For many people in the tech world, February means only one thing, the Mobile World Congress. MWC is the world’s largest mobile technology event, taking place in Barcelona, it covers the whole spectrum of mobile technologies, from microchips and masts, to next generation handsets, hardware, apps and services.
It’s huge, it’s diverse and it’s an amazing opportunity to identify the new trends and opportunities in the mobile technology sector.
Shiny, New, Banana, Snake
A lot of media attention has, unsurprisingly, been focused on the phones themselves. Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S9 and big brother the S9+ were launched to great acclaim, with dual cameras, slow motion video and of course a personalised avator/emoji creator. Meanwhile former world leader Nokia (still number 3 for sales in the UK) launched a new version of the iconic 8110 ‘slider’ phone, most famously used in The Matrix. While a defiantly retro phone seems a strange choice alongside the ultra-powerful handsets from Apple, Samsung and the growing number of Chinese companies, the new 8110 boasts 4G connectivity, a 25 day battery life and the latest version of Snake. All for a bargain price of £69 (€79/$97).
However, for many visitors, the phones are merely a distraction from the more serious business of the future of mobile technology. Several trends are already starting to emerge as key drivers of the sector over the next 12 months and surprisingly it’s not all about mobile hardware.
5G and IoT
The introduction of 5G networks around the world will power a new generation of hyper-connectivity. Far from simply offering faster, more reliable video-streaming, 5G is opening up the evolution of connected devices, or Internet of Things (IoT). Many of the most advanced new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, drones and ‘smart cities’ will rely on a reliable, secure and ubiquitous 5G network in order to operate.
The second iteration of the 5G standard is due out in June 2018, so the 2018 MWC marks the point where the industry could start to nail down so of the practicalities of this revolutionary new technology.
MWC has been a showcase for new connectivity from the event’s earliest days. The event championed the Near Field Communication (NFC), which now powers Apple Pay and Google Pay, years before the technology reached the mainstream consumer market.
Artificial Intelligence and Voice
Artificial Intelligence already established itself as a key trend for 2018 at the CES show in Las Vegas in January. The mobile sector has embraced the use of AI, with a growing number of companies now offering voice control of handsets, rather than requiring direct physical input via taps, clicks or swipes.
Many of the mobile tech giants are now looking at how voice-enabled AI can be integrated more deeply within handsets – and home devices – to allow the artificial intelligence to do more and respond more effectively to a much wider variety of requests.
The growth in AI is complemented by the growth in machine learning, which is allowing mobile network operators to personalise each customer’s experience, as well as managing resources more effectively.
Integration is Everything
With the growing variety of handsets, networks, home devices, IoT and AI-driven services, the demand for greater cooperation and integration between companies is growing rapidly.
Consumer expectation that every device and service can talk to and interact with every other service is driving even the largest businesses to focus on data sharing and enabling the sort of deep-integration that will eliminate the ‘walled gardens’ of the early 2000s.
The regulatory framework around the world is changing. Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May 2018, while the US recently voted to end Net Neutrality. In addition, there’s a growing call from governments and regulators around the world for more control over extreme, toxic and abusive content on social networks and communities.
While MWC 2018 has not put these issues front and centre on the main stage, the looming changes in Europe and the industry response to the US decision makes it certain that these issues will be widely debated and discussed across the rest of the event.
Scotland at MWC
Scotland has a wide range of companies which are pioneering in the mobile sector. Nearly 30 companies are taking part in the 2018 congress, working in areas from antennas and light-based WiFi, through to IoT, Blockchain and marketing.
DIGIT will be speaking to many of these companies as the congress continues and will bring news, updates and insights from these companies in the near future.