Disappointment. This would be my summary of the Barcelona MWC19 that ends today. Transition period, proposals of dubious utility and technologies of great promise and difficult implementation.
The Mobile World Congress is the world’s most important trade fair in the sector. The figures are overwhelming, more than one hundred thousand professionals from the five continents at a price per ticket (Badge) of almost 600 euros for the cheapest and several thousand euros for Premium passes. More than 500 million Euros in profits for the city of Barcelona. This year, the slogan chosen was “Intelligent Connectivity” and its main attraction related to 5G technology.
A good approach, but diffuse development. To begin with, the 5G technology, as an evolution of the current 4G technology, makes two very significant things possible. On the one hand, much higher data transmission speeds that allow massive downloads of content in a few seconds, and on the other, and as much or more importantly, very small latencies. Latency is the time it takes for an information (or packet of data in technical jargon) to go from the sender to the recipient and back to the sender. The importance of having low latencies is that it allows real-time interaction between two points literally hundreds or thousands of miles apart. The applications of this theme will undoubtedly have a big impact on our lives even in the way society is going to be organized. Examples include driving without a driver, traffic management or logistics and parcel deliveries, remote surgery, etc.
Yesterday the first tele-supervised surgical operation was carried out on a 5G connection between a medical team located in the Clinical Hospital of Barcelona and a renowned medical expert who was at the Fair in “quasi” real time. The implications are clear: the possibility of separating the surgical team (hospital) from the specialists who perform/supervise the operation. This would allow access to the best specialists without the need for their physical presence at the operation site.
So much for the lights of the proposals. Let’s move on to reality. As for 5G, it is necessary to differentiate between what technology makes possible, which is a lot, and what is needed for it to work and be operative. For the latter, very large investments on the part of the operators which, according to them, are of dubious profitability. In their own words, everything already invested in 4G technology is having very poor returns in the area of 5%, with many emerging countries that have not yet finished implementing 4G and with the large European operators “nervous” about the cost of this 5G and the uncertainty about whether there is a business model that justifies it.
Therefore, it is good that there are already mobiles that incorporate 5G technology, even that there are pilot areas in which the operator infrastructure that allows these mobiles to operate is already implemented. However, at the level of the general public this is not easy to see in at least 3-5 years.
On the other hand, one of the stars of the MWC19 is being the range of folding phones. There are two basic trends. One is the LG, which is an evolution of the old mobiles (Motorola type) that when you “unfolded” them on one side you had the screen and on the other the keyboard. In the updated version, LG presents a screen in each part. The other way is presented by Samsung or Huawei. Here you don’t have two different screens, but it’s a single screen that can be physically folded. Therefore, when they are folded what we have is a “Smartphone” a little thicker than normal about 5-6 inches and when you open it becomes a tablet of about 8-9 inches. The objective is clear, to have in a single device what we have today in two (Smartphone plus Tablet). Will this be something massive? In my opinion such and as it is raised today, no. By price falls into the most expensive category in both smartphones and tablets (more than 2,000 euros in the case of the Huawei Mate X). This price will certainly not attract users who want to access content for which a large screen is interesting (streaming, video games, etc.). There would remain the most professional group of users who are currently thinking of using a Tablet for their activities. The first discards the mass market and the second is not cheap and has a questionable practicality. However, it must be recognized that as an exercise of technological brilliance it has no discussion.
Now let’s look at the topic of intelligent connectivity, the motto of this edition. It is clear that 5G technology will be one of the fundamental ingredients of this connectivity by allowing the simultaneous connection of many devices, devices or sensors at the same time. Within the ioT, it is expected that we will be immersed in all kinds of “wearables” that are not going to be limited to intelligent watches or bracelets but to intelligent clothing, sensors of all kinds both in ourselves and in the environment that surrounds us (Smart-home), and so on. Well, the same thing we have said for the implementation of 5G technology is valid for this connectivity. It will take longer than we are told.
Finally, another ingredient of this intelligent connectivity lies in Artificial Intelligence. It seeks to meet the needs, tastes and services, and adapt them to each individual or society. To do this, applying new versions of Artificial Intelligence will be necessary. Particularly illustrative was a dinner with two of the world’s leading specialists in artificial intelligence, a person from Ethiopia considered one of the five most influential women in the world of artificial intelligence and a Spaniard based in Palo Alto and precursor of the so-called “next generation” of artificial intelligence whose main feature is self-learning. Without going into the technical detail, the message is that there is still a long way to go and polish.
For all these reasons, this edition of the MWC19 with the slogan “Intelligent Connectivity” is a small disappointment, as the implementation of its slogan remains more than debatable in the short or even medium term. However, we could take up the message and wait for its various ingredients and associated business models to bear fruit. In this way, MWC19 would be seen as a transition edition until the implementation of those fundamental elements takes place. Then, disappointment for the immediate non fulfilled expectations could be overcome.