GSMA’s Mobile World Congress 2017 was the biggest yet and it seems this world is only going to continue growing. MWC is the event of the year for mobile and is the show where players across the mobile ecosystem showcase the latest developments in technology and share their vision for the future.

By William Braterman

This year’s theme was “The Next Element” and that could very well mean the fifth as 5G took centre stage at this show. Firms touted the technology as the next big revolution in the network and communications segments, with a large number investing vast sums in a race to get there first. Our key takeaways focus on many other exciting developments, but most are beneficiaries of, if not heavily reliant on, strong 5G infrastructure investment. Increased connectivity across a range of products will strongly depend on this technology’s rapid expansion, and will lead to a range of interesting new propositions.

Firms speed into 5G

High speeds and lower levels of latency will drive 5G rollout market-wide, paving way for improved mobile broadband speeds, increased development of IoT products, as well as 5G radio and other forms of communication. With 5G connections predicted to reach 1.1 billion by the year 2025, according to a new GSMA study, MWC was a place where companies showcased their innovations. Samsung revealed its heavy investment in 5G, with innovative products such as the 5G Home Router that seeks to be an alternative to fibre. Nokia demonstrated its 5G investment with a monster car race demo during a keynote address. Ericsson teamed up with Qualcomm and NTT DOCOMO to unveil its aggressive pursuit of 5G. Cisco showed the use of 5G in the enterprise market in collaboration with Verizon by piloting a cloud-based, virtual 5G packet core. Firms acknowledged that the success of 5G depends on common global standards to ensure all users are using it as a platform for innovation whilst keeping costs low.

The next step in connected cars

At MWC, it was clear that connectivity in cars has been a key focus for operators and chipmakers. Innovations will need the network enhancements that 5G can offer, with Orange’s CEO stating that the next generation network should have much greater coverage as to ultimately lead to a smarter society. Intel displayed a prototype 5G network to showcase an autonomous car, connected home and smart lamppost all quickly and efficiently communicating with one network. Roborace unveiled its Robocar claiming this would push the industry to improve automated vehicles. Roborace aims to help people accept robot cars by encouraging interests in driverless car racing. The ability to convince consumers that driverless cars are safe and efficient will be a big challenge for producers. A number of automakers including Ford, BMW and Volkswagen also highlighted their ongoing efforts in the connected vehicles segment.

Mobile players turn their attention to TV

Leading up to MWC, we released “The Future of Mobile Video” survey report which was conducted in collaboration with Mobile World Live. We surveyed industry professionals across the mobile ecosystem, and found that the majority (82%) of respondents agreed that smartphone video watching in the home will increase over the next 5 years. In line with this thinking, in his Keynote interview presentation at MWC, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings predicted all video would be consumed over the internet in the next 10 to 20 years. Unlimited data with a lack of caps is extremely attractive to online TV firms, with the potential for higher efficiencies leading to unlimited viewing that can compete with the Pay TV market. Mobile operators are also entering the content competition by improving their content propositions, an example being Orange and their potential bid for soccer rights. TalkTalk also signalled a vast improvement to its mobile TV experience for consumers, with more details set to arrive in the coming months. Vodafone took the opportunity at MWC to showcase its cloud-based GigaTV service, accessible to customers in Germany through a TV set-top box or smartphones and tablets.

Reality is augmented

There was a lot more emphasis placed on Augmented Reality than with Virtual Reality this year; it seems that the hype concerning Virtual Reality has abated (although in no way fully gone). Learning from the success of Pokémon Go, operators have been exploring new avenues and opportunities. Niantic want to focus on the promotion of direct carrier billing and improving location technology. Operators see the potential to acquire new customers and decrease churn through games which can be downloaded on millions of devices. Samsung have also released a set of mixed reality glasses called ‘Monitorless’ which allow the user to connect to phones and computers via their internet network to replace screens on devices. Virtual Reality did still take focus for some firms; Samsung unveiled a 360-degree virtual travel app and TeleSoftas showcased an app that allows business meetings to be held in virtual reality using avatars.

Drones and robots take flight

Drones and robots continue to excite with the MWC setting up a special “drone zone” for the first time ever. Korea Telecom displayed two robotic arms playing the drums, Softbank had a human like robot which greeted people as they passed by and Pal Robotics displayed two humanoid robots. Ford showcased its “Autolivery” concept which involved automated vans working together with drones to make deliveries in metropolitan areas. The push for robot development and automated deliveries comes as they will play an integral part of the “smart cities” of the future. The world’s largest drone-producer DJI unveiled models that warn their operators when there is a risk posed to the drone by nearby helicopters or aeroplanes. Extra safety measures like this should make it a lot easier for drones to be operated near restricted airspace.

Not so fast 5G – 4G believers prove there is more on offer

Many leading analysts believe 4G still has a lot of potential in the market; some even see 5G as a technology filled with a lot of “hot-air”. CCS made the case that Gigabit LTE is arguably the most interesting technology currently and that firms should pursue its expansion in their networks before looking further down the road at 5G. Advanced 4G such as gigabit LTE offers more practical and affordable solutions for operators than the aggressive pursuit of 5G. EE is taking advantage of this venture with plans on testing gigabit LTE on its LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network in the UK market. Network operators can use gigabit LTE to upgrade their networks and further extend the returns on their investments from 4G networks. Many pursuing 5G should consider the status of their 4G networks and whether or not there are alternative investment routes to pursue in the short term.

Mobile devices go back to the feature 

As device manufacturers play around with cars, robots, and flying objects, innovations for the actual phone device itself – whilst useful – are designed to replace something else and are less exciting. Cameras on phones were the key focus, with devices touting features that would make you leave your standalone camera behind. Sony’s latest smartphone is able to film slow-motion footage at four times the rate possible on Apple and Samsung’s top models; the new phone will capture video at 960 frames per second. LG, seeking to revive its mobile business, presented phones with several new smart features: its new smartphone is designed for split-screen use, with an 18:9 aspect ratio display. LG’s new phone is also the first non-Google device to include Google Assistant. The new device is also capable of being submerged underwater for up to 30 minutes, highlighting an expansion into waterproof capabilities. The race is also on for providers to deliver the longest lasting battery life to consumers; several phone makers added to this by presenting new smartphones with “super charge” technology. Nokia have resurrected their 3310 model for 2017, 17 years after its debut became a best-seller. This has been touted as an attempt to relaunch the Nokia phone brand, with brand new smartphones launching around the same time. The retro proposition includes a brand new rendition of the classic game Snake as well as a much longer lasting battery life.