Three UK readies assault on broadband market

While its latest financials might not look mind-blowing, Three UK is steading the ship as it casts its eye towards the promised land of convergence and 5G.

Convergence is not really much of a buzzword anymore, such is the accepted nature of the model across the telco industry, though Three is seemingly readying itself for a broader push into broadband segment. The first job is to rebrand Relish, which will happen next month, and the next box to tick will be 5G.

“We are well set up for some transformational shifts in 2019 for our customers and our employees,” said Three UK CEO Dave Dyson. “It will be a year when our customers will start to see the real benefits of the next generation of 5G “mobile” technology, a technology that will not only replace 4G, but will also replace the need for wired broadband services.”

With the new ‘Three Broadband’ branding and a 5G network launching in H2, the Three marketers will have plenty to talk about when attempting to add to the 800,000 broadband customers it already has. In terms of the current state of play, Three said 10% of its current customer base is already ‘converged’ but 5G offers an opportunity to accelerate growth in the broadband business.

The team feels it has an advantage over rivals with its 5G holdings, offering superfast broadband connectivity which is not reliant on fibre. Whether UK consumers are swayed by the Fixed Wireless Access promise remains to be seen.

Looking at the position of the business, it would be fair to describe the last twelve months as healthy without being particularly good. This might not sound the most positive, but the raw materials are certainly in place for Three to make some very strong strides forward.

Total revenues over the last 12 months rose 1% to £2.4 billion, while total network connections reached 11.3 million. 99% of new customers were brought in through Three’s own sales channels, churn is down to 1.1% and net promoter score has reached a new high of +15. Three might not have torn up many trees last year, but the foundations of the business are very healthy.

Looking forward, the team is in the testing stages for its fully-virtualized 5G-ready cloud core network, while there are now 21 data centres live on the network. The business has also signed an agreement with SSE to improve mobile backhaul and 3G spectrum is being continuously re-farmed for 4G. All these initiatives will incrementally improve the customer experience.

“Three is fully embracing a business transformation to take maximum advantage of the opportunities digital businesses enjoy,” said Dyson. “2018 was the year when we set the foundations in place for us to jump up to the next level and become the UK’s best-loved brand by our people and customers, meeting all our customers’ connectivity needs.”

This kind of feels like a ‘calm before the storm’ scenario. Once the broadband rebrand is finished and 5G launched, we feel there will be some very aggressive moves from Three, staying true to its data-orientated roots but heavily integrated convergence messages on-top.

Instagram’s garden is starting to blossom

Just as Facebook’s core platform is beginning to wilt, Instagram is launching an assault on the shopping market built on the walled garden business model which bloomed in by-gone years.

A few people might have scoffed at Facebook handing over $1 billion for Instagram in 2012, but this acquisition is looking to be a clever bit of business. Facebook’s core social media platform, and the business model which underpins it, might be looking a bit jaded after recent attacks, but Instagram is maturing into a very attractive proposition.

Launched today (March 19), users can now purchase products from certain brands in the Instagram app. The team has been working hard to create a marketplace in Instagram over the last 12-18 months, and while the digital advertising model has been paying off, you get the impression the narcissistic tendencies of the app lend itself well to the online shopping arena, especially when it comes to fashion.

“When you tap to view a product from a brand’s shopping post, you’ll see a ‘Checkout on Instagram’ button on the product page,” the team said in a blog post. “Tap it to select from various options such as size or color, then you’ll proceed to payment without leaving Instagram. You’ll only need to enter your name, email, billing information and shipping address the first time you check out.”

For retailers, this could be a very interesting route to potential customers, both old and new. Instagram has proven to be a very effective tool for brands to engage consumers from a brand marketing perspective, but in terms of direct sales, the risk of navigating to another website comes with shopping carts being abandoned. Through in-app purchases, one purchasing hurdle is removed, simplifying the buying process.

Customer information will be stored with Instagram, and while it has been reported the details will not be pre-populated in other Facebook platforms, it would not surprise us if this is in the pipeline. Instagram will receive payments as a percentage of the total spent in-app, though in Facebook’s typically transparent fashion, the waters have been muddied with the team not revealing how much this percentage is.

