North America MWC may not be as big as Barcelona, but it still provides value

By Daryl Schoolar

During the last week of September, GSMA, along with its partner CTIA, held their annual North America conference in Las Vegas. Given the regional focus of the conference, the news and activity coming from it pales in comparison to the Barcelona version. However, that does not mean MWC Las Vegas is without value. We had several meetings that alone made the event worth attending. Plus, some companies still use the conference as a platform for announcements, while the exhibit floor provides guidance on the state of mobile communications in North America.

Of the major U.S. mobile network service providers only T-Mobile and AT&T had a show floor presence this year, but that did not mean other mobile providers didn’t make their presence know. Some of the operator highlights and messages from MWC Las Vegas 2023 are as follows:

AT&T: The company’s booth was dedicated to enterprise solutions, with connected vehicles occupying significant space. This is fitting given that Hardmon Williams, SVP, Connected Solutions for AT&T, used his keynote session to announce the company is now the connectivity provider for electric car manufacturer Rivian. Hardmon also discussed the frequent software updates of electric cars, which in turn increases the importance of network connectivity to support those updates.

MobileX: The competitive outlook for the U.S. prepaid market should intensify with the announcement by MobileX that it will launch a prepaid service exclusively through a retail partnership with Walmart. The driving force behind MobileX is Peter Adderton who has a track record of launching successful prepaid brands with Boost in the U.S. and Australia. Walmart’s interest in working with MobileX appears to be a competitive move against its online rival Amazon and its recently announced sales partnership with Dish’s Boost offering.

NTT DoCoMo: On the first day of the show the Japanese mobile operator announced it will be deploying an Open vRAN solution using NVIDIA GPU for hardware acceleration. NVIDIA will be supporting both the X86 and the ARM architecture. This is significant, as it not only gives NVIDIA a major Open RAN win, but will help overall create more Open RAN deployment options.

T-Mobile: The established U.S. mobile operator T-Mobile captured the most attention at the show with its announcement of a SIM based SASE offering using network slicing. This marks the first commercial service offering using 5G network slicing in the U.S. T-Mobile’s slicing will go commercial later this year. This is an important step in 5G evolution, helping to prove commercial viability of slicing. To help grow slicing, T-Mobile CTO John Saw announced that the company has made network slicing available nationwide to application developers. T-Mobile also took full advantage of the exhibit floor to show multiple wireless enterprise solutions and to host public sessions inside its booth. It was one of the liveliest spots on the floor.

Verizon: Verizon did not make any specific service announcements at MWC Las Vegas, but it did release a statement at the start of the conference highlighting its progress in transforming its network and the subsequent benefits. Those highlights included fiber network investments, mid-band and mmWave spectrum coverage, 5G fixed wireless access, and cloud-native network transformation. Verizon Business CEO Kyle Malady used his time on stage at MWC to push back against FCC’s plan to reintroduce Net Neutrality, as a solution looking for a problem that does not exist. b

Of the three largest RAN suppliers in the region, only Nokia was on the floor. However, that doesn’t mean the conference lacked an infrastructure presence. Some of our vendor observations from the conference are as follows:

AWS: The company had a substantial presence on the show floor. Booth space was primarily dedicated to meetings and educational conversations regarding AWS’ telecom service provider and enterprise solutions. Digital transformation, and the role AWS can play in helping mobile operators with their transformation remains a strategic interest. Supporting that strategy, Sameer Vuyyuru, head of WW business development for communication service providers, gave a keynote presentation about how mobile operators are using GenAI to improve operations and customer experience.

Dell Technologies: From Dell’s hospitality suite overlooking the show floor the company promoted itself as the best option for operators looking for an IT hardware partner for building cloud-native networks. This includes servers to support Open RAN. Dell also participated in a private network demonstration with Airspan, Dish Networks, and Druid.

Nokia: As a sign of the shifting nature of network infrastructure, hardware specialist Nokia used its time at MWC Las Vegas to talk about software. Its message at the conference was “Network as Code” and participated in the open developer gateway conference held at the show. Nokia was also found at the GSMA booth demoing virtual reality to help drive interest in the mobile API opportunities.

Pivotal Commware: Pivotal Commware continues to focus on how to improve 5G mmWave economics through coverage extension and network planning and management tools. The company continues to make progress in this area indicating an increase in its U.S. deployments and that it is seeing its commercial opportunities expanding beyond the U.S.

Qualcomm: The company showed together with Quectel a 5G cellular module for laptops that can aggregate cellular and Wi-Fi signals. This is a nifty capability that focuses on the best performing link. In addition, Qualcomm continued its tradition of educating analysts about new market developments and technological innovations.

Beyond the specific vendors listed above, a significant percentage of vendor booth space remains dedicated to IoT, FWA, private networks, and indoor coverage solutions.

Realistically the U.S. version of MWC will never rival the Barcelona one. The U.S. version is mainly for North American operators and vendors while the one in Spain is global. That focus reduces participation. Vendors can bypass the show and still meet with customers and prospects. However, this does not mean the show should be written off. It remains a good source for one-on-one interactions and as a mid-year gauge of industry growth since Barcelona.