2018 predictions: Operators overhaul IoT approach as certainty grows on 5G


At the start of a crucial year for telecoms, which will see trends such as virtual reality and the IoT gathering pace and the first trials of next generation technologies such as 5G, Mobile Europe rounds up some of the industry’s big predictions for 2018.

Operators seek new IoT approach

While frenzied predictions about the growth of the IoT have loomed large in the industry’s new year predictions for several years, the CEO of Proximus’s wholesale arm BICS believes this year will see operators changing their approach to the category.

Until now, according to Daniel Kurgan, operator IoT offerings have been constrained by a lack of core network infrastructure as well as global coverage.

However, the telco predicts operators will increasingly move to using third-party white label platforms, which bring together management platforms and worldwide roaming agreements.

They can then resell these offerings to enterprise customers, reducing the time-to-market and expenditure required to launch a service.

“The value of the IoT has become clear in recent years, so in 2018 operators and enterprise will be looking for solutions and approaches to realise the benefits, and enhance end-user services,” says BICS.

Meanwhile, Tom Rebbeck, Research Director for Enterprise and IoT at Analysys Mason, says operators may change their approach to IoT connectivity itself, with more operators following Orange Belgium’s example of installing both NB-IoT and LTE-M.

Rebbeck cites Verizon and Telia as other examples of operators committed to installing both.

To invest in both technologies instead of just one could amount to only an extra 10 or 20 percent investment, says Rebbeck, since each is a matter of a software upgrade. “The networks may not be rolled out in 2018 but I expect we will see announcements,” he says.

The shape of 5G emerges

Unsurprisingly 2018 is expected to bring greater certainty around what 5G will look like.

According to Bengt Nordstrom, CEO of consultancy firm Northstream, the standard is now likely to come to market earlier than was expected a year ago as standardisation is making good progress.

Trials will not demonstrate anything spectacular, says Nordstrom, with the evolved mobile broadband use case being tested and capacity and throughput being increased “quite a bit”.

He says, however, that the industry will focus in on the 3.5GHz band, which he claims is the only feasible band for launches in the next five years.

“The reason we are saying this is technically you can use 5G in lower bands but it doesn’t really add that much benefit compared to 4G. So the point of migrating from 4G to 5G in lower bands doesn’t exist in our opinion.”

He adds that mmWave bands are also not yet ready for the mobility case, leaving 3.5GHz as the only band earmarked for 5G that can bring benefits in the near term.

[Read more: Huawei makes latest call for harmonisation of 5G bands]

Kester Mann, Principal Analyst at CCS Insight, says 2018 will see 5G getting “a little bit closer to commercial reality and becoming a realistic technology”. He adds that we can expect the first commercial launches of 5G in a fixed wireless access context.

Mann says despite featuring for several years at the event, 5G will be “even bigger and more significant” at next month's Mobile World Congress, particularly following the confirmation of the standards at the end of 2017.

He adds that MWC 2018 starts the day after the Winter Olympics finishes in South Korea, an event that will provide an “important testbed” for pre-commercial 5G. Mann says the agenda at Barcelona's annual telecoms jamboree will have a heavy Olympics focus.

Quantity not quality

2017 saw operators continuing to extend 4G across the continent and upgrade their networks.

However, Brendan Gill, CEO of network testing company OpenSignal, says that while providers have invested heavily in speed, until now many have held back from pushing towards full coverage due to their extensive 3G availability.

While Gill says operators in Spain, Portugal and the UK have already begun to target greater coverage, those in Germany, France, Ireland and Italy still have relatively low 4G reach.

He claims this year will see operators finally ending their “love affair with 3G” and focus on extending LTE coverage rather than boosting speed. This will allow Western Europe to catch up to other regions in terms of LTE coverage.

Connected car connectivity accelerates

Analysys Mason's Rebbeck also expects the vehicle to everything (V2X) connectivity debate to be a hot area in 2018.

He says there are two candidate technologies for connecting cars to other cars, people, and infrastructure, Wi-Fi variant 802.11p and LTE-based Cellular V2X.

“There are some launches of 802.11ap but it doesn’t have much traction yet. Cellular V2X is still in the testing phase but will probably be ready for commercial launch in the next 18 months.”

Rebbeck says which technology wins out will depend to some extent on mandates from the European Commission, which is already investigating the technologies. “We will probably have some decisions on V2X in the next year,” he says.

Apple brings AR into view

2018 will see the two-year anniversary of augmented reality (AR) game Pokémon Go, but according to analysts at Telenor Research, the technology is ready for a relaunch.

Bjørn Taale Sandberg, Head of Telenor Research, says that while we should not expect a mass market relaunch of the Google Glass smartglasses, the new year will see a “surge” in the number of AR applications.

The trigger, Telenor analysts say, will be Apple’s addition of built-in AR support to the iOS operating system. This will remove much of the complexity for developers and bring the technology within reach for “hundreds of thousands” of developers.

Early applications could include navigation apps using the camera to superimpose a route onto the image of the real world.