MWC 2024 Buzz Signals Continuing Momentum for 5G and Other Mobile Technologies

Mobile World Congress MWC 2024

Mark Poletti
Director, Wireless Network Technologies

Apr 4, 2024

Key Points

  • Hot topics at MWC 2024 in Barcelona included 5G, Network as a Service (NaaS), AI, Open RAN and more.
  • Although there were fewer announcements about disruptive, new 5G technologies than in recent years, activity during MWC suggested overall forward movement is continuing in the development of 5G solutions.

Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the flagship conference for the mobile industry, where vendors and mobile operators showcase new products, technologies and solutions. The buzz at the annual trade show translates to the pulse of the mobile industry and offers a sneak peek at its direction.

This year at MWC Barcelona, more than 100,000 participants attended from 200-plus countries, and more than 2,700 small and large vendors and operators were on exhibit across eight halls. The level of activity at the event was on par with pre-pandemic levels.

Here are a few general observations and themes from this year’s MWC.

‘Show Me the Money’

Every year, there is huge anticipation for announcements about disruptive technologies or new solutions in the mobile industry. This year, the impact of new developments and disruptive 5G solutions was muted compared with years past — somewhat expected, as operators are still undergoing 4G-to-5G network transitions, awaiting releases to complete their fully featured 5G networks.

Operators who haven’t yet seen the expected monetization from their 5G build-outs are cautious about upcoming investments toward continuing the rollout of the network. Overall, a limited number of solutions showcased at the show could be categorized as “money-making” for operators.

However, the news wasn’t all negative! Vendors and operators demonstrating Network as a Service (NaaS) solutions were pretty common. CableLabs even presented a demonstration illustrating potential applications of NaaS on the fixed network.

In addition, the event partner co-located with the MWC — “4 Years From Now” (4YFN) — had its largest-ever showing, with start-up and venture-capital companies coming together to showcase the state of what’s possible with 5G networks. This was a very popular part of the show.

AI Will Enhance Efficiencies in 5G

Artificial intelligence (AI) was a common theme among 5G vendors and operators demonstrating efficiencies in 5G service delivery, throughput, operations and performance. However, nothing was truly disruptive.

The AI solutions were focused on operator-specific network improvements to squeeze out 5G network performance, using AI to improve their return on investment (ROI) in place of spending on additional 5G network rollout.

In addition, AI was generally tailored to vendor-operator partnerships for specific 5G network improvements and use cases using prototype solutions still under development. Overall, the role of AI in 5G networks was a hot topic, but there were no clear answers to questions about how the technology might ultimately impact the industry.

Network Virtualization and Disaggregation Continues to Advance

Network operators and vendors continue to disaggregate network components and virtualize network functions as shown by many advanced solutions on exhibit for the 5G core and RAN. This includes both operator-based on-premises virtualization along with cloud-based services from third-party service providers. This shows the continuing network evolution toward virtualization, providing new services, reducing costs and enhancing operational efficiencies.

6G Still in Early Stages

There was little 6G activity. Most of the 6G activity was centered around test equipment to help enable and develop ideas and proof of concepts. With 5G still being deployed and a few years from its full features, it seems that 6G is in the early stages of ideation in the academic, vendor development and standards community.

Open RAN Continues to Gain Momentum

Open RAN vendors showcased further evolution of disaggregated and virtualized RAN solutions, featuring more capabilities and more availability of common uses that include macro cells, small cells, fixed-wireless access (FWA) and private networks. Improved functionality included higher-level MIMO RU solutions such as 32×32 and 64×64 MIMO in the mid-band.

There was also advancement in RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) and Service Management and Orchestration (SMO) platforms, with various Open RAN partnerships showcasing capabilities closer to commercial operation. Again, in many cases, these advances were specific to operator and vendor partnerships, so Open RAN via the O-RAN Alliance has a ways to go before realizing its final vision.

Other Hot Topics

Other topics discussed at the show included the following:

  • The Internet of Things (IOT) remains a potential key trend for 5G networks. Vendors and operators alike showcased many use cases and product solutions.
  • The use of non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) for mobile communications is starting to make progress. Advances in satellite technology are making the technology a viable option for traditional voice communications in unserved rural areas and as a backup alternative during network outages.
  • Energy efficiency and sustainability continue to be top of mind for operators. Most vendors are providing solutions to help drive down energy consumption and improve long-term sustainability.

All in all, the buzz at MWC was relatively quiet with no major announcements or industry disruptions related to these and other mobile technologies. However, considering the large attendance, the conference was filled with lots of activity and steady forward movement in 5G development. This could bode well for the industry as it continues with its 5G rollout.