MWC Served Up Endless AI, But The Tastiest Developments Were Off-Menu



The latest trends Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2024, with insights into AR smart display glasses, Wi-Fi 7, private networks in a box, the expanding ecosystem for RedCap, Open RAN primed for broad adoption, 5G Standalone widening adoption pace, and data centers’ critical role as AI’s workhorse.

If you visited MWC Barcelona hungry for AI, you were fed an unending buffet. Like that colleague who orders about a dozen too many tapas, the AI updates just kept coming and coming. Every hall, seemingly every news announcement and every conversation — they all featured the largest two letters in tech.

AI pin badges that use a laser to project a screen onto the palm of your hand. Real-time language translations from Samsung’s Galaxy AI phone. Enhanced camera functions and intent-based shortcut recommendations on the Honor Magic6 Pro. Don’t forget the AI dogs — after all, cats are way too unpredictable.

Samsung’s Galaxy AI phone

Samsung’s Galaxy AI phone

Those were just the appetizers.

We heard all about how AI is set to expand its impact on networks beyond data centers and GPUs. Intel and Qualcomm want to extend AI processing to the edge and even onto the device. While early days, this disaggregated and distributed approach introduces AI chipset platforms for devices and the use of general-purpose servers at the edge. From data center to device, this has the potential to democratize AI, providing price points and needs that enable large-scale adoption.

Feeling full yet?

Well, hopefully you saved room because easily lost among the AI noise and hyperbole were noteworthy near-term advancements that provide real value to consumers and enterprises. Interestingly, this year’s event seemed to attract more industry and enterprise execs than ever before, expanding beyond typical service provider and mobility audiences to really expand the conversation. This was absolutely a positive development. The more voices (and hungry customers) at the table, the better.

Here are the top takeaways that caught my attention and filled me with excitement at this year’s MWC.

AR smart display glasses are getting quite good

Augmented reality (AR) is migrating to a broader stage and getting increasingly real. Seriously, you could actually picture people wearing these. While Apple’s VisionPro provides an immersive experience that blends digital content with your physical space, practical smart display glasses aid daily activities, like providing a quick screen to read your emails or overlaying important info atop hardware you may be looking at in the field.

Building on the momentum I saw at MWC Shanghai 2023, new offerings from OPPO and the cool demo of Xreal’s Air 2 Ultra spatial glasses highlight how AR might revolutionize enterprise use cases and consumer experiences.

These glasses look more like normal glasses than previous iterations, while boasting low costs and a lightweight form factor. For instance, your phone provides the power and acts as an edge processing device to host apps. These wearables also avoid the spatial movement headaches of earlier products by supporting 6DoF (six degrees of freedom). Mainstream adoption could finally be in sight.

Wi-Fi 7 was a standout in Hall 1

Taking a stroll through Hall 1, it was encouraging to see wall after wall of Wi-Fi 7 exhibits. We live in a connected world where 5G and Wi-Fi must coexist to provide seamless connectivity for consumers and enterprises. Seeing competition turn to cooperation between these technologies is a welcome step forward as all eyes are on better, revenue-generating mobile experiences that address any need.

Developments that caught my eye included TP-Link’s Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) solution that supports both 5G and Wi-Fi 7, Qualcomm’s FastConnect 7900, the first AI-optimized Wi-Fi 7 system, and ZTE’s LinkPro Wi-Fi 7 home gateway with speeds exceeding 14Gbps.

Learn about Spirent’s industry-leading Wi-Fi 7 test platform that emulates the unique demands of Wi-Fi 7.

Private networks in a box and on the go

To increase flexibility and reduce costs, lightweight, light touch, and low-cost 5G private networks are being adopted by enterprises, venues, and for use in public spaces. At the show, we saw examples like Deutsche Telekom’s “Cell Tower to Go” that can add coverage at events and Vodafone’s lightweight “5G Network-in a Box.”

Deutsche Telekoms Cell-Tower-to-Go

Deutsche Telekom’s “Cell Tower to Go”

A sign that this is still an expanding market included more industry-specific players such as SAAB showing off domain expertise around network in a box. Other examples included Neutral Wireless’ private network and Faststream’s private 5G networks with seamless integration of 5G and Wi-Fi.

These plug-and-play solutions offer a simplified entry point for enterprises to achieve rapid ROI and gradually scale out as business cases evolve. The solutions could also service large SME players that don’t need complex solutions.

Testing private networks is a prerequisite for success. Learn more about Holistic Testing Strategies for Private 5G Networks in Spirent’s new blog.

RedCap devices are ready to flood the market

We’re seeing an expanding device ecosystem for RedCap, the new 5G standard that addresses use cases across highspeed Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), ultra-reliable low latency communications (uRLLC), and the low throughput and battery efficient Massive Machine-Type Communication (mMTC) technologies.

MWC brought announcements from Telit, MediaTek, Fibocom, Sequans, and TCL, building on early momentum around devices and use cases for healthcare and smart grids on display at MWC Shanghai.

Watch for cool 5G RedCap dongles that connect industrial USB ports to terminal devices such as PC, industrial tablets/terminals, drones, and industrial routers. These low-cost, easy entry points prime the RedCap market for further expansion.

