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2019 is the year of 5G. All of the pieces of the ecosystem are falling into place: the announcement of 5G smartphones is coming soon and numerous service providers are committing to 5G deployments this year. Following are my observations about the core from walking the show floor.

Qualcomm’s ceremony, which I unfortunately missed, brought together the industry leaders who made 5G happen in 2019, a year earlier than originally planned, with the 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) architecture. Qualcomm’s stand featured a live Dual Connectivity 5G NSA network demonstration of the combined bandwidth of three 20 MHz LTE carriers and four 100 MHz 5G carriers utilizing the 4G Evolved Packet Core (EPC).

For background information on the journey to 5G, see my previous blog, “The Twisted Road To 5G.”

“Cloud-Native” architecture at the core made the news at MWC.
The news was buzzing about Rakuten’s new mobile network being billed as “the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network.” We got a chance to spend time with Tareq Amin, CTO, of Rakuten Mobile Network, Inc. and saw first-hand the network elements. The company is a new service provider in Japan with a license in the 1700 MHz band and 20 MHz of spectrum in the uplink and downlink (20×20). This provides a theoretical bandwidth of 400 Mbps with 256 QAM modulation and 4×4 MIMO. The network will launch as a 4G LTE network in October 2019 and will be 5G ready.

The following vendor news for the Rakuten network, focused on the core, was announced at the conference:

Rakuten has been open about its network deployment plans, encouraging the industry to learn from its pioneering efforts to realize an end-to-end fully virtualized cloud-native network. The company’s goals and plans are discussed here by CEO, Mickey Mikitani and here by CTO, Tareq Amin.

Telefónica’s Juan Carlos García, SVP of Technology and Architecture, outlined the company’s digital transformation plans, called the Telefónica Open Digital Architecture (TODA), for its fixed, mobile, and edge networks around the globe. TODA is an open architecture with disaggregated hardware and software that is fully virtualized for the radio access, the core, and the optical transport layer with software-defined networking (SDN). By 2022, Telefónica expects to start realizing the potential of TODA, completing the total transformation by 2025.

Casa Systems
At Casa Systems’ stand, Casa partnered with BT, demonstrating how its cloud-native 5G Packet Core with network slicing supports the convergence of fixed and mobile networks. Telefónica listed Casa Systems as a packet core partner in its TODA project. Casa Systems stated it is in trials with many Tier 1 service providers in North America and Europe.

Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, and ZTE
The top-five wireless core infrastructure vendors did not disappoint, each putting on a spectacular show with massive stands demonstrating its end-to-end technology prowess empowering 5G use cases, all enabled with their respective cloud-native cores. Their stands were packed with customers and potential customers leading to thousands of meetings. Each vendor had its share of press releases with 5G deals around the globe that are too numerous to name here. Links to the happenings at MWC19 from each of the top-five vendors may be found at Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, and ZTE.

These are just a few examples from a small sample of participants at MWC19 Barcelona. What has not been detailed here are all of the use cases on display by numerous vendors and the 25+ service providers who were exhibitors. Every 5G uses case that has been envisioned was demonstrated.

With so many 5G smartphone announcements, service providers’ 5G network launch announcements, and 5G infrastructure vendors already delivering their launch plans, the 5G era is upon us. We have embarked on the connected society. Everything that I saw confirms our positive outlooks for the Wireless Packet Core and IMS Core markets. See you at MWC19 Los Angeles in the fall. (Also, see our blog, “Wireless Packet Core Market CAGR is projected to be 3 Percent.”)