggest that just might be the case.

IoT, IoT, IoT. You don’t need 5G networks to support IoT, but massive connected device scale is one of the primary 5G use cases. From Altair’s Cat 0 silicon demonstrations to AT&T’s myriad new connected device launches, partnerships, and demos (in-vehicle WiFi hotspot, connected wheelchair, energy management, luggage tracking), all signs point to IoT as a key show theme.

Nokia’s 5G Vision + Reality. As my colleague Ed Gubbins pointed out in his analysis, Nokia’s 5G architecture announcement from last week was just as much about painting the value of its Alcatel-Lucent acquisition as it was about 5G visions and architectures. Not quite a week later, then, a “5G-ready” fiber extension solution targeted for commercial availability in 2017 suggests Nokia is working on more than visions and isn’t waiting for Alcatel-Lucent to deliver 5G value.

Verizon 5G Shocker. If you wanted to know why Nokia was promising 5G-ready solutions in 2017, you could have asked Verizon. On the same day Nokia was announcing its solution, Verizon announced a 5G roadmap that included a who’s who of wireless – Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung – and a commitment to field trials in 2016. While specific use cases were left to the imagination, 5G “sandboxes” in San Francisco and Waltham, MA pointed to a development strategy akin to how Verizon tackled LTE.

It’s overly simplistic to argue that the U.S. mobile service market is driven completely by competitive pressures and responses. And yet, where network quality and innovation are major competitive battlegrounds, it would be foolish not to expect Verizon’s competitors to follow suit with their own messaging. It’s overdue…but luckily they’ll have plenty of vendor support.

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