Mobile World Congress

What do you get if you put the world’s biggest names in telecoms, mobile and IT in a room with 109,000 visitors? The Mobile World Congress! Comms Business went along to the event to see the next iteration of technology for business.

If you like consuming tech innovations MWC is probably the best buffet out there right now. Unfortunately the show’s biggest sponsor, Huawei, came into the event experiencing a lot of heat from the mainstream press over security concerns surrounding its network equipment.

The GSMA has proposed its members discuss the possibility of Huawei’s exclusion from the rollout of 5G networks in key markets, including the UK. The USA has made their position clear, now Europe could follow suit with a complete ban or at least limit the company’s influence on their communications infrastructure. The fear has been spawned from perceived links with the Chinese government and the potential for Huawei to be forced to comply with national interests rather than business objectives. Above all, global governments fear the possibility of backdoors planted into equipment which could be used for espionage.

The show was the perfect place to address these issues and not one to shy away from the attention, Huawei demanded evidence of wrong-doing and released a statement during the week that they do not, and will never, put back doors into their systems.

Guo Ping – rotating Huawei Chairman opened his speech on stage with “There has never been more interest in Huawei.”… and then he started swinging.

Guo referred to the US National Security Agency in his speech on stage, having been exposed for collecting data from internet providers after the infamous Edward Snowden blew the whistle. Not satisfied with leaving things there Guo went on to mention the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation which allowed the NSA to collect data across borders. He noted that the US government has not provided evidence the Chinese government can access its communications equipment.

You could hear the room sniggering, he had made an exceptional point.

Mariya Gabriel, the European commissioner for digital economy and society said that her organisation recognised the need for a common approach to 5G cybersecurity.

“I’m well aware of the unrest among all of you key actors in the telecommunications sector caused by the ongoing decisions on the cybersecurity of 5G”, she said. “Let me reassure you the Commission takes your [views] very serious because you need to run these systems every day.”

“Nobody is helped by premature decisions based on partial analysis of the facts. However, it is also clear that Europe has to have a common approach to this challenge, and we need to bring it [to] the table soon otherwise there is a risk that fragmentation rises because of divergent decisions taken by member states trying to protect themselves. We all know that fragmentation damages the digital single market. So, therefore, we are working on this important matter with priority and the Commission will take steps soon.”

Huawei Mate X

The 5G ‘Game Changer’

Despite the controversy surrounding Huawei that didn’t stop the 5G debate hotting up, perhaps it was the friction from Cisco and Ericsson rubbing their hands together!

The advent of 5G will extend a digital connection to almost every facet of our lives. The futuristic use cases include autonomous vehicles, AR/VR immersive experiences, smart cities, ultralow latency which all sounds very impressive, yet not everyone agrees on the real world impact of the technology.

Richard Williams, Groupon Chief, dismissed the technology and said the ‘real revolution’ has come from the innovations in smartphones and mobile applications. Speaking at the event he said that actually, it’s more important to build seamless experiences and deeper engagement with customers on a regular basis.

With 7.6 billion people on the planet, more than two thirds of them now have a smartphone and over 4 billion use the internet (increasingly via mobile).

Ronen Shpirer, Senior Director, Solutions Marketing at Fortinet says we won’t see the same sort of ubiquitous coverage of 5G, as we did with 4G, until about 2025.

Shpirer said, “The industry is going through a lot of transformation and there is fear and uncertainty. Everyone is talking about 5G, which is completely new for a lot of guys. 2G to 3G to 4G was an evolution, 4G to 5G is a revolution. It’s completely new technology, which is incredibly dynamic and agile. It’s daunting for a lot of people, they need to find use cases and realise how they make money out of it. One of our goals is to make those people more aware of 5G and the security issues associated with that.”

It’s hard not to get caught up in the 5G hype, especially when you look at the launch cycle. Infrastructure suppliers, chipset and device manufacturers are all making progress at a rate of knots. Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon stressed this point at the company’s press conference; he emphasised that 5G is ahead of 4G at the same point in its launch cycle. In its first year, 4G saw just four operators launch networks with phones from three manufacturers. In contrast, 5G has commercial commitment in 2019 from more than 20 networks and 20 manufacturers. Qualcomm also reiterated its statement from CES that it expects more than 30 5G devices to launch in 2019.

Bernie McPhillips, Sales Director at Pangea, commented “Much to my personal delight, MWC’s central theme for 2019 was Intelligent Connectivity. For far too long connectivity was the bridesmaid and never the bride—the poor relation to high resolution cameras and other flashier evolutions in the mobile industry.

Yet 2019 was the year of the SIM at MWC! Largely driven by the advent of 5G which brings the speed, flexibility, and reliability to deliver far greater services than ever before, the mighty SIM took centre stage and did not disappoint. Most prominent, however, was the importance of using the correct form of connectivity to deliver the best possible end user experience, all while future-proofing your technology and keeping it secure.