This is perhaps another perfect example of Facebook’s ability to create a walled garden and charge third-parties to access the cultivated digital customers.

For years, Instagram has been creating an incredibly user-orientated platform, which is simple but very usable and addictive. The only way for users to access these users, to try and pry open wallets, is to strike a deal with Facebook. Facebook is not monetizing its users directly but charging third-parties entry at the gate. This model worked incredibly well for years, putting Facebook is the dominant and influential position it is in today.

The beauty of this plan is that Facebook/Instagram seems to have struck at the right time. Users are becoming increasingly used to using the app as an online catalogue, geared around window shopping not purchases. Another update launched last year, allows users to click on products which might features in posts or stories to see more information. Taking it one step further is a logical step, as long as its not done too aggressively.

While the raw materials are certainly there, the challenge which Instagram will face is not to over commercialise the platform. This is what happened with Facebook’s core social media platform, the focus was less on engagement and more on advertising revenues, resulting in the new generation ignoring and traditional users spending less time on it. If Instagram has learned from prior mistakes, this could be a very interesting proposition, with plenty of room for growth.

That said, learning from mistakes is one thing but keeping under-pressure executives in-line is another. Slowing growth figures have put the Facebook management team under pressure from investors, while scrutiny placed on the traditional business model in ever-increasing. New regulations to remove some of the freedoms granted in the data-sharing economy put profits under threat, and as with any other publicly traded company, they will have to be replenished somehow.

Recent attempts to carve out new revenue streams, such as Watch or Today In, have seemingly not produced the hoped-for bonanzas. In the case of news app Today In, the team is ironically struggling because Facebook and Google effectively destroyed the commercial viability of so many regional news sources. The ‘locusts are complaining there is no more corn’ one Twitter user commented.

Another development which is worth keeping an eye on is the change in management. After 14 years working for Facebook and Instagram, Chief Product Officer Chris Cox announced he was leaving last week. A replacement has not been announced, but the experience of this individual might give some insight as to how aggressively commercial elements of Instagram will appear.

Despite criticisms which might be directed towards Facebook and Instagram, this looks to be an excellent strategy. The team have been cultivating this audience for some time and seem to have created the perfect conditions for growth… just as long as the team learn from previous mistakes.

Europe cools internet monopoly rhetoric

Almost every politician around the world is currently using Silicon Valley as a metaphoric punching bag, but the European Commission will not be drawn into the monopolies debate.

While 2020 Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has painted a target on the backs on the internet giants, Europe has once again proven it will not be drawn into making such short-sighted and shallow promises. Warren is effectively warming up for the world’s biggest popularity contest, and perhaps hasn’t considered the long-term realities of the dismantling of companies such as Facebook and Google.

Speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Austin (thank you Recode for the transcript), Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, made a very reasonable and measured statement.

“We’re dealing with private property, businesses that are built and invested in and become successful because of their innovation,” said Vestager.

“So, to break up a company, to break up private property, would be very far-reaching. And you would need to have a very strong case that it would produce better results for consumers in the marketplace than what you could do with sort of more mainstream tools.”

Vestager’s point is simple. Don’t punish a company because of its success. Don’t make rash decisions unless there is evidence the outcome will be better than the status quo. While the fence is proving to be very comfortable, it is a logical place to sit now.

Following up with the European Commission press team, Telecoms.com was told the Commission does not have an official position when it comes to breaking up the internet monopolies. Vestager’s comments are representative of the Commission, and it will evaluate each case on its own merit. Effectively, the breaking up the monopolies is a last resort, and will only be done so in extreme circumstances.

This position is supported by a recent report, put together for HM Treasury in the UK by former Chief Economist to President Obama, Professor Jason Furman. Furman suggests new rules and departments need to be created for digital society, but monopolies, when regulated and governed appropriately, can be good for the progression of products, services and the economy overall.

This will of course be an unpopular opinion, but it makes sense. Sometimes there simply isn’t the wealth to share around. Monopolies are perhaps needed to create efficiencies and economies of scale to ensure progress is made at a suitable pace. However, the right regulatory framework needs to be in place to ensure this dominant position is not abused. A catch-all position should not be welcomed.

This is where the European Commission has been playing a notable role. Numerous times over the last few years, technology giants have been punished for creating and abusing dominant market positions, take Google as an example with Android antitrust violations last June, though it has not gone as far as breaking up these empires. The key here is creating a framework which encourages growth across the board but does not punish success.

Some would argue success in the pursuit of this delicately balanced equation has been incredibly varied, but this should not form the foundation of rash decisions and potential irreversible actions. Big is not necessarily bad.

This is the marquee promise of Senator Elizabeth Warren. In attempting to woo the green-eyed contradictory wannabee capitalists of Middle America, the Presidential contender has promised to split up the internet giants. The complexities and realities of this promise do not seem to have been thoroughly thought out, and it does seem to be a shallow attempt to lure the favour of those who seek fortunes but are unable to congratulate those who have found them.

That said, there are Presidential candidates who are suggesting good ideas. Senator Amy Klobuchar has suggested companies who monetize data through relationships with third-parties should be taxed. This is somewhat of a radical idea, but we do quite like the sound of it.

Firstly, for those companies who say they are collecting data to ‘improve customer experience’, there would be no impact. If the data is being used to enhance current or create new services, and therefore kept in-house, then fair enough. However, if the company is moving data around the digital ecosystem, monetizing personal information, why not place a levy on this type of activity. It might just encourage these companies to be more responsible when more scrutiny is being placed on these transactions.

This is the challenge we are all facing nowadays; the digital economy is a different beast and needs to be tamed using different techniques, regulations and practices. We all know this, but we haven’t actually figured out how to do it.

This is why we kind of like the non-committal, hands-off approach from the European Commission. For an organization which usually likes to run wild with the red-tape, this seems to be a much more sensible approach. Over regulating nowadays could create a patch-work from hell which would only have to be undone. It might seem like a cop-out, but governments should let business be business, while casting a watchful eye over developments.

When no-one really knows how the future is going to evolve, regulation is needed to hold companies accountable and protections are needed to safeguard the consumer. But rash decisions and ridiculous promises are the last thing anyone wants.

Oracle reports flat growth as cloud segment booms

As a late-comer to the increasingly profitable cloud segment, Oracle has yet to make more than a minor dent, and this quarter appears to be another demonstration of mediocrity.

The company stopped reporting its cloud business revenues as a standalone during last year, so it is difficult to give a complete picture, though total revenues tell a part of the story. Total Revenues were $9.6 billion, down 1% year-on-year, though once constant currencies are applied the boost was 3%. Combined with a outlook which promises a range of 0% growth to negative 2% (1% to 3% growth in constant currency), its not necessarily the prettiest of pictures.

This is not to say Oracle is in a terrible position, the company is still profitable, and the growth prospects of the cloud segment encourage optimism, but it is not capturing the fortunes of its competitors.

Despite the heritage and continued influence of this business, perhaps we should not be surprised Oracle is not tearing up trees today. Back in 2008, CTO and founder Larry Ellison described the technology industry as the only segment “which is more fashion driven than women’s fashion”, suggesting cloud was nothing more than a passing fad.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but after this condemning statement about the embryonic cloud industry you can see why Oracle is reporting average numbers while others are hoovering up the cloud cash. Despite this late start, in 2016 Oracle felt it had caught up, with Ellison declaring “Amazon’s lead is over” during an earnings call.

While executives can make all the claims they like, reeling off various customer wins and pointing towards heritage in the technology industry, the numbers speak for themselves. Oracle is not profiting from the cloud bonanza in the same way competitors are.

Alongside the effectively flat revenue growth, Non-GAAP net income in Q3 was down 8% to $3.2 billion, while the merged cloud revenues and license support unit grew, it was only by roughly 1.1%. When you consider AWS, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Alibaba are all quoted numbers which are notably higher than this, it does paint a relatively gloomy picture.

Recent data from Synergy suggests revenues for 2018 passed the $250 billion across seven key cloud services and infrastructure market segments, operator and vendor revenues, representing a 32% increase year-on-year. Oracle will of course not be applicable for all of these segments however the overarching cloud trends are incredibly positive.

That said, perhaps the most damning piece of evidence is these numbers met analyst expectations. The team should be applauded for this fact however, it does suggest the analyst community no-longer consider Oracle a front-runner in the technology world. If the estimates are mediocre when the ingredients for success are so abundant, it doesn’t make for the most positive perception of one of yesteryears heavyweights.

SK Telecom looks to the edge to monetize 5G

SK Telecom has announced the launch of its ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Open Platform’ in an effort to marry two of the industry’s hottest topics.

While 5G has dominated industry discussions for years, this years Mobile World Congress saw edge computing steal at least some of the limelight. This may well be evidence of a more pragmatic approach to connectivity ROI, with telcos removing some of the buzz surrounding 5G and creating a more realistic story about how to commercialise the connectivity bonanza; 5G is only one step forward, but the edge is another.

“By opening up the ‘5G Mobile Edge Computing Platform’, SK Telecom will secure the basis for expanding the MEC-related ecosystem and accelerating the release of 5G services,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO of SK Telecom. “SK Telecom will join hands with diverse companies throughout the globe to boost the adoption of MEC-based services.”

As part of the initiative, SK Telecom will offer enterprise customers the opportunity to improve customers Quality of Experience (QoE) by connecting their service server or data-centre to SK Telecom’s MEC platform. SK Telecom will also provide open Application Programming Interfaces to enable customers to easily develop MEC-based 5G services.

By enabling the edge, ideas such as the smart factory become more of a reality. SK Telecom claims that latency can be reduced by up to 60% by using the edge.

Although the traditional means of generating revenue in the telco space has been through very simplistic and consumer orientated marketing strategies, this cannot be the case for 5G. Such is the expense of deploying a network which meets the connectivity expectations of tomorrow, leaning on traditional business models will likely not work. To realise the promise of 5G, initiatives such as this one, which encourages more creative projects with enterprise customers, are an excellent step forward.

This was perhaps one of the most satisfying outcomes from Mobile World Congress this year, as while some might have viewed the switching on of 5G networks as somewhat of an anti-climax, for us it was a very palatable outcome.

The focus on the edge, and the dampening of 5G hype, set the stage for progress. Yes, the industry has spent a lot of the futureproof networks, and yes, investors are craving the promised profits, but conversations felt much more realistic, pointing towards the work which still needs to be done. Afterall, 5G should be viewed as a catalyst to secure new revenues, not as the silver bullet.

Qottab, Quindim or Quesito? Google releases Android Q beta

Every year Google releases a new version of Android, and while it is marginally entertaining to guess what sweetie it will be named after, it also provides a very useful roadmap for the future of mobility.

In controlling roughly 74% of the global mobile Operating System (OS) market share, Android is in a unique position to dictate how the ecosystem develops over the short- and medium-term. This year’s update appears larger and more wide-ranging than previous iterations, perhaps representing the significant changes to the industry in recent months.

“In 2019, mobile innovation is stronger than ever, with new technologies from 5G to edge to edge displays and even foldable screens,” said Dave Burke, VP of Engineering for Android. “Android is right at the centre of this innovation cycle, and thanks to the broad ecosystem of partners across billions of devices, Android’s helping push the boundaries of hardware and software bringing new experiences and capabilities to users.”

Privacy updates, gaming enhancements, features to accommodate for new connectivity requirements and addressing the foldable phone phenomenon, there is plenty for developers to consider this year.

Privacy as a product

New demands are being placed on developers around the world when it comes to privacy, but in truth, they have no-one to blame for the extra work than themselves.

This is not to say all developers have abused the trust of the consumer, but numerous scandals over the last 18 months and the opaque manner in which society was educated on the data-sharing machine has created a backlash. Privacy demands have been heightened through regulation and consumer expectations, meaning these elements are slowly becoming a factor in the purchasing process.

There are numerous privacy and security updates here which suggests Google has appreciated the importance of privacy to the consumer. Privacy could soon become a selling point, and Google is on hand with many of the updates based on its Project Strobe initiative.

Perhaps one of the most important updates here is more granular control of the permissions for individual apps. Users will not only have more control on what data is shared with which apps, but developers can no-longer request for consent for a catch-all data hoovering plan, while Google is also cracking down on un-necessary permissions. The team is updating its User Data Policy for the consumer Gmail API to ensure only apps directly enhancing email functionality have authorisation, while the same is being done for call functionality, call logs and SMS.

Data Privacy Survey

Source: GDMA: Global data privacy: What the consumer really thinks

Aside from the permissions updates noted above, users will also have more control over when apps can get location data. While some developers have abused the trust of users by collecting this data when irrelevant as to whether the app is open or not, users will now have the power to give apps permission to see their location never, only when the app is in use (running), or all the time.

There are other updates to the permissions side including audio collections, access to cameras and other media files. All of these updates represent one thing; privacy is a real issue and (theoretically) the power is being handed back to the consumer.

That said, Ovum’s Chief Analyst Ed Barton notes the critical importance of privacy features today, however, as Google could be considered one of the main contributors to the root problem, you must question how much trust the consumer actually has.

“It is noteworthy that privacy is something one might reasonably assume to have in most situations in modern life except in one’s digital life where the default expectation is that a vast digital platform knows more about you than your life partner and immediate family,” said Barton. “It is these circumstances which enables the concepts of privacy, personal data control and trust to be highlighted and used as marketing bullets.

“Privacy in something like an OS is meaningless unless you can trust the entity which made it so with Android Q the question, as always, is ‘how much do you trust Google’?”

Gaming enters the mainstream

Another major update to Android Q looks to target the increasingly popular segment of mobile gaming.

“Gaming remains one of the most popular genres on the app stores, while smartphones have allowed the industry to connect with the masses,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“This has led to emergence of new games providers and a surge in casual and social gamers, while the arrival of 5G will open further opportunities for cloud based multiplayer games due to faster and more reliable connections and low latency. Mobile devices will be key in this new wave that also promises to bring virtual and physical worlds closer together providing users with immersive experiences.”

Capture

Source: KPMG: The Changing Landscape of Disruptive Technologies report

Here, there are two main updates which we would like to focus on. Firstly, Vulkan and ANGLE (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) to improve more immersive experiences. And secondly, improved connectivity APIs.

Starting with the graphics side, Android Q will add experimental support for ANGLE on top of Vulkan on Android devices to allow for high-performance OpenGL compatibility across implementations. The team is also continuing to expand the impact of Vulkan on Android, with the aim to make Vulkan on Android a broadly supported and consistent developer API for graphics.

In short, this means more options and greater depth when it comes to creating immersive experiences.

On the connectivity front, not only has Google refactored the wifi stack to improve privacy and performance, developers can request adaptive wifi in Android Q by enabling high performance and low latency modes. There are of course numerous usecases for low latency throughout the connectivity ecosystem, but from a consumer perspective, real-time gaming and active voice calls are two of the most prominent.

Gaming has slowly been accumulating more support and penetrating the mass market, and some of the features for Android Q will certainly help this blossoming segment.

Foldable phones; fad or forever?

Considering the euphoria which was drummed up in Mobile World Congress this year, it should hardly come as a surprise the latest edition of Android addresses the new demands of the products.

“To help your apps to take advantage of these and other large-screen devices, we’ve made a number of improvements in Android Q, including changes to onResume and onPause to support multi-resume and notify your app when it has focus,” the team said in the blog announcement.

There are of course a number of useful features which come with the increased real-estate, one of which is being able to run more than one app simultaneously without having to flick back and forth, as you can see from the image below.

Google Update

There are of course advantages to the new innovation, but you have to question whether there are enough benefits to outweigh the incredible cost of the devices. The power of smartphone and the astonishing tsunami of cash in the digital economy is only because of scale. With Samsung’s foldable device coming in at $1,980, and Huawei’s at $2,600, these are not devices which are applicable for scale.

Google is preparing itself should the foldable revolution take hold, but mass adoption is needed more than anything else. The price of these devices will have to come down for there to be any chance of these devices cracking the mainstream market, and considering recent trends suggesting the consumer is becoming more cash conscious, they will have to come down a lot.

The price might also impact the development of the subsequent ecosystem. Developers are under time constraints already, and therefore have to prioritise tasks. Without the scale of mainstream adoption, few developers will focus on the new form factor when creating applications and content. With little reward, what’s the point? Price will need to come down to ensure there is appetite for the supporting ecosystem to make any use of this innovation.

We’ve been complaining about a lack of innovation in the devices market for years, so it is a bit cruel to complain when genuine innovation does emerge, but a lot of work needs to be done to give foldable screens as much opportunity for widespread consumer adoption.

F5 makes agile move with $670 million NGNIX acquisition

App security outfit F5 is buying open-source application platform specialist NGINX to augment its multi-cloud offering.

F5 is hardly the first to notice the importance of the cloud in the evolution of the entire tech industry, nor is it unique in realising that open-source is a great way of making a multi-cloud environment work. But for a company of its size (revenues of $563 million in 2018) this certainly qualifies as putting your money where your mouth is.

“F5’s acquisition of NGINX strengthens our growth trajectory by accelerating our software and multi-cloud transformation,” said François Locoh-Donou, CEO of F5. “By bringing F5’s world-class application security and rich application services portfolio for improving performance, availability, and management together with NGINX’s leading software application delivery and API management solutions, unparalleled credibility and brand recognition in the DevOps community, and massive open source user base, we bridge the divide between NetOps and DevOps with consistent application services across an enterprise’s multi-cloud environment.”

“NGINX and F5 share the same mission and vision,” said Gus Robertson, CEO of NGINX. “We both believe applications are at the heart of driving digital transformation. And we both believe that an end-to-end application infrastructure – one that spans from code to customer – is needed to deliver apps across a multi-cloud environment. “I’m excited to continue this journey by adding the power of NGINX’s open source innovation to F5’s ADC leadership and enterprise reach. F5 gains depth with solutions designed for DevOps, while NGINX gains breadth with access to tens of thousands of customers and partners.”

Open source and DevOps are often referred to in the same breath as part of a broader narrative around ‘agility’. One of the main benefits of the move to the cloud is the far greater choice, efficiency and flexibility it promises, but without a culture geared towards exploiting those opportunities they’re likely to be wasted. With this acquisition F5 is positioning itself as a partner for telcos heading in an agile direction.

Here’s a diagram outlining the rationale of the move.

F5+NGINX

Nvidia wins the Mellanox courtship for $6.9 billion to boost datacenter offering

InfiniBand and ethernet technology company Mellanox has been attracting attention from a range of different suitors over the last few months, but Nvidia has won the prize.

Nvidia and Mellanox have officially announced the pair have reached a definitive agreement under which will see the GPU giant sign a cheque for approximately $6.9 billion, or $125 per share. After Microsoft, Intel and Xilinx were reported courting Mellanox, Nvidia comes home with the goods.

“The emergence of AI and data science, as well as billions of simultaneous computer users, is fuelling skyrocketing demand on the world’s datacenters,” said Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia. “Addressing this demand will require holistic architectures that connect vast numbers of fast computing nodes over intelligent networking fabrics to form a giant datacenter-scale compute engine.

“We share the same vision for accelerated computing as Nvidia,” said Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox. “Combining our two companies comes as a natural extension of our longstanding partnership and is a great fit given our common performance-driven cultures. This combination will foster the creation of powerful technology and fantastic opportunities for our people.”

The acquisition announcement arrives at a useful time for Nvidia, a company which is seeking to expand outside its traditional markets. The GPU giant has been heavily reliant on the gaming and cryptocurrency segments in by-gone years, though dampening demands hit the financials last year. That said, the growing datacenter business has offset some of the negative trends.

Looking at the most recent financials, datacenter sales at Nvidia accounted for 31% of the total during the last period, up from 19% in the previous year. Adding Mellanox into the mix will further diversify the business, cementing the pursuit of alternative revenues. The pair claim Nvidia computing platform and Mellanox’s interconnects power over 250 of the world’s TOP500 supercomputers.

Another interesting facet to this story is the influence of activist investor Starboard Value.

Having taken a 10.7% stake in Mellanox in November 2017, the team moved to have the entire board replaced in an attempt to refocus the activities of the business. Starboard Value believed the business was focusing too much time on R&D, missing out on commercial opportunities.

Although this could be seen as a nightmare scenario for technologists, quarterlies did improve and share price has increased by 118% since the Starboard Value entry. Say what you will about the disruptive influence of activist investors, but this is an outcome few investors will complain about.

Edge takes centre stage at MWC 2019

For all the hype and buzz which was generated ahead of Mobile World Congress 2019, the edge stole some of the attention away from 5G.

Perhaps this is more of a realisation that 5G is not all its cracked up to, at least for the moment anyway. After handing out the accolades for ‘5G first’, this now seems to be the time to settle down and take a mature look at what we have in front of us.

Numerous telcos have not crossed the finish line to offer 5G to those who feel they need it, but with the incredibly limited nature of the coverage and a lack of devices to make use of the bonanza, you have to ask what is the point? For all the promise of greatness, this year’s gathering had a much more pragmatic feel.

Yes, 5G is exciting, but its only the beginning. Yes, there is a chance to make more money, but the usecases have to be figured out. Yes, there are some interesting ideas out there, but Release 16 is where the magic will happen. And yes, today’s 5G will bring certain benefits, but there is of course a lot of work to be done.

It might seem like a bit of a negative thing to say but keep the champagne on ice because nothing has been achieved yet. And this seemed to be the mood throughout the halls of the Fira. The industry has been building up this promise of a connected society, built on superfast 5G networks, for years, but the hype seems to have been dissipated by reality.

There was of course a lot of talk around 5G, perhaps most notably because of the devices the manufacturers were showing off, but it would certainly be fair to say the edge stole at least a bit of the limelight.

Although there are some telcos out there who believe they can build a 5G business on the concept of speed, many are building towards the latency angle. This is where the edge will play a critical role, and the rational businesses throughout the world are building partnerships and investing in technology to make these services a reality.

Telefonica is an excellent example, as while it announced a partnership with Microsoft to smarten up its Aura product ahead of taking on the likes of Amazon and Google in the personal assistant space, this tie up will help it drive towards the edge, creating a wealth of new services for a variety of customers. During the press conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed towards the edge as one of the most powerful developments over the next couple of years, and he certainly wasn’t the only one.

On the final day of MWC, Ian Fogg of OpenSignal spoke of how importance low latency will be to enhance the gaming experience for users around, while two halves of the same bad played a set in opposite ends of the hall, one in Vodafone’s stand and the other in Ericsson. While we’re not convinced this is a block-buster usecase, it does demonstrate what can be done.

While the edge plays an important role in content caching and distribution, a more intelligent can help change the industry in numerous other ways due to the idea of ‘dumb devices’. The more processing power, intelligence and storage components which can be moved off these devices, the cheaper they become to manufacture. This could potentially have a scaling effect on certain aspects of the already blossoming IOT segment.

Of course, what is worth taking into account is that there are numerous devices and services which are becoming increasingly complex. Only a segment of the IOT world will become ‘dumb’, and irrelevant of how small it is, it will open the door, encourage growth and adoption, as well as broadening the number of usecases which might be considered commercially unviable currently.

The same argument could be said for smartphones. With more ‘intelligence’, storage and processing power moving off devices, there could be more freedom to evolve the smartphone. Power demands and the necessity of having some components on the devices could be removed. There could be a lot more opportunity to create new concepts.

An interesting counterpoint to this latency usecase for 5G was raised by Bengt Nordstrom, CEO at Northstream, during our MWC podcast. Nordstrom points to the reduction in latency over the last few years, and whether this has encouraged any new (or growth) revenues in the industry. If it is simply improving experience as opposed to adding to the bottom line, is there any reason to believe this wouldn’t be the case moving forward, and does it build a business case for 5G investments?

Looking at the usecases for low latency, there are many, some of which are arguably more important than others. Video chat is one which is mentioned often, especially when one of the parties in a remote location, such as international reporters. Esports is a significant one, and this is a growing industry. Betting and bidding could be another, and while many will think of sports betting first and foremost, the financial sector would certainly benefit as fractions of a seconds could means thousands in trading, especially with automation playing a role. Smart factories, transport systems, air-traffic control, security threat detection, network automation are more. There are numerous examples.

For us, the emphasis on edge computing represents a shift in mentality from the industry. 5G discussions are all about laying the groundwork for the future digital community, but in giving more airtime to topics like the edge, the industry is seemingly more focused on the commercial realities of futuristic connectivity. 5G won’t make the future, it will just enable it.

5G was supposed to steal the show in Barcelona this year, and it certainly was the protagonist, but the edge certainly commanded more than its 15 minutes.