A guest post by Hugh Griffiths from the world’s biggest mobile trade show, Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona in early March.
The show’s attendance broke previous records: the GSMA announced on the final day that 93,000 people had attended MWC in 2015, an increase of 9% over the 2014 show’s attendance of 85,000. Here are my highlights.
- The sun was out and it was warm for the duration. The weather also reflected the very positive mood inside: the industry is now well and truly main stream.
- The big themes for this year were new devices, particularly wearables, but equally The Internet of Things (IoT), Mobile Money/Payments, Big Data, Enterprise Mobility, Security & Privacy and Regulation. The Mobile Network Operators [MNOs] and the internet players still face challenges as they try to find effective ways of working with each other, and the two worlds do not share a level playing field. The operators were vociferous that the likes of Facebook is a communications platforms, but an unregulated one. Regulation in some form is inevitable.
- According to Cisco global mobile data traffic grew 69% in 2014 and will rise more than 10-fold by 2019. Global mobile data traffic doubled between the end of 2013 and the end of 2014 and monthly global mobile data traffic will surpass 24 exabytes by 2019. By this time Cisco projects that 97% of all internet traffic will be from mobile devices.
The arrival of 5G
- To manage this tsunami of demand the industry was thinking about the next generation of networks, with many vendors talking ‘5G’ at this show. Underlining the need for a new generation, Mischa Dohler, professor of wireless communications at King’s College London insisted that “We really do need 5G in order have a paradigm shift. The order of magnitude jump in traffic is what is really driving this move.” Huawei’s CEO, Ken Hu, called for 5G to support all the ‘1,000s of connections needed for IoT services’.
- Hans Vestberg (Ericsson) pointed out that there would be significantly lower latency with 5G by 2020. Latency at 4G is 50 milliseconds, said Ken Hu, and at 5G it is 1ms, meaning that a car driving at speed would take 1.4m to brake with 4G vs 2.8cm with 5G; a significant increase in safety. Stephane Richard (Orange) noted that ‘5G will support the rise of the connected device’. Dr Chang-Gyu Hwang (KT) expects the 2018 Winter Olympics will be the first demonstration of 5G’s capabilities with multi-angle highlights being delivered.
- 5G was first demonstrated in the main exhibition. A robot designed by Nam Yeong Lee (Robobuilder Co, part of the SK Telecom stand) was controlled in real time by a man wearing an exoskeleton to control his head, arms, body, torso and legs. (Video here.)
- However Matt Grob, VP & CTO for www.Qualcomm.com, questioned the need to rush. “We have engineering teams working on LTE and 5G. Each time the 5G team unveil a new performance leap, the LTE engineers respond by matching it.” We are likely to see 5G standards by 2019 so networks are not likely to be rolled out until 2020.
- But there’s a question about how this is paid for. MNOs have seen declining returns in much of the developed world over recent years and are expected to invest $1.7 trillion on existing networks in the next five years.
- It’s also forecast by Cisco in its mobile data traffic report that more traffic will be offloaded from cellular networks (to Wi-Fi) than remains on cellular networks by 2016, so it was surprising that there was virtually no mention/discussion of Wi-Fi and the current plans for Wi-Fi 2.0. Indeed there was little recognition of the importance of these standards in order to provide the sort of roaming experience consumer will expect, given the traffic projections.
Facebook turned up again
- Mark Zuckerburg, CEO of www.Facebook.com, attended the conference for the second consecutive year and gave a keynote address at the end of the first day. He talked more about the plan for operators (including Facebook) to give away basic internet services for free in emerging markets. There are disagreements between the operators about the proposition. Meanwhile stats show that the number of Facebook users in the UK peaked in 2012, and it didn’t go unnoticed in the week of the show that Facebook started its first ever UK TV advertising campaign. Facebook needs the mobile operator community in order to fuel its growth as it does not have the advantage of vertical integration unlike…
- … Google, which had announced that it is to become an MVNO in the US. Google’s Sundar Pichai also talked about project ‘Loon,’ under which Google uses floating cell sites. Many remain sceptical about whether this will reach deployment.
- Once again no sign of Apple at the event. But lots of talk about the launch and likely impact of the iWatch.
- As last year there were a number of cars at the show, and Ford also had two electric assisted bicycles on their stand. Designed by two employees who won an internal competition, these machines had been produced within a matter of weeks for the show. Designed to enable transport within crowded urban areas they include a charging slot for your mobile device on the cross bar, and a turn by turn navigation application which solves the issue of having to take your eyes off the road to look down by ensuring that the relevant side of the handlebar vibrated as a signal the rider to turn at junctions.
Sensors, wearables and the Internet of Things
- One of the biggest innovation areas in 2015 will be in IoT and sensor technology. Companies at the event presented sensor-based systems for workplace lighting, both to reduce energy consumption and provide the right working environment, clothes with sensors that track walking steps taken, calories burned, temperature and distance travelled, for the fitness market and toothbrushes that monitor how well you are brushing your teeth. There will be many more.
Hugh Griffiths runs the consultancy Digital Potential. This is an extract from a longer report on the 2015 Mobile World Congress that can be accessed by emailing hugh.griffiths[at]digitalpotential.co.uk. The image at the top of the post is by flickr user melenita2012 and is published here under a Creative Commons licence.