Wireless and Digital Services

MWC17 – Tech progress behind the buzzword bingo

By Derek Long - Last updated: Monday, March 6, 2017
Our MWC17 team on the stand

Our MWC17 team on the stand

As I sit in my office this morning looking at the rain soaked car park I think back to the last few days spent at MWC17 in Barcelona. Was it really as excessive as I recall? Well there certainly were a lot of people there – 108,000 according to the organisers, which is a record. More importantly however, I really did stand for up to 14 hours each day. I most certainly did talk so much that each morning I had to sing in the shower to get my voice normal again. Finally, I most certainly did eat as much tapas as a human can take. But for that I have an excuse: it really did taste good!

In addition to the excess, what of the hype? The mobile industry, always known for attracting attention to new technologies, had done well this year. Not only were the usual trends and technologies on display but there were an increasing number of topics from adjacent industries, including cars, drones, artificial intelligence and more on display. Buzzword bingo champions had an easy week with terms such as “value realisation“, “monetisation” and “cloudification” being thrown around with carefree abandon.

But was there more to the whole thing than simple excess and hype? Whereas in the last few years MWC has had a focus on introducing new ideas and concepts, I felt that this year’s MWC was focused on bringing those concepts to reality. So there were in fact few new terms, but a large number of implementations to be seen. Here are the most visible examples that I saw:

Connected cars were very significant in this year’s MWC, with operators, vendors and even car manufacturers present. Products on show included semiconductors for radar and LiDAR, communications technologies for Vehicle to Everything (V2X) communication, even autonomous cars. Whilst it is impressive to see a car driving itself the demo left a little to be desired as the car in question moved very slowly. Clearly there is still much to be done in bringing this technology to the mass market…

Phased array antennas could be seen at many stands, in some cases showing live demonstrations. There were also several millimetre wave demos showing point-to-point communications with high throughput. Although there were one or two demonstrators of millimetre wave passive arrays, none of these were active – perhaps that will come next year. One thing that I found interesting about millimetre wave was that there seems to be a shift in emphasis, from wide array communication as a use-case, towards in-car, in-plane and in-train communication. There is a certain logic here – these are relatively confined spaces which require a large data throughput. Maybe we’ll see more of this in future.

And finally, there were many demonstrations showing the application of connectivity to other industries, such as healthcare, logistics and industrial. There appeared to be two main issues here, the first being the technology, namely how to add connectivity in such a way that it adds functionality and value to the owner. Secondly, what is the impact on the enterprise that owns the devices? In bingo terms this is called “digital transformation” and is I would say a complex and long process. It can take a considerable time for people and organisations to really comprehend how to harness new technologies to improve their lives and businesses. Companies are still working out how information and communication can be effectively used and now new technologies such as IoT and AI are being made available with far reaching implications.

So, whilst there was the usual hype and buzzwords surrounding this year’s MWC, there were also a number of less spectacular but nonetheless real steps towards implementation. So perhaps in the near future we will see real life implementations of some of these new technologies and experience some of the benefits in our own lives.