Folding phones are all well and good, but 5G is beyond a hot topic. As it becomes less far-off fantasy, more imminent reality, Channel players are quickly realising that 5G is a critical consideration for anyone looking to develop new solutions or devices, and nearly every MWC display featured its product’s 5G capability or clear 5G upgrade path. This was most apparent in the phone space—from Qualcomm’s 5G chipsets, to Ericsson’s spectrum sharing software, to the shiny new 5G-ready Samsung Galaxy S10.”

The Devices

We were expecting 5G devices from the event this year and were not disappointed. During the show, Chinese manufacturers ZTE and Nubia debuted their first 5G designs, the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G and the Nubia Mini 5G. Sony and OnePlus made sure to highlight their intentions to release 5G options later in the year.

We now have six competitive 5G modems available to the market, including solutions from Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel, Mediatek, HiSilicon and UNISoC.
Huawei even wowed the crowds by announcing their new foldable device, the Mate X, would have a 5G capability.

Wayne Lam, principal analyst, mobile devices and networks, IHS Markit commented “There was no doubt about the “best in show” smartphone. The Huawei Mate X foldable 5G smartphone is an out-folding smartphone that unfurls into a contiguous eight-inch tablet.

Foldable smartphones are the first significant change in mobile form factors in nearly a decade. Not since capacitive multi-touch technology, which allowed device makers to simplify user interactions onto a single piece of glass, has there been a more ground-breaking mobile design.”

“Cost is the key factor that will hinder adoption,” said Canalys’ senior analyst Ben Stanton. Huawei’s Mate X will start at €2,229 and be available in the middle of 2019, though costs could come down as volumes scale up.

MWC Top Picks

Huawei Mate X – Best of the bendables? – it folds flush, has 5G, and has the best (and thinnest) form factor. See page 19.

LG G8 ThinQ – All about the hand gestures – the Hand ID is a new way to unlock the phone, just wave your hand over the phone.

Nokia 9 PureView – The phone for photographers – the PureView is packing five lenses to allow for exquisite pictures.

Samsung Galaxy S10 – Not strictly a MWC launch – Another absolutely great device from Samsung, although it was overshadowed by the new Fold device.

HoloLens 2 – The mixed reality headset which could change the market – the second iteration of the device is a huge leap forwards and the business use cases are now starting to become apparent.

Xiaomi M9 – Newcomer to the UK market – a ridiculously good mid-range device with a 49MP camera.

Samsung Fold – Headline grabber – Locked in a glass case made many wonder just how viable the innovative design is right now.

Sony Xperia 1 – Great new flagship from Sony – the new 4K screen is simply stunning, see page 19.

Plantronics Elara 60 – Built for modern day workers who are primarily ‘mobile first’.

Microsoft HoloLens 2

“This is a commercial device, not a consumer product”, said the Microsoft rep as I went to have a go on the next iteration of the AR headset. The display was incredible, the upgrade was compared with moving from a 720p TV to a 2k TV. Microsoft has extended the field of view, from 34-degrees to 54-degrees, to increase immersion which also makes it easier to interact with menus and objects. The applications for the technology are becoming more apparent by the day. Training seems to be an obvious area, this particular demo showed how medical students could use the technology to improve their diagnosis skills.

Samsung Fold

IoT Progress

One clear indicator technology is bedding into our business world is simply everyone starts talking about something else. IoT was everywhere yet again, it just wasn’t getting the headlines like it used to.

Gartner reported that 59% of organisations believe 5G’s ability to support high densities of IoT sensors will be the top use for the next-generation mobile networking technology.

McPhilips commented, “MWC was a vivid reminder that we’ll soon be living in a world with billions upon billions of connected devices. From potentially life-saving smart health applications to supply chains and digital transformation in Industry 4.0, IoT wove itself into just about every facet of the event. There was a big focus on cellular connectivity tech such as LTE-M and NB-IoT. Manufacturers can no longer simply provide a SIM slot, slap in a SIM and say their job is done—devices now come equipped with or have upgrade paths ready for specific narrowband connective technologies.

As smarter solutions are developed and operators create more powerful networks, the channel is in prime position to effectively deploy, grow, and scale IoT solutions for their customers.”

In his keynote speech at MWC 2019, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, spoke about the merits of putting intelligence at the edge of an IoT network.

“Computing is no longer confined to a device or even a single datacentre,” he said. “Instead, it’s ubiquitous fabric, it’s distributed from the cloud to the edge, closer to where data is generated, and with the ability to adapt to the wide range of inputs, whether it’s touch, speech, vision or gestures.”

What is new in payments?