Railways on the fast track to 5G

One development gaining steam outside of the spotlight concerns communications for railways. This is a big market with a lot of interesting activity and there was a great MWC panel session dedicated to what happens after the current technology used for railway networks, GSM-R, becomes obsolete in 2030.

Because regulators are creating the market, we fully expect this initiative to be seen through to fruition. 5G will be the foundational technology for the new Future Railways Mobile Communications System (FRMCS) and European Traffic Control System (ETCS). Railways are also becoming a key driver pushing for 5G Advanced availability.

While initial focus is on mission-critical communications, broader opportunities were also highlighted in Barcelona, such as 5G private networks in depots and stations, and the use of network slices for in-carriage infotainment and prioritized separation of command and control for remote operations.

5G Standalone quietly got on about its business

How funny that one of the most significant 5G developments — one poised to support revenue generation and deliver on years of performance promises — didn’t get the outsized attention it deserved.

There wasn’t much shouting about 5G Standalone (SA), but we saw great strides with four additional commercial launches since January, bringing the current total to 55. Viettel unveiled 5G SA as it begins rollouts across Vietnam, showing that 5G SA is expanding beyond the usual early adopter market. Large European carrier BT/EE hinted at commercial 5G SA launches later this year, as did Deutsche Telekom.

Qualcomm’s Alejandro Holcman, SVP of Corporate Engineering, argued 5G SA will ensure MNOs remain competitive until the 6G era. “SA is the cornerstone for many of the advanced capabilities in 5G and the necessary architecture for 5G Advanced,” he said.

Learn about the pivotal role of testing and assurance in the successful deployment of 5G SA.

Open RAN readies commercial deployments

With lots of noise still reverberating from AT&T and Vodafone’s recent announcements, Open RAN was on a high at MWC. I counted 50+ suppliers on my walks through the halls.

Of note, the need for a common set of Open RAN baseline critical architecture and infrastructure requirements and associated solution performance criteria, has become more than a talking point. Absolutists might argue that’s against the purity of having everything open and plug-and-play. But these preconfigured, predesigned minimum viable profiles (MVPs) are helping Open RAN get off the ground. It’s where operators need Open RAN to enable large scale commercial deployments. Minimum viable profiles are now being positioned by the O-RAN Alliance and ATIS in North America, and you can see their influence on suppliers such as NTT-DOCOMO, whose OREX has four pre-packaged RAN offerings.

Also, leading operators and system integrator primes are looking beyond basic Open RAN conformance testing to focus on production grade interoperability and real-world performance testing. This sets the stage for large scale commercial deployments and is a positive indicator of Open RAN momentum.

Spirent provides comprehensive Open RAN testing to ensure primetime readiness.

Data centers are the workhorse of AI

While MWC is not a data center show, it was good to see some brave folks go beyond shiny AI-powered applications to focus on the data center infrastructure and networking technologies that will power the AI revolution. Ethernet is already the backbone of the cloud. Its evolving ability to support high performance AI traffic workloads will be critical for the long-term demands of AI data centers.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Huawei’s network solution highlighting the high-speed Ethernet switches needed to power AI GPU cluster interconnects and the front-end and back-end networking required for low latency, high performance, and lossless Ethernet.

Huawei’s CloudEngine series data center switches

Huawei’s CloudEngine series data center switches

There were multiple conversations on the future role of Ultra Ethernet as an alternative to InfiniBand. With rapid advancements and ecosystem support, Ultra Ethernet is becoming increasingly viable. It offers broader adoption potential due to its compatibility and ease of integration with existing Ethernet networks.

At MWC, Spirent announced the world’s first AI traffic emulation platform that emulates realistic xPU workloads and AI traffic patterns, solving a major industry challenge. The test solution enables customers to test their Ethernet fabrics without the considerable expense of sourcing and building new xPU server equipped labs.

Ringing in the future?

And of course, how could we not mention the debut of Samsung’s Galaxy Ring, a smart health tracker that looks like a wedding band. It got lots of attention at the event and maybe it’s the next mass market wearable. It ticks all the boxes for low barrier to entry, seamless integration into our daily lives, and a normality comfort factor. With the personal health tech market still growing, the Galaxy Ring could become a hot item. You might even see me at a future MWC with a ring on every finger. Purely for resiliency purposes, of course!

Perhaps the best development of all: MWC is back! The excitement reverberated throughout the halls, big crowds returned, and an endless bevy of news, developments and wow-factor tech competed for attention during one of mobile’s noisiest weeks of the year.

I don’t know about you, but I’m stuffed! It’s a good feeling to be full though. So much opportunity for mobile and the stakeholders diligently working to help maximize its success.

We’ll continue to track developments throughout the year. In the meantime, check out our 5G Annual Report to see what’s really going on, as well as the latest trends, all based on our work across more than 3,100 5G deals.




Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas


Spirent is a global leader in automated test and assurance for the ICT industry and Stephen heads Spirents market strategy organization developing Spirents strategy, helping to define market positioning, future growth opportunities, and new innovative solutions. Stephen also leads Spirent’s strategic initiatives for 5G and future networks and represents Spirent on a number of Industry and Government advisory boards. With over 25 years’ experience in telecommunications Stephen has been at the cutting edge of next generation technologies and has worked across the industry with service providers, network equipment manufacturers and start-ups, helping them drive innovation and transformation.