The world’s biggest mobile technology event was upon us again this week. Over 100,000 tecchies descended on Barcelona this week to showcase the latest and greatest smart devices and network technologies that is Mobile World Congress (MWC). Despite reports of an overall global decline in sales at the end of last year, just one look at the show this year will tell you that consumers’ love affair with their smartphones is far from over. However, MWC is increasingly also about showcasing other kinds of connected devices and technology platforms.
Here’s our pick of the latest major announcements from the event:
In January 2018, non-declining demand for premium smartphones continued to drive revenues in distribution, increasing 9% year-on-year in Western Europe, although volume sales only jumped by 1%, according to CONTEXT figures. Sales to SMB channels jumped 7% over the same period and sales to retail by 10% in Western Europe distribution. We can say that consumers are still looking for innovation, but are increasingly begrudging of the high price tags associated with such cutting edge features.
That doesn’t seem to bother Samsung, which announced its latest flagship, the S9 and S9+, featuring a much-improved camera and Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 processor. There were also smartphone launches from Sony, several new tablets from Huawei and a new lease of life for the Nokia brand, with the unveiling of the flagship Nokia 8 Sirocco and, at the other end of the market, a return for the iconic banana phone made famous by its appearance in The Matrix.
Internet of Things
There were two major announcements at the show highlighting the growing importance of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the consumer and business spheres. Cisco unveiled a new narrow band IoT platform which it claims will spur “astronomical growth” in the market. The NB-IoT is built for the kind of low power wide area networks which operators and service providers are increasingly calling for so they don’t have to stick IoT devices on the same networks as data-hungry devices like smartphones.
Cisco said it already manages 70 million IoT for service providers today, and customer China Unicom is predicting it will add 100 million in the first two years of running NB-IoT. That’s not all. Qualcomm claimed it had made $1bn in IoT chip sales in 2017, having shipped over a million chips each day. These are big numbers and a reminder of how connected our world is becoming.
The race for the new also permeated inevitably into mobile networks again this year. Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm claimed that the firm’s 5G technologies are ready for commercialisation and will start shipping to partners later this year. Not to be outdone, Chinese rival Huawei unveiled what it claimed to be the world’s first commercial chipset to enable 5G on smartphones. The Balong 5G01 is said to enable download speeds of 2.3 gigabits per second.
Three UK universities are on-hand at the show to demonstrate a 5G network in action, via a connected robotic football player. Their £16m funding from the government is proof of the tremendous commercial potential in this latest leap forward in mobile speeds.
AI is increasingly being used in a mobile context, so it was no surprise to see it crop up at MWC again this year. Mercedes has incorporated it into its Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) multimedia system, which is designed to learn and adapt to the user. It also powers the carmaker’s “Ask Mercedes” digital assistant.
Telefonica also debuted its Siri/Cortana/Alexa-rival. Aura is launching in six countries, and in the UK will be known as O2 Ask.
The world of augmented and virtual reality was also on show at MWC again this year. Perhaps most significant was the launch of Google ARcore: a new AR framework that will allow normal smartphones to run AR apps. Estimates suggest the devices currently supported by ARcore could expose the technology to around 100 million users. Alongside rival Apple’s ARKit, it could help to spur take-up among developers this year, which is good news for businesses and consumers.