LOS ANGELES — Daily data from the MWC19 Los Angeles (Mobile World Congress) is flush with reports of who said what at the keynotes and sessions, and how successfully the sessions are attended, etc. I appreciate that they do that because I, generally, do not have the time to attend sessions. Therefore, I can view them at my leisure once the show is over.
But little is discussed, on a daily basis from the MWC blasts, around what is going on under the radar. And that is also the way it should be. If that were different what would I have to do there? That being said, I did spend most of my time there meeting with the vendors, which I fondly refer to as the worker bees. I believe they are the ones in the trenches, making what they talk about in keynotes and sessions work. So, let us take a walk down the isles and drill down on some of what I uncovered during my “three-day stint” in LA.
Top of the list, and one of the companies that I was surprised to see here, and with an ominous presence, was NVidia. On the surface, they presented their latest advancements in the virtual reality scene and gaming, and how 5G was going to enable real-time, low-latency apps. I must admit I was impressed by what they were demonstrating.
However, I managed to hook up with one of their top execs, who shall remain nameless upon his request for anonymity because he spoke to me off the record and let me in on what Nvidia is really working on – AI.
As it turns out, GPUs are fast becoming the hardware of choice for AI. And NVidia is the top player in that segment. They have, quietly, been deeply undertaking an extensive program of AI R & D and becoming the preeminent leader in this segment. And I thought I was on the edge because I have one of their latest and greatest video cards!
Why are they so involving in AI? There are several reasons but most of all because it turns out that GPUs are the ideal processor for running complex AI algorithms! GPUs are much more scalable than the industry-standard X86 microprocessors or application-specific ICs (ASICs). They are virtually unlimited in their ability to cascade into multi-GPU systems capable of handling the immensely complex algorithms that AI is comprised of. And they do it without a lot of peripheral hand-holding.
That is not to say it cannot be done with other architecture, but such architectures require a lot of complex management and interconnect schemes to accomplish the same thing. That makes such systems much more expensive, power-hungry, and high-maintenance – hmmm… who would have guessed!
Much of my conversation around how this is done it was told to me in confidence so I cannot discuss the exciting promise, potential, and technology of GPU-based AI systems but, trust me, NVidia will be a major player in AI platforms as well as the 5G/AI ecosystem.
Another company that I was very impressed by was Kony. Partially because of what they are doing in the smart agriculture ecosystem. That is not all they do and they are leaders in the digital transformation in a number of industries. What I want to talk about is their presence in smart agriculture. But, what impressed me was what they were doing in another space that I will discuss shortly.
Kony has upped the ante for intelligent agriculture a notch by developing a cutting-edge methodology for growing plants in a soil-less environment. That is not all that new but, the way they are doing it is truly novel. I do not have the space to elaborate here but I would encourage the reader to visit them to see what they are doing. It is worth your time.
Now, many companies are becoming environmentally conscious. Some out of societal pressure, others because they believe in doing the right thing. Kony is one of those companies that does it because it believes. It has taken its technology (they call it the Kony Wall) and made it a mission to go to schools around the country to educate children in advanced agriculture techniques that will ease the stress on our plane’s soil. This is a direction that will provide next-generation platforms to meet the demands of the ever-increasing world populous while saving the planet’s resources.
One thing I have to say is that Kony believes in this. I could tell from the conversation that this is a core belief within the company and not just something they are doing for platitudes — hats off to you, Kony!
Moving on, I had the opportunity to sit down with a number of companies and peel back the show floor masks. I spent some time with Verizon’s people. As many of you know I have talked about the carrier’s lack of forward progress understanding that being a dumb pipe in the 5G ecosystem is a recipe for disaster. While there has been some movement on their part to add revenue streams to their dossier that has been slow in coming.
However, Verizon may just be getting it. They are moving very quickly into 5G verticals, which was evident in their booth. Some of them will benefit more from 5G that others, but the point is that they really showed some forward-thinking here.
They presented some cutting edge wireless advancements in a variety of areas such as retail (shopping) first responders technologies, home Internet, high-data rate applications such as volumetric scanning, and ultra-wideband (UWB) applications. This tells me they are getting it. It will be interesting to watch how they move forward with all of this.
Sprint, on the other hand, was hot on their 5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and how they are coming out with it in cities across the country. I guess somebody has to do it but we all know that these early 5G eMBB offerings are barely on the cusp of 5G and will be for some time as the networks are updated with 5G enhancements. There is not a lot of confidence that eMBB will provide any real revenue for, perhaps, five years. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out as the merger with T-Mo and Charlie Ergen’s new Dish wireless network moves forward.
Those were, perhaps, the more visible and notable of the vendors I met with. But by no means were they any less important than the others I connected with.
For example, there was a company that has developed a fully virtualized 5G Open RAN. It looked great on paper and the hardware was there. I believe they will see much success once there is more of a presence of 5G across various applications (fixed wireless, Internet of Everything/Everyone (IoX), massive machine-type communications (mMTC) and ultra-reliable low-latency communication, for starters).
Interestingly, there was a company that developed an overlay for Wi-Fi interconnect. And it will work on any flavor of Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi 6. It fixes what I believe to be the single most critical shortcoming in Wi-Fi (not that Wi-Fi was ever designed to do this) – roaming among cells. This solution does the leg work. By that I mean it takes care of the login process. So now one can roam and automatically be connected to Wi-Fi cells. Of course, it does not have the capability to log into secured networks unless one has the passphrase, but for open, public networks, and ones where the user has the passphrase, it is a pretty slick solution.
In that same vein, there was a company offering a network consolidation solution. This was interesting since there are so many disparaging networks out there. A solution that allows a “plug n’ play) type of functionality across wireless networks, regardless of frequency or protocols, would have some real potential.
There is so much more to talk about but I am already way over the nominal word count. So, in closing out, there was a significant presence in smart technology and the IoX. It makes sense that this is emerging, given the advancements in AI, which will be the primary enabler of these platforms. Also, various as-a-service platforms are emerging across a variety of applications. Look to see aaS really come of age in the next year or so.
Finally, the most significant observation I make is that this year’s show of technologies is an order of magnitude more advanced than last year. The advancements I saw in this year’s technologies, platforms and devices awed me. Man, I can hardly wait until next year!