Connect the Dots: Mobile World Congress 2017 Screams 5G and IoT Connectivity

Create: 03/03/2017 - 14:51
Mobile World Congress 2017 Intel booth

While Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has its genesis in handsets, this year’s event screamed connectivity as a whole, with a big emphasis on 5G and IoT. For solution providers it was a kaleidoscope of ideas for future IoT applications, combined with practical demonstrations of how to get up and running with IoT – today.

To get a better sense of what it all means, and in a nod to the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” here’s a quick visual tour of the Intel booth at the event, as it sums up the key talking points. (More information on the specifics can be found on Intel’s own MWC page).

In fact, Intel itself was a MWC talking point, as it made very specific cellular chip, 5G and IoT announcements, along with emphasizing an often-overlooked aspect of mobile: the backhaul of hundreds of gigabytes of data from the edge to the core network and the cloud. Some of these high-speed edge processing and connectivity solutions came up in last week’s MWC preview (Intel® Atom™ processor C3000 product family and Intel® Xeon® processor D-1500 product family, a 25 GbE Intel® Ethernet adapter, and new versions of the Intel® QuickAssist technology adapter).

However, for the show attendee happening upon the booth, it was a feast of connectivity, starting, literally, with a virtual reality (VR) demonstration using WiGig, the 7-Gbit/s, 60-GHz wireless interface that is now part of 802.11ad (Figure 1).

Mobile World Congress 2017 Intel booth

Figure 1: For fun, Intel demonstrated the power of WiGig 7-Gbit/s connectivity for VR. Gigabit-per-second rates are a major incentive to move to 5G. Virtual reality is one use case.

The high data rates are necessary for a good, visually immersive, low-latency VR experience, though some color separation was evident as the headset swept around. The attendant cited the constant usage and local interference: the system needed a reset.

Intel also worked with Ericsson and Vahana to demonstrate 8K VR over a 5G connection that used Vahana software to stitch the image together (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ericsson and Vahana helped put together an 8K virtual reality demonstration with a 360-degree view.

Beyond the fun side of connectivity, there were clear demonstrations of the practical side of IoT, such as controlling a water pump over a cellular network (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Infineon and Intel showed how IoT over cellular networks can be used to control a water pump (or irrigation system).

While the demonstration was tangible, the other key takeaway was that proof-of-concept and prototyping boards for IoT could be quickly developed for LTE Cat. 1, NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT) on Intel® Edison or Intel® Joule™ modules using dedicated Intel development platforms. Or, the Edison- or Joule-based module could be placed on top of an open-source platform such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi, with their respective communities of software and hardware developers.

For 5G, millimeter-wave communications using the 28-GHz band is the next step, though a clear definition of what 5G is – or will be – remains elusive. The best way to describe it for now is by what it will enable. It goes something like: continuous connectivity with the latency and data rates optimized in real time for maximum efficiency for the application at hand. That’s where 28-GHz comes in, as it has more bandwidth for faster data rates. However, it requires new antenna structures (Figure 4 and Figure 5).

Figure 4: 5G connectivity in the 28-GHz band provides high-speed data rates, but requires the deployment of new antennas, including on street lamps (antenna structure shown in white near top of pole).

Having them on streetlamps is practical, given antenna easement restrictions, but it’s also useful as a major IoT application—controlling streetlamps in the smart city.

Figure 5: mmWave wireless distribution, including the 28-GHz band, is critical for high-speed wireless distribution.

It was hard to walk the show and not notice the connected automobile. Intel showed the relationship clearly (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The automobile has become one more device in the IoT, and Intel showed it as part of its end-to-end framework from device, to cloud, to decision makers – and back again.

For MWC, Intel, Mobileye and BMW put together its demonstration of what an autonomous vehicle would look like, inspired by the push to deliver on one by 2020 (Figure 7).

Mobile World Congress 2017 Intel booth

Figure 7: Intel, Mobileye and BMW connected their own dots to give a demonstration of autonomous vehicles, for which “always on” connectivity is a baseline requirement.

While there is much to be done to make 5G happen and for IoT to be both useful and revenue generating, Intel either deliberately or by happenstance showed one of the most critical aspects of what it’s going to take be successful in either: partnerships (Figure 8).

Mobile World Congress 2017 Intel booth

Figure 8: When it comes to 5G and IoT, nothing happens in a vacuum: partnerships are critical.

For IoT solution providers, there is much to glean from MWC, much more so than in previous years, and it should be part of the yearly travel calendar, as much for technology insights as it is for finding good partners to develop and deploy IoT applications.

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Patrick Mannion
Patrick Mannion is an independent writer and content consultant who has been working in, studying, and writing about engineering and technology for over 25 years.

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