This year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is proving to be the largest yet, with almost 3,000 exhibitors and an expected 100,000 visitors.
There was a time when the big news at MWC was announcements of the latest phones. Once again this year many of those announcements have happened before the show. There have been flagships from LG (the G6, with its edge-to-edge screen incorporating a fingerprint sensor); Huawei (the P10 and P10 pro — the latter, at €800, one of the most expensive phones here). Historic brands are talking points: TCL launched a new Blackberry device, the Android KEYOne, an intriguing mix of touch screen with the traditional QWERTY keyboard; and Nokia is back, with licensee HMD releasing its first Nokia-branded Android phones (Nokia 3, 5 and 6), and reincarnating the classic 3310 — sadly with no visible nod to modern connectivity. You even have to enter your contacts manually.
Last year, 5G networks were big news with their promise of high speed, low latency and greater penetration. Expected in 2020, they were also a long way off, although Verizon now expects to run city-scale tests next year. This year at the show we expect manufacturers to support gigabit speeds on existing 4G networks: ZTE is showing an advanced prototype and Sony has just announced its XZ Premium handset. So far, three of the big four US operators have said they will roll out the upgrades necessary to deliver these high speeds which, among other things, will allow higher quality streaming of virtual reality experiences.
There’s lots to see for content creators. Surround video cameras are becoming commodities now; we may see a phone with a surround camera. Live streaming has exploded, and the market has responded with tools — look out for 39DegreesC’s LILAY multi-camera-phone live streaming kit. And the usefulness of drones continues to improve — from ZeroZero’s Hover Camera to DJI’s Inspire 2 — thanks to autonomous operation powered by machine intelligence.
The capabilities of sensors continue to grow: Consumer Physics’s SCiO is a spectrographic sensor that reads the chemical composition of substances — like food and your body — which is now available built into a smartphone, the Changhong H2.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a big growth area, showing some really practical uses. Air quality is a hot topic, and companies like Breeze are providing platforms for large networks of sensors. eWater’s networked taps have already supplied over a million litres of drinking water to rural Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Kenya, demonstrating that charging a small price for water provides the resources to maintain a quality service.
Expect to see more health wearables, increasingly using machine intelligence to give advice to their owners. The Doobit is a remarkable wearable: it atomises tiny metered amounts of sanitizer from a wrist band, with one stick lasting for 48 activations or a typical three days of clean hands.
This is just scratching the surface: in the flood of coverage over the next few days look out for news from automakers (Ford, BMW), Samsung (with its Monitorless headset concept) and Mobeewave (peer-to-peer credit card transactions). And see how detecting and responding to emotion continues to advance.