What we learned at the Mobile World Congress

6 April 2017

What we learned at the Mobile World Congress

The entire mobile industry recently descended on Barcelona, as it does at the beginning of every year, for the Mobile World Congress. The show is traditionally used by mobile phone makers, leading operators and electronic component manufacturers to unveil their latest innovations. We visited to get the lowdown on the biggest mobile trends to look out for in 2017.

And the current climate made for a rather particular atmosphere at this year’s event. Smartphone sales have been struggling and growth is estimated at only 3%, hardly better than 2016, and down from 10-20% in previous years.

This has had a direct impact on the market, with a marked shift away from B2C, mobile phone makers’ sole objective in past shows, towards the untapped growth lever of B2B. This development was easy to see at Samsung’s stand, half of which showed off solutions and uses for professional users.

There was also fewer new releases than usual, due to production delays affecting Qualcomm processors and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle.
The noteworthy launches of this year come from Huawei, which caused a buzz with its P10, and Nokia, which has created a huge stir with the much talked-about relaunch of its iconic 3310.

However, looking back over the few days at the Fira de Barcelona, the temporary epicentre of the technological world, some current trends and upcoming innovations stood out. While Samsung and Blackberry remain as present as ever, the Mobile World Congress is the opportunity for everyone to show off their vision for the newest tech. The biggest concepts this year were 5G, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, into which we have decided to delve a little further.

The arrival of 5G

All the hype surrounding 5G has primarily centred on its potential applications. At the stand of South Korean telecoms operator SK, we came across a driverless 4×4 that demonstrated  5G’s ability to handle the terabytes of information generated by new vehicles.

Ericsson, the telecoms equipment supplier, showed how the low latency of 5G opened up a whole new world of possibilities, including remote-controlled surgeons…provided that one day we agree to move on from good ‘old’ fibre optic for such uses!

Telefonica explained how virtualisation and softwarisation are revolutionising telecommunication network systems. Similar to the recent changes seen in server infrastructure, all an operator’s equipment, apart from the aerial itself, will soon just be software. Benefits include easier maintenance and a network that constantly adapts to traffic and usage. The global operator delighted in using VR and a HTC Vive headset to show visitors its equipment virtualisation currently being rolled out across 19 countries.

The real rise of virtual reality

It is the question on everyone’s lips, and at the Mobile World Congress it was no different. What are the real-life B2B applications of virtual reality? The market is certainly searching for the answer, with the technology used with varying relevance from one stand to another. Whether it was surgical operations, customer relations or pure entertainment, the show was teeming with demonstrations using HTC’s Vive, Microsoft’s HoloLens and Samsung’s Gear VR.

Samsung, ubiquitous at the show, offered visitors an even-more immersive experience with its 360° simulators. Teamed up with the Gear VR, passengers were spun in all directions while being fully immersed in a space flight reminiscent of the death star assault.

And artificial intelligence?

Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank, caught everyone’s attention with his talk on preparing for singularity. Closer to home, it was IBM that stole the AI limelight with its huge stand dedicated to Watson, the focus of the tech giant’s investments in recent years. Even though making such a software-based product the focal point of a stand is difficult, its popularity said a lot about the market’s interest in cognitive computing and artificial intelligence.

Competition on a global scale at the Mobile World Congress

Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress is also a chance to see the changing power shifts between the industry’s global players, with China an ever-growing force. Qualcomm’s presence did not go unnoticed either, with its SnapDragon driving almost every smartphone (causing the delays). Huawei was also omnipresent across all sectors.

The absence of a notable player sent a clear message to the market. Apple has shunned the Mobile World Congress for several years, signalling to its competitors that it plays in a whole other category, where a clean ecosystem revolves around the brand.
As for Google, its Android brand could be found at all the fair’s networking and relaxation areas.

In partnership with Genband, two of us were lucky enough to lead the prototype demonstration of Sopra Steria’s Distributed Agility Kit, at the cloud solution provider’s stand. The R&D version of this internal tool uses innovative WebRTC technology, supplied by Genband, for its real-time interactions. The demonstration was a resounding success!
We will be back next year to see if the mobile market remains stagnant or if all this new technology has managed to boost sales.

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