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Initial thoughts from MWC Barcelona 2019

Assurance was the untold story behind MWC's most buzzworthy moments

MWC
Image – Spirent at MWC Barcelona 2019

If much of the Mobile World Congress fodder in recent years was talking about what 5G could do, #MWC19 was all about showing how and what could be done. While new device launches had previously been less prevalent, major and emerging manufacturers alike were eager to show off new 5G phones (foldable displays) at this year’s show. The promise of 5G and edge-powered low latency also seemed to be on everyone’s lips, powering everything from telesurgery to multiplayer gaming. Even Batman got in on the fun.

Yes, 5G is finally finding its way off of datasheets and flashy booth signs and beginning to materialize – emphasis on material as the advancements made in such relatively short amount of time are quite considerable. These are important next-gen capabilities we’re talking about here and the industry will get more than the glimpse offered in Barcelona when an estimated 50 live 5G networks launch this year.

From hall to hall at MWC, while there was plenty of show and tell, the story of how all these amazing promises being made to consumers and enterprise would actually be kept was one we found to be consistently buried, if it was told at all. It’s easy to talk about new experiences, revenues and opportunities or capex and opex reductions. It’s harder to guarantee it once all the investments have been made and tech deployed.

To this end, our biggest takeaway from the show was that assurance was truly the untold story behind MWC’s biggest showstoppers. We know from early 5G testing that most of the advances touted at MWC will not work as expected without thorough assurance and testing. This is concerning because as 5G introduces new tech like network slicing and NFV, traditional approaches to network assurance will not suffice. And due to the complexity of 5G, treating assurance as an afterthought just won’t cut it!

How will 5G devices impact the user experience?

MWC
Image - Samsung Galaxy S10 5G

A host of 5G devices were unveiled at the show this year. Huawei introduced the Mate X foldable phone and laptop, while LG promised to ultimately turn regular smartphones into the foldable variety. Samsung, Xiaomi, ZTE and OnePlus also made announcements.

These devices all promise immersive experiences, but what will users actually perceive? As 5G’s growth is expected to be driven, in part, by video, what happens to video quality and pixilation when a phone is folded or travels between 5G cell sites? Spirent is working to answer those very questions with our breakthrough machine learning-based Umetrix solution that measures pixels like people do, using a unique perceptual algorithm which scores QoE according to a Video Mean Opinion Score (VMOS), as if hundreds of human viewers were watching and rating overall performance to help assure the promise of the 5G experience.

Of course, it’s not just how devices display content but their ability to deliver it all. We have found in our initial work that some early 5G antennas degrade signal quality in phones as well as in receivers. Some of our customers have told us that new receivers are twice as heavy as old ones, so must be reengineered to avoid roof cave-ins.

At MWC, Spirent and National Instruments demonstrated the first results of our collaboration: Spirent’s 5G device performance test solution (8100 5G) which is essentially a “5G network in a box.” It uses emulation to accelerate performance and acceptance testing of 5G New Radio smartphones and IoT devices in the lab, eliminating requirements for access to expensive and complex 5G base stations.

Low latency services drive new revenues

5G is poised to deliver new revenues based on a range of low latency use cases. Performance at the edge will be critical, but these services require well-tuned end-to-end performance in the radio, transport network and data center. We saw a few interesting examples of low latency experiences in action on the show floor.

MWC
Image – Niantic, Samsung & MobiledgeX

Multiplayer edge-based gaming
Deutsche Telekom-owned MobiledgeX, along with Niantic and Samsung, teamed up to show Niantic’s Codename: Neon multiplayer AR experience played over a live edge network. The game, which requires 10ms latency to deliver an optimal experience, demonstrated a leap forward in mobile gaming possibilities that can be enjoyed communally by large groups. When developers can take advantage of ubiquitous networks that can scale, that’s when they get interested in paying for improved access.

Tele-mentored surgery
One of the interesting low-latency revenue generation use cases on display was Vodafone Spain’s demonstration of the first tele-mentored surgery over a 5G connection. A renowned doctor advised a surgeon during a live operation in near real time by recommending incision points and pointing out potential problem areas. Medical applications are practical since 5G enables low latency but also a high-quality image at high speed. And the required mission-critical QoS can be provided by network slicing.

Bold experiences set bigger consumer and enterprise expectations. These applications are not akin to a failed Netflix session that is forgotten almost as quickly as it happens. When more revenue is at stake and crucial safety requirements enter the mix, real-time assurance becomes mandatory. That’s why Spirent is working to assure these next generation low latency experiences with active testing and end-to-end assurance, from virtualized networks to the new network slices they enable.

IoT security

MWC
Image – Spirent’s Steve Douglas on Mobile World Live TV

Spirent participated in several 5G-focused cybersecurity discussions, including mainstage sessions that included “Can Industry 4.0 & the Industrial Internet be as Secure & Reliable as Industry 3.0?” and ”How to Secure a Connected Digital Society”, as well as a Mobile World Live TV panel discussion on security with representatives from McAfee and Blancco.

A key takeaway from these discussions was that the very things that make 5G possible—virtualization, migration to the cloud, network slicing, IoT, and even 5G gateways— also substantially expand exposure to security vulnerabilities. A trillion connected devices and pervasive use of virtualized distributed networks will exacerbate 5G security threats and broaden the attack surface. Ultra-low latency also means that gigabytes of data can disappear in seconds.

Current security approaches such as gateways and firewalls might stop threats, but they also stand to hinder low-latency applications. It’s crucial to strike a balance.

In our discussions, we’ve also found that device manufacturers are not thinking much about new security risks introduced by 5G networks. IoT devices will be especially vulnerable given how many there will be and the fact that each will be built to different industry standards, suffer from a range of build quality and come from too many places of origin to count.

There is some early positive movement on this front though. Arm, a semiconductor and software design company with a focus on IoT, is incorporating a new type of security at the processor design level, which we applaud.

As a flurry of new devices are unleashed on next-gen networks, it is important for the industry to test the security of new networks and connected devices to reflect real-world conditions. Spirent’s approach to cybersecurity pre-emptively identifies risks and vulnerabilities and helps companies prioritize where to mitigate and where to invest. A new generation of security assurance is required. One that includes active, continuous security testing and auditing as hackers are not easily deterred even when blocked. For mission-critical devices, we must also consider what can be done do to make security testing cost-effective for the manufacturers.

Assuring 5G to deliver new revenues

Spirent offers a new generation of service assurance solutions to ensure 5G delivers on all its amazing promises. This includes automation to manage network slices, dynamic network configurations and trillions of devices, all in a cost-effective, scalable manner.

The amazing experiences, faster development cycles, enhanced service agility, reduced operational costs and new revenue opportunities promised at #MWC19 this year are all within reach. But every new story will need to start with assurance.

Download our Assure 5G white paper to learn more and check back for more 5G insights.

DOWNLOAD NOW - Assure 5G white paper

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Assuring the Promise of 5G, Now.

 

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