Other BT PLC sections

Top five most interesting things from Mobile World Congress 2016

27 April 2016 

Virtual reality (VR)

Jean-Marc Frangos is managing director, external innovation at BT Technology, Service & Operations. Here he takes a look back at the most exciting highlights to come out of the recent Mobile World Congress (MWC), held in Barcelona.  

The biggest showcase in the industry calendar, the Mobile World Congress (MWC), has yet again got the mobile world buzzing.

Held in Barcelona, this year’s MWC attracted a record-breaking 100,000 visitors from across 204 countries and played host to more than 2,200 companies all keen to showcase their products across the 110,000 square metres of exhibition space.

The headline for this year’s event was ‘mobile is everything’ but it seemed more like ‘mobile in everything’. In other words, mobility is playing an increasing role in every part of our lives, from allowing us to keep connected on the move to underpinning the rapidly-growing Internet of Things (IoT).

Let’s get into five highlights that caught my eye, some of which could play a big role in the future of mobile technology.

Virtual reality is a game changer

Virtual reality (VR) stole the show as the new trend making waves and was featured at just about all of the stands.

But is this going to have as much impact as the introduction of touchscreens and ‘swiping’ on mobile devices?

Yes it is in my opinion, and when people argue that little 360-degree content exists for viewing, I reply that future smartphones are very likely to have the ability to capture 360-degree video, meaning immersive selfies and panoramas could become the norm and populate the social web, triggering viral adoption of VR. We have already met companies positioning themselves to become the YouTube of VR content.

Facebook and Google are actively supporting the format, and gamers will naturally take to it. The question is will VR be comfortable enough to view a 90 minutes sports or entertainment event with a headset or will it be used for video snacking? Whichever way, it looks like VR is here to stay.

The need for 5G speed

There was a bigger commitment to 5G than ever before, with Intel announcing a slew of partnerships - from AT&T and Verizon to Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE.

Meanwhile, Samsung and Deutsche Telekom built an elaborate set-up at the show, with a robot arm demonstrating the benefits of faster speeds and lower latency of new 5G networks.

With vendors moving into high gear to refine, develop and deploy 5G, it’s likely to be with us sooner than we think and 4G capabilities are expected to continue ramping up on the road to 5G.

Connectivity everywhere… including cows

Connected cars, businesses, drones, homes and people were on prominent display, all powered by IoT, cloud and 5G. Everything was connected at MWC, including Daisy the cow.

Daisy, a fibreglass cow, was the star of Fujitsu’s booth, demonstrating a use case for low cost, low power tracking for the farming and agriculture sector. Using the GyuHo system, data from the wearable device strapped to Daisy’s leg is crunched and analysed in the cloud, then fed back to the famer or vet’s device to monitor the cow’s health and critically, to determine the best timing for insemination.

Smartphone similarity

There wasn’t a great deal of outward innovation to be seen in the design of handsets. That’s the challenge facing manufacturers, and though many brought their new flagship products, there were few dazzling feats of technology heaven on display.

LG did however demonstrate some hardware modularity with a smartphone that can gain extra functions with add-on parts. These are plugged in by pulling off the base of the G5 phone and swapping it for an alternative unit, such as a Bang & Olufsen speaker and a camera controller with a dial for zooming. Google is also working on a modular phone of its own, so the concept still has some momentum. Accessories are also getting smarter with the LG Quick Case an example.

Say hello to Starship - the delivery robot

Imagine the next time you order a takeaway online, rather than being delivered by a human, you pluck it out of a robot. A robot that looks like a cooler box on wheels, tops out at 4mph and can carry a 20-pound load.

Created by the founders of Skype, the Starship is an autonomous vehicle that wants to be the delivery device for 'last mile' journeys - those times when businesses need to get goods delivered in a close proximity but don't want to spend money on an extortionate courier.

Starship's on-board cameras and Artificial Intelligence help it avoid running into objects, and the robot will even move out of the way of nearby pedestrians. It apparently goes unnoticed by adults, but kids like to pet it and try to feed it. Luckily not a single person has kicked it so far in test runs across London.

There were a couple of other highlights that caught my attention. Taking payment by mobile to a new level, MasterCard has announced a biometric app that lets people pay for purchases by selfie, using their face to approve transactions.

And news that the GSMA is to support embedded SIM (eSim) technology was a major talking point. It’s a new standard that makes it easier to switch between service providers and could mean the end of the SIM card as we know it.

So MWC 2016 proved to be a thought-provoking hit. There really was so much to take in terms of great ideas, pioneering products and the latest technological developments.

I’m looking forward to next year’s show already.