Industry Blog

Themes from MWC 2014 (…. not a typo)

Time to read: 4 minutes

I am sure that many of you, like me, were comprehensively bombarded with vendor pre-show announcements in the week before MWC. In addition, every analyst worth their salt put out a “what you will see in Barcelona” report well before the event.  Somewhat like Christmas which starts earlier and earlier every year, MWC is creeping backwards into the preceding weeks. It’s almost worth asking why we don’t just do all the pre-show publicity and predictions, cancel the event on the Sunday night, and go home?

So how soon before someone starts talking about MWC 2014? I wanted to be the first person to write an article with an MWC 2014 title, maybe I’m already too late ….. But seriously, was there anything really memorable from this year’s show – 2013? The show and conference had a strong leaning toward LTE and Cloud, and may become known for the place where the phrase “from dumb pipes to dumb clouds” became popularised.
But there were a few items that caught the eye.

Announcements that turned your head

  1. The first Firefox OS handsets were seen. The cross-carrier backing of Mozilla’s open source Firefox OS seems significant, approximately 17 operators have stated support. The focus will be on emerging markets which is where the industry expects the next billion users to appear.
  2. The majority of cars produced by General Motors from 2014 will have in car 4G LTE inc WiFi hotspots (a GM/AT&T collaboration). So your car becomes just another connected device in this “internet of everything” – just another device on your data plan.
  3. Both Samsung and Blackberry announced dual persona phones– designed so that your corporate IT function can manage one area of the phone (exchange etc) whilst your “play area” is sand-box’d so you can have your personal privacy and work, on the same device.

Lastly, keeping with the topic of Samsung, their booth which seems to double in size each year (is that what they call Moore’s Law?) also showed off their increasing range of impressive4G / WiFi cameras built on Android.

Demos that made you stop and stare
As always there was a lot to see and touch at MWC including the dual screen folding SmartPhone from NEC. However the best two demos I saw were from Qualcomm and Nokia.

Qualcomm had a “SnapDragon Theatre” for which you had to queue for 20 minutes but it was worth it. Inside they demonstrated excerpts from the Life of Pi in stunning 4K/Ultra HD driven by a mere tablet based on the SnapDragon processor. But what was more astonishing was the sound. They demonstrated Dolby DTS. With just a sub $100 pair of headphones you could distinctly “feel” the sound move from your temple, to the sides of your head, toward the back of your head and then behind you. We had to keep lifting the headset off to make sure we weren’t being tricked by the theatre speaker system. It was so impressive as to be uncanny (…how do they do that?).

Nokia is a name many of us have consigned to the “crashed and burned” list of household names in our industry. However, using their Lumia Windows Phone 8 handsets they had a truly impressive range of demos including wireless charging, NFC, but best of all “Cinemagraph”. This camera technology released last year takes multiple pictures when you press the shutter. Then, when viewing your photograph you can literally substitute closed eyes for open, a frown for a smile etc and the Cinemagraph blends in the eyes, mouth etc from a variety of photographs in a visually seamless manner. Even better, if the scene contains movement – eg people standing on a beach with waves rolling in behind – you can indicate where you want movement by swiping the screen, and the final still photograph then becomes a still image of the people but with gently moving waves in the background – motion on a still photograph. This is the Daily Prophet photographs from Harry Potter come true.  On a different, but equally impressive level, Nokia were showing their ultra-low cost handsets starting with the €15 105. With a 35 day battery life, and up to 90% data compression, this range of handsets is well targeted at emerging markets.

So can Nokia yet make a comeback? Well with a better than expected Q4 2012, operators desperate to break the Apple-Android duopoly, and technology like this, it has to be their best chance yet. They seem to have a new humility that makes them “compelled to innovate”. Many of us in the vendor industry know that it is always the T2 or T3 operator in a country who innovates best – because they are compelled to. Similarly Nokia have been brought low, very low, but maybe this is precisely what was needed for them to re-invent themselves.

And next year’s congress?
MWC has become an institution in our industry. It maintains a completely surreal atmosphere – like Disneyland but with no fun. It also maintains its ability to exact premium fees.”….It’s a shameless scam” was what one fellow Marketer in a neighbouring booth said to me. Indeed, at MWC every item down to the waste paper bin is separately charged, and GSMA have adopted a policy of charging exhibitors not only for space – as with any other show – but also for airspace. So sadly you cannot build a 1 meter square, towering stand to save dollars (…dam!). I also discovered that to print stand banners locally in Barcelona and then throw them away is 3X cheaper than using the official GSMA courier to pick them up from the UK and deliver them. (Isn’t that horrific?)

Having said all that, this is still the event where business is done – I couldn’t find anyone who would disagree with that. Customer meetings, partner meetings, media and analyst meetings all take place at this event like no other.

Perhaps some of us just need to get a life – I have been at 3GSM/MWC for approximately 15 years. One day I fear my offspring or yours may be walking the streets of Barcelona saying “… oh yes my father went to MWC and my grandfather before him………!” Now there’s a very scary thought…….

See you in Barcelona 2014!

This blog was published by RCR Wireless on March 4th Click Here