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The crowd streams in to last year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona–the premier wireless show globally. (Image courtesy Shutterstock)

(“Community Insights” are articles by members of the Techonomy community, contributing to the ongoing dialogue that is our raison d’être.)
As we approach Mobile World Congress 2017 (MWC17), I am increasingly amazed as the mobile technology industry continues to drive towards more and more network connectivity and capacity. Even more noteworthy is how the edge of our networks are becoming permanently mobile. Whether we are in our homes and offices or moving about town, we care deeply about how strong and reliable our connection is to the network. Indoors that’s through Wi-Fi, while outdoors it is 3G, 4G, or LTE – our beloved sea of acronyms. We just want to get connected, whether that’s through an access point or a base station and tower, so we can create and consume cloud content without limitations.
This year’s MWC theme is “Mobile: The Next Element.” There is no doubt that mobile has fully arrived … something we attendees will all be able to confirm as we navigate the mob of show-goers with their heads down in their phones as they move about. And I fully expect to see demos and announcements that provide a glimpse into new and unexpected ways that mobile will change how we interact and conduct business.
Undoubtedly discussion at MWC will focus on making mobile even more ubiquitous. And I expect MWC17 attendees will see first-hand that we are on the cusp of a 5G world. The upcoming technologies of 5G will mean significantly faster data, less delay, and greater connectivity. It means adequate support for the Internet of Things. While 5G standards are still in development, Korea and Japan already have plans to have 5G technologies in place for the Winter Olympics in 2018 and the summer one in 2020. In fact, industry leaders such as AT&T’s Randall Stephenson believe 5G could be deployed in the U.S. as early as 2019 or 2020.
I also expect the pace of globalization to be an active topic of discussion. It is closely connected to the acceleration of the new technologies on display at MWC17. There will be many conversations about what this means for society given the recent changes in political leadership even as corporate bottom lines remain generally healthy. Technology companies are generally more progressive in their views than corporate America as a whole, and in Barcelona they will actively discuss what the incredible changes emerging from the Fourth Industrial Revolution will mean both for their businesses and for the world.
And, then, of course there needs to be cool stuff at MWC17. At the Consumer Electronics Show last month it may have been LG’s new ultrathin TV. My bet is that at MWC17 it will likely be more conceptual advances around artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Those two areas are becoming hugely impactful – cutting across many industries and finding their way into many applications. And we can definitely plan to see innovations in wearable technologies. In fact, this year’s event will include a fashion tech show, where wearable technology designed by Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) students will be displayed in live art performances.
In all of this, most central to me, given my job as Chief Technology Officer of Ciena, is that our mobile world can only happen because of the NETWORK! The networking industry has innovated, secured, and built-out solutions that support all of the excitement that I am sure will be pervasive at this year’s MWC and beyond. We often forget that what has allowed us to keep up with user demands and evolving behaviors is the incredible increase in capacity enabled by the widespread use of photonics coupled with network programmability. Computing and telecom technologies have converged in the cloud, and been transformative. In fact, as the telecom industry becomes more software-centric through techniques like Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networks (SDN), we have been regularly outpacing the growth predicted by the chip industry’s fabled Moore’s Law, something few appreciate. (See my thoughts on Moore’s Law here.)
With that, I’m off to MWC to be wowed.
Steve Alexander is CTO of Ciena, a network strategy and technology company.