The annual festival of the mobile industry in Barcelona is a great opportunity for even the most jaded journalists and industry insiders to feel the sense of boundless optimism and opportunity that exudes from every corner of the 8 great halls. People wearing t-shirts that say things like ‘imagine if we could change the world’ mingle with companies who have been doing exactly that for over a decade and who are showing off how they are attempting to change the way we communicate and work yet again. So what are the key takeaways for the world of mobile telecoms?
The quiet death of the 2G feature phone
The biggest thing to come out of MWC last year was Nokia’s throwback 3310 feature phone. While many of the original iconic features had been updated (it included a camera and a color screen for starters), the 2G-only connectivity was decidedly retro, and it also meant that most of the major US networks could not support the device. This year Nokia has been stealing headlines again, however, the Nokia 8110 ‘banana phone’ as featured in the matrix, comes with LTE connectivity from the off. Indeed the 3310 is also back, this time with 4G.
It seems then that even the most basic phones available today must feature 3G or LTE technology to be a global success. Google has been pushing its ‘Android Go Edition’ phones at the show this year, aimed at emerging markets, and while the devices are generally slow, with only 1GB of RAM, the connectivity options are bang up to date. Perhaps MWC 2017 was truly the final hurrah for a 2G-only device.
Where is all the IoT?
The next generation of connectivity is top of the agenda at the show, however, the much vaunted ‘Internet of Things’ phrases have been much less prominent this year. This doesn’t mean that the various use cases from smart home devices through to connected cars have gone quiet. Indeed these use cases appear to be solidifying; so much so that IoT as an overarching concept is starting to become a more commonplace application, system or service available in various niche markets and industry sectors. It seems like WiFi and 4G/LTE connections are doing just fine when it comes to supporting the current generation of connected devices. The dock-less bike company MoBike had its instantly recognizable bikes on more than one stand, showcasing how it uses LTE connectivity and mobile chipsets to keep its bikes connected to its network. Smart home devices don’t need to be connected via a proprietary network as much as they need to have a consistent WiFi connection.
5G looms ever closer
Mobile World Congress just wouldn’t be the same without 5G banners hanging above every major operator and technology providers’ stands. The mood at the show last year was one of impatience. 5G still felt a long way off with a few scant proof-of-concept devices. What a difference a year makes! Real world 5G applications and reams of test data have been available at the show. AT&T expects to have 5G hotspots available for customers by the end of the year, and they hope to have 5G handsets in customers’ hands by mid-2019.
MWC 2018 feels like 5G is coming round the corner onto the home straight. It would be surprising if at next year’s show we didn’t see any prototype 5G ready smartphones. This also means that 2018 is going to be the year when 5G network performance testing and benchmarking will start in earnest – a very critical period for testing, analyzing, and learning more about the nuances of the technology and how it works when it is deployed in the real world. It is certainly going to be an exciting year.