Mobile World Congress 2018 – A Glimpse of the Future

Karl McDermott
On: 22 Mar 2018
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MWC 2018

In our annual review of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona – the stunning showcase for next-generation mobile technology – I share my highlights, ranging from innovative products and services available today, to the more disruptive that are on the way, such as Augmented Reality (AR) and robotics.

The plethora of acronyms – AR, VR, AI, IoT, etc. – bandied around at MWC this year suggests that the world of mobility is not short on ideas. Though if you only went to look at mobile handsets, you might think so.

Held in eight huge exhibition halls, each one containing enough exhibitors to be an event in its own right, MWC 2018 attracted 107,000 visitors from all over the world. They were rewarded, or perhaps bombarded is more accurate, with exhibits and demos on the developments we can expect to see rolling out of the halls and into the real world in the coming months and years. These developments are destined to change the technology we carry with us daily, the way we communicate and the way we work.

5G is not too far away.

This was one of the key themes at the Congress. 5G testing schedules have already been announced, standards are currently being defined, and several 5G chipsets were unveiled in Barcelona.

The crowd-pleasing demonstrations of 5G’s communication capabilities were an autonomous car and a life-size humanoid that perfectly mimicked the actions of a real human to produce paintings.

5G’s strength lies in its huge bandwidth and low latency, and also its potential for “network slicing”. This is the capability to allocate higher latency “slices” of bandwidth to applications where speed of response is less critical, while those that depend on near-instantaneous response, e.g. autonomous vehicles, can use lower latency slices.

5G’s strength lies in its huge bandwidth, low latency, and potential for “network slicing”.

The connectivity 5G enables will play a vital part in the future of the Internet of Things (IoT). The growth in connected devices was clear in Barcelona, where there were thousands of sensor vendors exhibiting. IoT solutions are being proposed for almost every area of human activity, from industry sectors like agriculture and healthcare, to societies like whole connected cities.

The acronyms become reality.

AR – Augmented Reality was demonstrated with an interactive application that lets a user point their phone at a Mercedes dashboard for an explanation of what any button or dial on it does and how to use it.

AI – Artificial Intelligence was on display in the form of a “digital human” that could read and understand faces in a video conferencing scenario; recognising emotions and changing the tone of the conversation accordingly.

VR – Virtual Reality at the Congress took the form of downhill skiing and hot-air ballooning; providing impressive, immersive and slightly scary replications of the real things.

SD WAN – Potentially more useful was the software-defined (SD) wide area network (WAN) technology on show. In essence, it simplifies branch networks. It integrates multiple network functions, which are currently housed in separate components, into software that runs in a single box. The result is less complicated WAN roll-outs to create private connections between remote – even globally remote – sites.

A phone is a phone is a camera.

The original Nokia 8110 mobile phone launched 22 years ago. Nokia revealed its revival at MWC and as a marketing initiative it certainly worked. Nicknamed the banana phone, it seems to be gaining as much attention as the latest smartphones from rival manufacturers. Its slightly curved handset has buttons! Yes buttons, with the same slide-down keypad cover of the 1990’s model and even the game Snake.

Meanwhile, other new handsets looked pretty much the same as their previous models. The Samsung S9, for example, is hard to differentiate from the S8 on looks alone but improved features include an improved dual-aperture camera.

From the sheer number of handsets on display it was clear to see that – with the notable exception of a certain Nokia model – the differences between phones are shrinking.

Based on the technologies I witnessed at MWC 2018, such as 5G and VR, future congresses may not see so many physical visitors! Here’s to attending virtually and saving my poor feet.

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