Brian Coombs, Product Director at Cerillion, hits the floors at MWC and reports back on an industry on the cusp of a virtual revolution.
Mobile World Congress is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. In fact, Douglas Adams
really could have been talking about MWC when he penned that line. It is very difficult to explain the scale of the show to someone who hasn’t been before - the 30 minute walk from the entrance through to hall 8; the large manufacturers bringing thousands of staff; the 100,000 attendees; they all give you a feel for it but when you walk the floors with stands shouting at you from every angle it can be an overwhelming experience. So how do you pick out the main themes and trends from something this big when as the tagline suggests “Mobile Is Everything”?
To start with it has to be 5G. We may be struggling to get good 4G coverage outside of the towns and cities in the UK, and in the US all the complaints are around the drop in 4G speeds as the networks get more congested, but the push for faster and better data services continues unabated. There were of course lots of companies trying to claim the 5G lead with some genuinely impressive demonstrations of what we can expect, crucially though it does appear there is a much more collaborative approach being taken, so hopefully we’ll avoid the LTE/WiMAX clashes from the last time around.
Outside of the obvious speed increase, the other key improvement being touted for 5G is the almost total lack of latency. Samsung and Deutsche Telekom had a very impressive demonstration where a robot arm was able to catch a ball tracked by a mobile with 4K video running over 5G with <1ms lag, whereas on 4G the 25ms latency was too slow and the ball was dropped. Similarly Nokia was showing off auto drive cars on a small circuit keeping track of each other in “real-time” on their 5G prototype network. Low latency is going to be a key differentiator for CSPs offering 5G-based services, but if you still have a legacy charging platform it’s time to start thinking how that will cope with these challenges over the next few years.
The next thing that was more of a surprise to me was the saturation of virtual reality (VR) and how mature this technology has become recently. It was everywhere and very impressive in almost all guises - long gone are the days of low resolution, poor tracking and laggy updates causing nausea.
VR was initially perceived as a gaming technology, but the thing that really struck me at MWC was the variety of uses it was put to - the GSMA gave you a walkthrough of a future connected house; Korea Telecom had you in the middle of a K-pop music video and an immersive Ski Jump experience; Gemalto took you on a tour of their vision of the future; Qualcomm used it to show off the power of their latest chips; and all the major mobile phone manufacturers had plug in units with the phone being the screen. However, it was Samsung who stole the show here with their 40 seat 4D rollercoaster experience - just watching people screaming and waving their arms around as they were hurtled around the virtual track was entertainment in itself.
The games were there as well with HTC Vive giving a strong showing at its launch with a space shooter that was as close to real as you can imagine. What was very clear is that a lot of companies are throwing a lot of money behind VR and believe it to be the next big thing for consumers, but also that there is going to be a much wider impact across the enterprise space too, including for product demonstrations, sales, training, meetings and so on. VR is here to stay and will change the way we live and work in some very unexpected ways over the next few years.
Finally, the thing that tied everything together was IoT or the Internet of Things. Talked about for years, it is now happening at an increasing pace and everyone is getting in on the act - “disrupt or prepare to be disrupted” was one of the messages. There were the usual connected appliances, connected cars aplenty and devices to track every aspect of your health and fitness – or your pets’ if you preferred. Then there were the strange - connected cows (!!), the connected field and a connected measuring tape amongst others.
But there were also the genuinely useful ideas and demonstrations - from connected lampposts being used to save electricity in Los Angeles, to Fujitsu showing off a connected courier with packages automatically tracked both into the van and then on the road as well, meaning no more guessing when that parcel will arrive. The market for this is going to be huge and as companies charge into this space the question of how to bill their customers must not be overlooked. If you can’t monetise these services then what is the point?