If you are planning your holidays, don’t go to Barcelona at the end of February. It is close to hell – all the hotels are booked, all the taxis are occupied, and forget about any decent restaurant.

This is because almost 110 thousand people descended to the city for the annual Mobile World Congress – where latest mobile technologies and future trends are showcased, and of course new phones launched.

MWC Barcelona 2019 once again was a great success for the industry and I was glad I planned a short trip during the week to taste a bit of the future. Below are some personal observations from the event which I think stood out.  

  1. 5G is everywhere

From Qualcomm, Ericsson, Huawei to Samsung, OPPO, Xiaomi-  5G took the most prominent location on every stand. Although operators are still questioning the ROI of the new technology, there is a mutual understanding that 5G will drive great benefits for both the industry and the wider world.

GSMA Director General Mats Granryd also openly warned “Intelligent connectivity will bring significant economic and social benefits, but not if operators are burdened with debt.”

It reminds me of the time when 4G was launched in 2009 and mobile operators didn’t see the great returns they’d captured with earlier generations. And despite their investments in 4G infrastructure, revenues stood flat or even dropped especially in parts of Europe and Latin America. Will this repeat with 5G? I don’t think this will be the case.

In 2019, we saw a lot more sophisticated and critical applications with the high speed low latency feature of the new network. We watched the head of the gastrointestinal surgery service at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona advising his medical team across the city in real time from MWC by drawing on a video of the patient’s colon.

Operators and technology providers have gone beyond VR and Entertainment as intelligent network empowered by AI now provides a lot more technology solutions to impact lives and society.

However, for general consumers, 5G may not yet provide a straightforward experience. Although every handset company from Samsung, Huawei, Sony to Oppo, Vivo, XiaoMi announced their new 5G phones, it is still hard to tell the difference it makes to my daily life compared to my iPhone X. Instead, the foldable product line has become a silver lining which I will talk about later.

  1. AI is behind all

AI is a bit like cloud few years back. Not long ago, every company claimed they are a cloud tech leader, and now apparently everyone is AI powered.

From featuring machine learning, natural language processing and artificial neural network to IoT devices with AI chipset, a sci-fi dream once again becomes closer to reality.

Personally, I believe the reason why people have stopped talking about cloud is because everyone realises its importance and it has become a part of our normal everyday life. AI shall follow the same route as the future of IoT is in fact a device powered by AI on Cloud.

And not surprisingly, questions on security, privacy and fraud will be asked time and again, but isn’t it always the case for any innovative practice? In the end, AI is merely a tool and its people who eventually shall be responsible for it being a boon or a bane.

  1. Reality becomes confusing

While the VR market is still struggling to find its foot, a new reality has emerged that mixes the virtual world with the real one. The queue for Microsoft Hololens 2 was by far the longest at the MWC event this year, and I personally think that it was even longer than the Samsung VR roller coaster few years ago as I had to give up on it completely even on the last day of the event.

Although I missed out on experiencing the magical innovation from Microsoft, an unexpected surprise awaited me at the Qualcomm stand as Nreal, a Chinese startup, showcased an XR(Extended Reality) experience on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform.

Nreal is a simple glass with changeable lens which means I don’t need to wear two glasses during the experience. The system was powered by a Snapdragon mobile phone and it provided 1080p HD vision and 6 DoF position tracking. And most important it is only weighs 80 grams. I also like that it is very comfortable to wear and the vision is quite naturally fit into the scene.

  1. Handsets all got pretty face

Handsets are now going the foldable way with the release of Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X. Other brands such as Oppo, XiaoMi, TCL/Alcatel Onetouch too shared their foldable products without official announcements.

Another Chinese company, Royale, also brought their smartphone FlexPie to the show stage and announced it as the world’s first foldable phone launched on 5th of Nov 2018.

However, most of them also stated that their product will not rush into the market as it is not ready to drive any meaningful volume. Most companies still focus their efforts on improving camera and display as we can see with Nokia PureView (5 cameras) & Sony Xperia 1(first 4K OLED).

Huawei Mate X is the obvious winner in first battle with a lot of praise from both media and invited clients. They also won the Best Mobile Phone in GSMA GLOMO Award.

  1. Digital transformation is a must

Apart from the traditional names, we also noticed some unexpected players in the show room. After Daimler, Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, Ford and others showcased their auto tech, Tesla became the new friend of GSMA and announced a global historical promotion at the end of the event.

Additionally, Banco Sabadell, La Caxia, Airbus, Veuling all brought their communities onsite to connect them with new partners and inspire innovation.

  1. Everybody is craving for “Innovation”

It is commonly known that technology innovation drives great economic growth today as much as it did hundred years ago.  However, it is also commonly known that innovation doesn’t always mean success in economic terms.

Here in MWC, one does sense every company’s urge to constantly innovate and they spend millions (if not hundreds of millions) of dollars and resources to present a spectalural, impressionable image of their technological innovation. Even the organizer, GSMA, runs another much smaller but very cool event 4YFN at the city centre where innovation is the key highlight.

After I flew back to Shanghai and while writing this, a friend asked a question, “How many of these above investments will eventually be translated to actual revenue growth?”

I said, “I don’t know, but at least I saw Warren Buffett highly amused and interested.”

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Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].