Mobile first to cloud all the time emerging from MWC
For all the news coming out of Barcelona at Mobile World Congress (MWC) about gigabit LTE today and 5G being rushed into service for the Internet of Things (IoT), the real constant is the data center. No matter how fast or how many things you can reach at the edge of the network, you always have to reach servers if you are going to derive value from the connections.
The first chips, devices, and networks to support gigabit LTE are coming out on the market now, using a combination of alphabet soup and jargon to enable high-speed. Sprint and T-Mobile announced -- or re-announced, depending on which press release you want to pick from -- gigabit speeds to be delivered on their respective networks in 2017 this week at MWC. Sprint will be using base stations loaded with 128 antennas while T-Mobile is using a combination of techniques including tapping into unlicensed radio spectrum. Telstra is rolling out a LTE "gigabit-capable" network across major Australian cities this year.
Depending on how, where, and network loading, users aren't going to see gigabit speeds all the time on demand, but the rolling average of "better" continues to increase for mobile devices, with wireless equipment manufacturers and carriers tossing around numbers of around 300 Mbps and higher depending on the user device and how much of an upgrade the core network gets.
Why continue to crank up the speed? Some suggest it is a necessary step in the great carrier arms race of unlimited data plans being used for work and video streaming. The faster you can move data through the system, be it a video or whatever, the faster you free up bandwidth for other users.
Regardless of the reasoning, the big picture impact is clear -- lots of high-speed mobile devices moving data back and forth to cloud services. Data centers hold the apps, services, and storage to feed mobile devices, be they portable pocket-sized phones, easily carried tablets, or laptops. If you buy into the meme of the "Post-PC" world, the heavy lifting happens at the data center, not at the edge.
Big bandwidth is a feature of the new wireless world that will continue to drive the need for and growth of data centers, but it isn't the only one. Everyone jumping onto the 5G bandwagon to support IoT is opening up more opportunities for the data center world, but it might be one initially less amenable to independent data center operators.
AT&T's announcement to deploy an IoT solution in the U.S. and Mexico sounds like a great day for the IoT world, until you realize it's an exclusive deal with Current & GE. AT&T gets to market Current services that use its network, moving the data while Current provides the back-end intelligence to collect and analyze it. It's a platform play that locks customers into a garden rather than a plug-and-play ecosystem where users can choose best-of-breed solutions for hardware, networking, management and analytics.
All of this is a bigger part by cellular carriers around the globe to use LTE-M, a low power technology levering existing cellular networks. At some point, LTE-M may turn into 5G or it is 5G depending upon how the marketing people are feeling on any given day. The promises for 5G have been to deal with millions of low-power, low-bandwidth devices. LTE-M is a way to bridge the gap between existing 4G LTE networks with low power devices while IoT-specific 5G specifications and hardware, but the more strategic push is to get IoT projects -- which, by definition, are driven by enterprises -- locked into long-term carrier relationships that include hardware, network, and data center collection and analytics.
IoT opportunities for data centers are going to be challenging without relationships with both end-user customers and carriers. Customers can suggest and insist that data processing take place at a cloud provider of their choosing for economic and/or trust reasons. Carriers using a best-of-breed approach to assemble IoT solutions should be willing to offer data center services outside of their own portfolio -- if it doesn't affect the profitability of existing in-house solutions.
Despite potential hurdles, new mobile technology will continue to generate potential opportunities for data centers. The trick will be in identifying companies and partnerships to be involved in those opportunities in the months and years ahead.
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