Mobile World Congress 2018: Ecosystems at the forefront of innovation
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona companies felt a greater need for reassurance than for showing off revolutionary new products. While they certainly came to showcase a number of innovations, what they predominantly brought were a variety of partners, both young and old. Yet more proof that it is impossible to be innovative and at the forefront of different technologies without the support of specialized partners from a range of different sectors. Ecosystems are essential to the companies’ survival and ability to operate in light of the trends seen at MWC, namely the industrialization of 'small technologies’ as well as the interoperability and democratization of “edge computing”. As for 5G, the hot topic of the speeches, we will have to wait a few more years.
Even in previous years, MWC was more than simply an event devoted solely to mobility and telecom companies. While major telecom operators and phone manufacturers still attend, they have now been joined by a large number of other companies. This year, in the wake of connected (and soon to be autonomous) cars, car manufacturers have made the trip, in the form of Smart for Daimler or Leon for SEAT. Even Formula1 occupied a huge space to present its projects involving digital technologies. Likewise companies like Visa came to present their partnership for contactless and cashless payment methods, and then there were large consultancy companies, such as PwC or McKinsey, who came to reinforce their positioning on the digital transformation.
This year, while taking a walk through the eight vast halls, we were able to encounter the latest generation of phones with increasingly powerful cameras alongside connected cars, a handful of robots, a few virtual reality headsets as well as foldable, transparent or submersible screens. What these technologies have in common is that they all rely on components, such as microchips, which is very good news for the manufacturers in attendance (except for NVidia, therefore, who did not make the trip). Qualcomm incidentally had one of the largest stands at the show and, amongst other things, showcased its SnapDragon processors. System integrators were more or less inconspicuous but nevertheless all in attendance. And finally, the whole was complemented by an array of small and medium-sized businesses, which were based either on the stands of the largest companies in their role as partners, which guaranteed them a prominent position, or in the national pavilions.
Nevertheless, speaking of concrete cases and uses, what stood out above all was a distinction between the adoption and industrialization of several technologies and a stronger focus on services. In the battle of IoT platforms, everyone is trying to stand out and “edge computing” as well as interoperability are the most frequently used terms. In order to optimize data processing, reduce costs and energy usage, data analysis must take place as close to the devices as possible. The management of low-speed networks (LPWAN) is in fact a challenge, with each company having made its choice of technology: LTE-M, LoRa, NB-IoT ... The number of connections has grown as well as the data. The different players have become aware of this situation and are often looking for partners to manage their data for them. There is clearly a fear among operators of quickly being outperformed; all of them have invested in artificial intelligence (or at least in machine learning) and are also thinking about blockchain applications. Telefónica has even launched its own voice assistant for the home.
In the end, what will come out of this year’s MWC is this: Technologies are evolving ever more rapidly and multiplying at different levels. The big companies know that they need to evolve their businesses and that they can no longer do it by themselves, hence the increased interest in ecosystem concepts.