Andre Stoorvogel, Director, Product Marketing, Rambus Payments

“Following MWC last year, it was clear that the rapid growth of online and IoT payments was hugely exciting, but potentially an open goal for hackers. This has proved to be the case, with retailers expected to lose $130 billion through card-not-present fraud over the next five years.

Payment tokenization has already been hugely successful in securing in-store mobile payments. But with in-store just one piece of an ever-expanding payments puzzle, there was a clear need to move towards a fully tokenized digital payments ecosystem.”

Communications on demand

How often have we seen carriers package up solutions and compete against the Channel? At a recent event I attended prior to MWC one very vocal CEO of a UC vendor stood up and said “Why would anyone buy UC from a carrier, they are not UC specialists… would you buy a car from France Telecom?”

I put this to Ribbon’s CMO & EVP Business Development Patrick Joggerst, he said “It’s exactly the sweet spot for a carrier, the number of carriers I have met over the years who will sell a PBX just to get the services, it’s a lot! I always tell them to put it in the cloud and run it over their network! The network is their value.”

On their UK activities, Joggerst said “We sit behind the carriers in the UK, we are looking to become relevant to not just the infrastructure side of the carrier but also the go-to-market side and Channel.”

“Web-RTC is our sweet spot, we a have a pretty robust Web-RTC gateway which is one of the two major components sitting inside our carrier network. We package that with something called Kandy link, if you want to have something on-prem, for privacy concerns, you can keep in on-prem and connect to our cloud. The signalling is coming from the cloud and the data stays local.”

Joggerst continued, “We are doing that with fives nines and are working with some big cloud contact centres. Interestingly, they ship phone books out to agents, where ever they are in the world, and because it’s so easy in-browser the user can just fire it up instantly and the customer can have agents on demand.”

As office environments and business models evolve so are the products coming to market. Work environments are also changing as employers look to save money on office space, but they need to equip their staff accordingly.

Mobile Distributor comment

Mark Riddell, Head of Indirect Channel at Abzorb

“We are now starting to see partners coming in because of the IP telephony landscape. For IT companies and consultants, cloud the world they live in. I think it was the billing that scared a lot of those guys off previously. Now that you can pick up bureau billing services it’s just not an obstacle. These guys are trusted implicitly to look after IT infrastructure and everything that sits on the desk so there is no reason that shouldn’t be extended to the voice as well.

We are seeing collaborations IT and voice resellers, some voice guys are bringing in IT skillsets to provide a holistic service and we are seeing IT guys just adopting hosted telephony because it basically merges into whatever they are already doing.“

Paul Dunne, Head of EMEA Channels at Poly, commented “Having a desk in an office could cost an employer £35,000 a year per desk. People have far more distributed working lives now between home and the office as their employers look to scale down their office space and adopt this flexible working approach. However, employees must have the right tools for the job.”

Dunne explained that Poly (recently rebranded following the Polycom acquisition by Plantronics) weren’t just offering headsets and huddle room equipment. “We are now seeing our partners having different conversations with their customers about their requirements.”

The new Elara 60, launched at the event, is a desk phone device which essentially converts a smartphone into a business desk phone by a simple docking pad. The Elara will pick uf Microsoft Teams notifications and gives users one-touch access to their collaboration tools. It even charges your phone when connected! These type of devices are perfect for those that primarily use a mobile as their communications ‘weapon of choice’.

When in the office workers can often struggle with the environment, Dunne explained “We see these big beautiful building being constructed, particularly in London, which have open plan spaces with glass everywhere. They look stunning but they are terrible for noise, sound just bounces around them and many people really struggle in those types of environments. Noise-cancelling headphones are now becoming a must for those employees who need to block out their noisy colleagues.”

Ed Says

An innovation bonanza! MWC really is the leading indicator of what is to come in the business world. The Channel are going to have a whole new range of skillsets to acquire over the next 3-5 years in order to compete.

Bold Quotes

“Folding phones are all well and good, but 5G is beyond a hot topic. As it becomes less far-off fantasy, more imminent reality, Channel players are quickly realising that 5G is a critical consideration for anyone looking to develop new solutions or devices…” – Bernie McPhillips, Sales Director at Pangea.

“Foldable smartphones are the first significant change in mobile form factors in nearly a decade. Not since capacitive multi-touch technology, which allowed device makers to simplify user interactions onto a single piece of glass, has there been a more ground-breaking mobile design.” – Wayne Lam, principal analyst, mobile devices and networks, IHS Markit.

“Computing is no longer confined to a device or even a single datacentre. Instead, it’s ubiquitous fabric, it’s distributed from the cloud to the edge, closer to where data is generated, and with the ability to adapt to the wide range of inputs, whether it’s touch, speech, vision or gestures.” – Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

“People have far more distributed working lives now between home and the office as their employers look to scale down their office space and adopt this flexible working approach.” – Paul Dunne, Head of EMEA Channels at Poly

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine