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Cloud gaming experiences a renaissance, spurred on by 5G

George Jijiashvili, Senior Analyst, AR/VR and Video Gaming

At the beginning of this decade, there was a spike in interest in cloud gaming. Most notably, OnLive made a big splash, offering instant access to popular game titles via an affordable set-top box or a desktop app. OnLive's cloud gaming concept was, however, ahead of its time, and hype surrounding it was short-lived as most users, even those with a very fast internet connection, experienced a choppy gaming experience caused by high or unstable connection latency. After going out of business, OnLive's assets were acquired by Sony, which went on to offer an improved cloud gaming experience as part of its PlayStation Now subscription service platform. Other competing streaming services have since emerged, most notably Nvidia Now and PlayGiga's services. However, given their inherent dependence on superior connection, adoption has remained lukewarm.

With 5G rollout imminent, promising high speeds and sub-10 millisecond latency, there has been a clear resurgence in cloud gaming in 2019. The cloud architecture has also been refined over the course of the decade, with companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Nvidia investing in this space. MWC offered several key cloud gaming developments, including the reveal of the OnePlus 5G smartphone capable of game-streaming while connected to a TV, and HTC's announcement of its 5G mobile smart hub capable of streaming VR content to standalone headsets. Meanwhile, operators eager to expand their service offerings have recently signed partnerships with cloud gaming providers, including AT&T, SK Telecom, and Verizon. Google's much-anticipated keynote at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March is likely to provide another significant boost to cloud gaming, which we'll be following closely.

RCS sees increased positive buzz, but little real change

Charlotte Palfrey, Senior Analyst, Communications and Social

Walking around MWC 2019 it would be easy to see the Rich Communication Services (RCS) demos as a sign that nothing much has changed for RCS in the past year. The use cases seem the same as we saw demoed in 2018, and we're talking about the same key operators and vendors.

What has changed though is the conversations around RCS. Brands that are using RCS are being vocal about the benefits they gain from using it – and vocal about the need for Apple to add RCS capabilities to iOS. Messaging aggregators see RCS as a great tool to offer businesses, as it has the reliability of SMS with all the visual benefits and analytics of OTT messaging apps.

There is also a lot more awareness of what Facebook is doing with Messenger and WhatsApp, especially around business messaging. This awareness of the threat that this poses to A2P revenue is giving operators, Google, and the GSMA that extra push to drive RCS. The GSMA, alongside Vodafone and 3C Interactive, launched the first global campaign for RCS this year; a key step in raising RCS awareness outside of the mobile community, and eventually getting it to a point where it can compete with the OTTs.

Is Rakuten the new Reliance Jio?

Kris Szaniawski, Practice Leader, Telecoms Operations and IT

At this year's MWC, it has been difficult to avoid mentions of Rakuten, or sightings of the Rakuten CTO speaking at event sessions or round tables. The Japanese operator is working hard to become this year's poster child for zero legacy innovation, a bit like Reliance Jio in previous years. But this is no coincidence given that the CTO has come from Reliance Jio.

Rakuten's claim to fame is that it is building what it claims to be the world's first end-to-end cloud native network. The operator is working with a wide array of partners in implementing this totally virtualized networking, including Nokia, Intel, Cisco, Altiosta, and Tech Mahindra. But there is more to Rakuten than just network innovation. In the CTO's words, "We are not a telecommunications company, we are an internet services company driven by innovation." And one of the tools Rakuten will use to enable this customer-centric transformation is a next-generation digital business and operations solution. It announced this week that it has signed a major contract with Netcracker that involves the vendor's end-to-end digital BSS solution, as well as a unified OSS solution deal with NEC. Major OSS/BSS transformations on this scale are relatively rare and unlikely to set a new trend. But MWC always loves to hear from a service provider innovator willing to splash out.

Exploring the contentious relationship between mobile edge computing and 5G

Julian Bright, Senior Analyst, Service Provider Technology

The degree of interdependence between mobile edge computing and 5G is proving a popular theme at MWC 2019. While 5G is widely believed to need edge computing in order to succeed, some vendors argue that the reverse need not apply, and are already claiming significant commercial success for edge computing deployments running on 4G. Others see no immediate use case for edge computing other than for 5G itself, and argue that operators are still very much at an exploratory stage.

As the level of complexity involved becomes more apparent, the range of companies with an interest in the technology is growing. The larger network equipment providers believe that edge cloud is an enabler for many of the use cases envisaged for 5G, and are already focused on aspects such as the distribution and location of radio and core network resources.

Meanwhile, newer players in the value chain are emerging with a view to providing the link between edge cloud infrastructure and the wider developer ecosystem that is expected to grow around edge network deployments. These include software providers wanting to help commercialize edge cloud by aggregating operators' existing infrastructure assets.

Efforts to connect the unconnected continue at MWC

Paul Lambert, Senior Analyst, Europe

Each year at MWC, companies reveal their latest efforts to further reduce the cost of connecting the unconnected. This year, perhaps the two most visible initiatives so far have been made by Orange and Nokia, both with some level of joint work with internet players. Major players in the telecoms industry partnering with internet players to increase the number of connected people in developing and rural markets points the way forward to achieving the inter-related objectives of bringing the benefits of connectivity to as many people as possible, and profitably growing revenue.

Orange partnered with KaiOS Technologies and UNISOC to launch a 3G+ phone with Google Assistant built in, retailing for $20 in 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. Orange plans to launch the device in Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast in April, with other countries following within the year.

Meanwhile, Nokia will join Facebook's Express Wi-Fi Technology Partner ecosystem, expanding its participation in Facebook Connectivity's initiatives to enable CSPs to provide quality internet access to customers in emerging markets. First deployments are expected later in the year. Nokia is already collaborating with Facebook Connectivity to help develop technologies for Terragraph, Open Cellular, Open Transport Networks, and rural access.

Ericsson reaffirms importance of antennas as part of the 5G network solution

Daryl Schoolar, Practice Leader, Next Generation Infrastructure

At Monday's kickoff press conference, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm announced that the vendor was acquiring Kathrein's antenna business. As Ovum has highlighted in previous MWC coverage, new advancements in antenna technologies, along with access to new spectrum bands, are two of the biggest changes within the radio access network coming with 5G. Acquiring Kathrein certainly makes Ericsson a stronger player in this market. Kathrein wasn't the only antenna news coming from the CEO's morning presentation. Ekholm also gave attendees a sneak preview of antenna strips. Antenna strips basically turn the antenna into tape for attaching to walls and ceilings. But Ericsson hasn't been the only vendor focused on antennas.

Blue Danube, Commscope, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE are all using MWC to show their latest antenna iterations. One thing they have in common is a goal to shrink the antenna footprint. One of the bigger challenges with massive MIMO antenna have been their size, leading to difficulty in deploying them. Shrinking the antenna footprint makes them easier to deploy and lowers tower rental costs. For most of mobile networks' history, antennas were something of an afterthought. They were important but not something radio vendors spent much time talking about. Clearly 5G changes that.

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