Last month, the world of technology descended on Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC), an event which has transformed from an annual gathering of mobile leaders into one of the biggest events in the IT calendar.
It is no longer just about mobile, but about infrastructure, applications, and the digital economy. The 2018 staging saw more than 100,000 delegates attend and 2,300 companies exhibit – far beyond the limited remit of the early shows.
5G was everywhere at this year’s summit, and there’s no doubting the potential for next generation networks to create brand new opportunities and markets, but there was plenty more for the IT industry to sink its teeth into.
4th Industrial Revolution
The Internet of Things (IoT) has graduated from an ambiguous buzzword into a more concrete vision of how the connected world can benefit society and business. This year, there was plenty of discussion about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or ‘Industry 4.0’.
Advocates of the latter term explain that Industry 1.0 was about mechanisation, Industry 2.0 was the result of electrification, Industry 3.0 was digitalisation powered by the arrival of IT into the factory, and Industry 4.0 is characterised by connectivity.
“The fourth industrial revolution is disrupting the way our economies and companies operate,” declared Marie Ehrling,” chair of the board at Securitas. “It is facilitating changes in process and how we interact with the society and people around us. There is no overstating the scale and the challenges of the opportunities that lie ahead of us.”
IIoT will bring autonomous vehicles, wireless sensor networks, modular production units among other things into the factory. This will improve and automate processes, while collecting data that can be used to make more optimal decisions in the workplace.
These applications will be powered by the cloud, boosting flexibility, and will reduce maintenance costs. Microsoft Azure, for example, has several dedicated IoT services, including Azure IoT Edge, which can train machine learning models in the cloud and push it out to devices on the edge of an IoT network.
5G will enable huge capacity networks powering thousands of devices, but IIoT is not dependent on 5G. Instead, other standards such as LTE-M or NB-IoT can be used.
“We do not necessarily need 5G for Industry 4.0 but these two megatrends are happening at the same time,” noted Andreas Mueller from industrial giant Bosch.
GSMA Secretary-General Mats Granyard said he expected AI to be one of the big trends of MWC 2018, and it was everywhere. AI found its way into smartphones, applications and even the mobile networks themselves.
AI’s most obvious manifestation is in smart speakers like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home or the voice-activated personal assistants in smartphones, but the entire industry is gearing towards a much bigger rollout.
Right now, AI is being used to take better pictures with a camera and serve up more relevant and predictive information. But in the future, it could control entire systems and even self-optimise mobile networks as they become more virtualised.
Away from mobile, machine learning is already finding its way into business software such as Box and Office 365 as well as most cloud platforms.
VR has become a more visible presence at MWC in recent years, with major manufacturers like Samsung offering experiences at their booths. Video games are an obvious way to lure consumers towards the technology, but there is now a desire to move towards other applications.
HTC CEO Cher Wang expressed a desire to bring VR to new use cases in education and the workplace. Advances in network technology, such as 5G, as well as the rise of cloud and edge computing would facilitate this rise.
“Recent advances in AI and machine learning take advantage of increased data and processing power,” she said. “Speeds of tens of gigabits of seconds will be transformational.”
In the GSMA’s Innovation City, there was another VR project which could help solve one of the main barriers to VR adoption: shared experiences. Huawei’s Wireless X Labs demonstrated a ‘Lunar Lander’ application that allowed three users to walk on the moon, pick up objects and see the actions of other participants.
Augmented Reality (AR) differs from VR in that it adds digital elements to real life situations. Pokémon Go is the most obvious example, but the technology could change a vast array of industries including health, education, marketing and media.
Google’s presence at MWC is usually limited, but it chose this year’s show to launch version 1.0 of its ARCore framework, allowing Android smartphones to support AR applications. iPhones can already do this through ARKit for iOS, and Apple is heavily pushing the concept.
One Android handset taking advantage of AR is the Samsung Galaxy S9. Its AR Emoji feature converts photos of your face and turns them into a cartoonish avatar. It’s fairly crude and not as advanced as Apple’s Animoji, but it is evidence the mainstream consumer possibilities of AR.
The world of mobile
Aside from these key trends, there were major device launches, network announcements and plenty on IoT, smart cities and connected cars. Indeed, the invasion of auto manufacturers has been one of the most significant recent developments.
So that’s MWC done for another year, but the date has already been set for the next instalment. MWC 2019 will take place between 25 and 29 February next year.
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