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MWC 2018: The Themes

The annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, like many tech trade shows, has shifted its focus in recent years. Front-and-center stands not the cell phone itself but the rapidly developing technology that has transformed the device from simply a wireless telephone to almost anything but.

Most of the eight ‘themes’ of this year’s MWC, which takes place 26th February to 1st March, cover the software side of the mobile game (similar to this year’s CES). Much of the conversation focuses on the exponential development of technology such as machine learning and AI, and the imminent rollout of 5G. Experts and leaders in the field suggest how they might change the industry and what businesses can do to adapt to this inevitable future.

The rising ubiquity of connected technology has been said to be the fourth industrial revolution, and is the title of one of the eight themes. It is the fusing of physical, digital and biological worlds through connective technologies, and will impact almost all industries. The mass adoption of self-driving vehicles and connected homes, enabled by AI, blockchain and IoT, is envisioned by developers, and could mean a new way of life for at least the western world in as little as a decade. The complex infrastructure needed for such technology means both businesses and governments will have to be on board and collaborate if we are to succeed in creating this new, automated way of life. Dubbed ‘industry 4.0’, this shift means businesses can adopt digital integrations to improve physical ones, and use the underlying technologies to drive new business models.

It’s essential that mobile operators also adapt to these technologies. Their advent is already here and omnipresence is only a matter of time. If they use them correctly, mobile operators could double their profits in five years. AI, a hot topic all round, is another theme title at MWC and many talks will be trying to move the conversation forward from theoretical musings to real-life applications of the revolutionary technology. 5G, once it’s rolled out on a wide scale and people start using it with their IoT products, will cause a massive spike in data production and increase the speed at which the data is produced. Mobile operators can harness analytics can make clear where a wireless operator’s network can be tweaked to maintain high-quality connection. Further, developments in AI will allow the system to adjust the network itself as demand fluctuates day-to-day. 5G will of course also mean more users in a given area can be served by one network, boosting the amount of users and data even further.

The way consumers interact with companies through digital channels is changing. Well thought-out user experience is crucial to good digital design, and companies with even mere forays into technology should be ready to adapt their interfaces. One thing we couldn’t escape at CES is voice technology, which seems set to take over as interface-of-choice across industries. It’s in our phones, self-driving cars, watches and personal assistants. The success of voice as an interface is likely in large part due to it being an equalizer across age groups, cultures and class. Everyone knows how to use their voice. We expect to see a lot of voice-enabled products and services in Barcelona.

UI isn’t the only consumer experience tech companies are thinking about, and customer care, often an afterthought, will be discussed at this year’s show. The connected user is overwhelmed with ways to contact the business or brand whose products they use. Phone calls, texts, emails, live chats and chat bots, frustrating and infinitely unhelpful FAQ pages, they all often result in nothing more than making the user dislike the company even more than when their issue initially arose. Simplifying this ordeal will provide a more personal experience for the consumer (a trend we are already seeing with the mass introduction of AI).

Of course there will be many phones unveiled at the event as well, with Samsung, Sony, LG and many other equally big names setting up shop in the Catalonian city. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is eagerly awaited, its predecessor still one of the only non-Apple phones to rival the monopolistic company in the phone sector.

Not only will we be attending MWC 2018, we will also be exhibiting for the first time, at Stand 7L51 in Hall 7. Come say hi, or book some time to meet with Laura Köppl, our colleague.

Alexandra Randall works at our Berlin office and can be reached via email here.