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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of the Return of Live Events

Jon Baldry

March 15, 2022
By Jon Baldry
Director, Metro Networking

An Update from MWC 2022

Live events are finally back! After a two-year hiatus, large-scale live industry events have returned with MWC in Barcelona. When COVID hit the globe in early 2020, the first event that Infinera and many other attendees reluctantly withdrew from was MWC in Barcelona in late February. So, it was quite nostalgic for many of us to be traveling again to Barcelona for MWC at the end of February 2022. Of course, there have been some live events during this time, especially since the summer of 2021, but MWC was the first of the large-scale events for our industry to return and, for me personally, the first that has required international travel.

So, what about “the good, the bad, and the ugly”? Well, it makes for a snappy blog title but to be honest, the good significantly outweighs both the bad and the ugly. At MWC, it was fantastic to be back interacting again with customers, partners, and fellow teammates from Infinera. Online meetings and virtual events over the last 24 months have worked better than many people envisaged, in no small part due to the contribution the whole optical industry has made over recent years, but when you get back to meeting people face to face again you realize what we’ve been missing. And with international travel you remember all the things that you were quite happy to have forgotten about, such as immigration queues and travel delays. There are also some new headaches such as COVID travel passes, apps, and testing requirements, but overall, the good interaction significantly outweighs the bad and the ugly of international travel.

Getting the Buzz Back

The show hit approximately 50% of its pre-pandemic attendance levels, with 60,000 people attending the event. In many ways it was hard to tell that it wasn’t at pre-pandemic levels because the quality of the meetings we had was excellent and we were busy from start to finish every day.

This feeling was replicated in several of the reports that I’ve read on the event. The previous record of 110,000 attendees meant that travel to and from the event was always extremely crowded and hectic, and overall, many people felt that this year’s event hit a surprisingly good attendance level with high-quality meetings all around. Many felt the attendance level was actually preferable to the pre-pandemic days.

Hot Topics!

As you’d expect with an event the size of MWC with over 1,900 exhibiting companies, the show really covers everything connected to mobile communications. Hot topics included the latest in devices such as mixed-reality headsets and smartphone innovations like the latest foldable screens. Beyond devices, there was a lot of focus on the industrial IoT and automation enabled by 5G. Various companies used robotics in their booths as demonstrators – in some cases, robotic dogs and even one robotic barman. I must admit that I didn’t get a chance to see this robotic barman in my quick excursions into the vast show floor, but I did read that it was rather slow. Personally, I’d rather stick with human bartenders! Of course, in reality, 5G-based industrial IoT and automation are already starting within factories, and the technology shows true promise there.

Closer to home, from an Infinera perspective, in the world of optical transport for mobile networks the hot topic in the conference tracks was progress in Open RAN (O-RAN) and the impact of this across the mobile infrastructure ecosystem. O-RAN and virtualized RAN (vRAN) have the potential to significantly change the way operators roll out their RAN infrastructure with a knock-on effect of opening up many transport networks that were previously closed in the 4G world. This is certainly a trend we see at Infinera, with considerably more mobile transport network opportunities, and wins, than we saw in the 4G era.

Hottest of the Hot – XR Optics

With a very broad range of customers visiting us at the show, Infinera’s meetings at MWC covered a broad range of optical transport-related topics, from submarine networks to mobile access networks. The majority of the meetings of course related to mobile transport, and within those we covered a range of mobile-related topics – the need for high-performance synchronization distribution and hardened DWDM solutions for access networks, for example. But XR optics was by far the hottest topic of discussion.

There was a huge level of interest around the potential for XR optics at the show. This drove numerous discussions around utilizing the technology in a point-to-multipoint optical architecture that is highly suited to the hub-and-spoke aggregation transport that we see in all domains of the 5G xHaul architecture. The ability to also offer differentiated point-to-point pluggable optics with additional “virtual transponder” functionality embedded within was hotly discussed.

On the opening day of the show, the Open XR Forum announced the addition of several new members, which expands membership to AT&T, BT, Colt, Crown Castle, Infinera, Liberty Global, Lumen Technologies, Telefónica, Verizon, Windstream, and Zayo, showing the industry-wide and global traction that XR optics technology is gaining.

We’ve been discussing the concept of XR optics with customers for a couple of years now as the technology has been under development, but XR optics is now getting very close to reality. Just after the show we announced the availability dates for ICE-XR (Infinera’s implementation of XR optics) and introduced the Open Optical Toolkit.

At MWC we had sample ICE-XR modules, both QSFP-DD and CFP2-DCO form factors, and Infinera’s 400G TROSA (transmit-receive optical sub-assembly). The “lid-off” TROSA highlighted the intricate engineering within the modules and Infinera’s leadership within TROSA design, with a highly-integrated single monolithic indium phosphide (InP) photonic integrated circuit (PIC) driving higher performance in terms of optical launch power and lower out-of-band noise.

While Infinera is a new kid on the block in terms of pluggable modules, we are well established leaders in the key areas of InP PICs and high-performance coherent DSP design, both of which are critical in delivering differentiated performance and service agility in point-to-point and point-to-multipoint pluggable coherent optics. These modules were a great hit at MWC.

Onward and Upward

In summary, it’s great to be back face to face at major industry events. The good interaction certainly outweighs the bad and the ugly of traveling to and from these shows. We certainly hope that the world can continue to stabilize and bounce back from the pandemic, especially considering the recent geopolitical events that are impacting many people severely. Here’s looking forward to more live interaction in 2022 and even stronger events in 2023!