Good Connections at MWC 2018
Another year, another Mobile World Congress.
Last week we flew to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the gargantuan Fira Gran Via. Over 100,000 designers, engineers, CEOs and various other professions gathered for the biggest mobile technology show this side of the Atlantic.
Colorfy exhibited at the expansive venue for the first time this year. Our booth was shared by our close partners (close in space as in work, I suppose) Skyroam, whose Solis Hotspot we helped to design and engineer.
Weaving in and out of booths, the most common item on display was of course the black, glass rectangle. Phones tiled majority of stands, but even the most anticipated handset launches, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S9, offered no dramatic developments in their aesthetic.
5G was this year’s real belle of the ball, upstaging the hardware to a noticeable degree. As developments in AI and IoT converge, the spotlight at MWC is turning away from the devices themselves and towards what will enable them to connect and work together most efficiently. To that end, we’re starting to find alternatives to the current ‘old faithful’ modes of connectivity.
The 5G rollout is timely. Mobile internet now accounts for over 70% of total global internet consumption, and that number will only rise. Many of the technologies showcased at MWC, such as VR, IoT, autonomous driving and other forms of AI will increasingly rely on faster, alternative networking options to handle rising data usage, and to maintain secure connections between devices.
Cellular wasn’t the only alternative offered. German-market dominating FRITZ!Box presented modems capable of smart mesh networking (as well as fiber optics, although your average German customer may be skeptical at that prospect). Meshing could be a solution to ensuring high bandwidth throughout homes as more turn smart. It could also provide oxygen to American users as net neutrality eventually meets its demise in the U.S., limiting the level of bandwidth consumers can access through traditional providers (along with which websites, but that’s a topic for another blog post).
Australia’s leading low-range, wide area network (LoRaWAN) operator the National Narrowband Network Co (NNNCo) announced a partnership at MWC with Actility, the country’s leading LoRa IoT platform. Aside from being an acronym-lover’s – or ‘ALs’ as they like to be called – dream, this partnership could mean a completely new, low-energy way of networking IoT devices, potentially saving millions of dollars worth of electricity.
While Earth readies itself for 5G, its sidekick will be welcoming an upgrade of its own. Vodafone and Nokia announced plans to update connectivity on the moon to 4G in order to more efficiently transmit data from its Audi-made exploring rovers back to Earth, giving the Moon better coverage than the Fira Gran Via.
The self-driving car was of course one of the biggest drawers, and several automotive companies sported their AVs. Porsche and Huawei’s collaborative endeavor even took people for Android-guided rides around the MWC courtyard. Smart unveiled a futuristic two-person pod, boldly even omitting the steering wheel unlike many other prototypes. Audi and BMW also offered their forays into AI-endowed cars, although their driving must still be done by the more traditional human. Mercedes sat people behind car-less steering wheels to sample touchscreen-covered dashboards, of what could be the some of last automobiles driven by humans.
At last year’s MWC, Nokia garnered unexpected attention by relaunching the famous 3310. At one point around 2002 every second person owned this phone, and a cult following has brushed up around it, perpetuated in a sub-facet of meme culture, which was cleverly tapped into by someone in Nokia’s PR department. It was a very good and genuinely fun publicity stunt. This year, Nokia dully tried to relaunch the 8110, which fosters no such nostalgia.
The smartphone monotony is enough to inspire despondency in anyone and ’00s Nokia had a powerful brand identity that is undoubtedly lacking in today’s phone market. They rightly brought that point to the table with the new 3310. However, the 8110 was simply laboring the point and felt a little desperate.
Each company may have their individual booth, but tech firms are not islands anymore. The ‘smart’ device has brought in its wake a demand for seamlessly inter-functioning products, leading to more attention being given to connectivity solutions and more collaboration between companies. We came away from MWC excited to see the prototypes become everyday, wondering what the internet will look like in a few years and, of course, with blisters.
Alexandra Randall works at our Berlin office and can be reached via email here.