Some people still call the second month of the year "February." But for tens of thousands of people in the communications sector, it's Mobile World Congress month, which involves the slapping of foreheads as calendars crash and hotel bookings go astray.
Of course the show is primarily about "mobile," which for many means smartphones and 4G. But it's so much more than that, as anyone who has found themselves in Barcelona's Old Town at 2:00 a.m. wondering which teenage vagabond has their wallet will tell you.
But MWC is also a SPIT-fest. Oh yes. So here's our guide to 5 SPIT trends (in no particular order) you can expect to encounter at the Fira showgrounds and in the Ramblas tapas bars.
Self-organizing networks (SON)
This is a big deal for mobile operators as they build out their 4G LTE networks and figure out how to operate them more efficiently. With SON capabilities, mobile operators should, in theory, be able to automate many processes, such as configuration and optimization, that are currently manually intensive. The result should be mobile networks that are cheaper to run and which are able to react to current operating conditions to provide the optimal customer experience. AT&T is one of the major operators that has adopted SON early, and there's a lot of buzz about how this can give major operators an advantage over their rivals. Expect SON to be a major buzzword across the board in Barcelona.
It's actually hard to imagine any team within a communications service provider (CSP) that isn't either already using big-data analytics tools or figuring out how to do so. In the mobile world, new generation tools are being put to all manner of significant uses, particularly in the mining of subscriber data for trends and for identifying the root causes of network faults. CSPs are now moving away from the "what does it do" stage to the "how best can I use it" stage and at Mobile World Congress you can expect to hear about big data in many different contexts.
Software-defined networking (SDN)
This is, of course, one of the biggest topics in networking, from the datacenter across the whole network. Although it will be some time yet before CSPs introduce SDN into their production networks on any notable scale, it's playing into their networking strategies in the lower stacks of the network, and will become increasingly important as operators migrate towards converged packet-optical transport systems for their backbone, metro and backhaul data transport. It may be a way off yet, but SDN will be bigger than ever at MWC. But my guess is that it won't be as big as...
Network functions virtualization (NFV)
This has overtaken SDN in the acronym wars, and with good reason -- because it's much more a here-and-now capability. The vendor community has been working hard to virtualize some key functions -- think the session border controller (SBC), the policy controller and other elements of the evolved packet core (EPS) -- and there is now talk of NFV-enabled capabilities being deployed in live networks during 2014. With so many trials and tests ongoing, and with the massive promise of greater control of network assets, lower opex, and much improved deployment times for new applications, NFV is expected to be a game-changer, with everyone wanting to be seen as a leader. This is the year of NFV.
It's been coming for years now, but with 4G deployments picking up pace, mobile operators are becoming much more reliant on IP networks and IP-based applications. That means a new breed of OSS tools is needed that have been developed specifically to support wide area IP networks and meet the ongoing needs of carriers that have a mix of legacy and new IP infrastructure. This won't be as in-your-face as NFV or SDN, but this is an important topic that should rise closer to the surface at MWC this year.
There are many other SPIT topics of importance to be discussed at Mobile World Congress, so if you're at the event keep an eye and ear out for Customer Experience Management (CEM), policy and real-time charging, network security applications (this is a growing topic related to NFV as well), and the use of storage and standard server systems for content and apps caching at the edge of the network.
With relation to many of these topics, the overall trend towards CSP datacenters is also likely to be a big talking point. If CSPs run their own datacenters, how different could/should they be from current datacenters and how distributed should they be?
If you're heading to Barcelona, have a great show and stay safe. If you're not, watch out for coverage of the major SPIT topics in the coming weeks.