February 29, 2016
by Matt Benwell
Trends spotted at Mobile World Congress 2016-and what they might mean for your organization.
If you’re passionate about how mobile is changing the world, Mobile World Congress is the place to be each year in Barcelona. The major telcos ignited this year’s event with a rallying cry: invest in the “Gigabit Economy,” which is the confluence of unlimited bandwidth, low cost computing, smart mobile devices and cloud computing that is creating markets. Here are four of the leading trends we spotted at MWC.
1. 4G is maturing—Could 5G approach faster than expected?
It may feel like 4G just arrived and has yet to make it to parts of the world, but 5G was clearly top of mind for many MWC exhibitors and attendees. Initial trials illustrated at the event show peak throughput of up to a staggering 10 Gbps, but there was little talk of the potential spectrum bottleneck. Consequently, early deployments of 5G will likely deliver improved network performance but essentially be based on 4G technology such as LTE-Advanced Pro, even if they are branded as “5G”—much in the way that early 4G networks actually used HSPA+ technology. Surprisingly, some vendors indicated they would begin releasing 5G mobile devices as soon as 2017, which could be overly optimistic. When and how 5G comes to life will have implications across all industries.
2. Virtual and Augmented Reality are making a push for the mainstream
After a strong showing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) really hit their stride in Barcelona, arguably stealing the show from more traditional mobile technologies. Demonstrations filled the halls and 360-degree cameras were also on display, promising to enable increased production of immersive content. Despite the hype, mobile connectivity of these devices was questionable, as most of the VR units were tethered, not connected wirelessly to bandwidth-constrained cellular networks. Time will tell if this is the next big thing in mobile, or just another play by consumer electronics companies seeking revenue streams to replace slowing growth in the mobile device segment.
3. SDN and NFV remain on small businesses’ wish lists
The promise of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) to streamline and simplify mobile network operators’ own networks was the focus of many discussions in Barcelona, including a well-attended Sunday night event hosted by PwC and HP Enterprise. It’s clear the real opportunity is to dramatically shift towards increased automation and simplification of networks. Interestingly, mobile network operators seem conflicted in wanting to resell these technologies to enterprise and small business customers, while struggling to figure out how to apply them to transform their own network operations. If operators get this right, it could well fuel their next wave of growth and profitability improvements.
Connected devices mean that, moving forward, people will tend to buy a service rather than a product. Executives talked about how connected aircraft engines now mean airlines can have the performance and maintenance checked in real time. They can also pay manufacturers a service fee for hours of use rather than paying for the engine and maintaining it themselves. Smart cities and smart fleets are also on the rise.
Between now and next year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, key questions will revolve around how to drive continued growth, what devices and services will be needed to satisfy customers in the future, how to partner more effectively across the mobile ecosystem, and where to find cost savings amidst growing price pressure and competition. In other words, getting connected is only half the battle.