MWC 2016 LIVE: The top 5 themes of this year’s Mobile World Congress

MWC 2016 logo_Mobile World Congress is back for its eleventh year in Barcelona and the European Sting is the only Brussels-based EU media to be official media partner. Last year’s event drew more than 94,000 people and 2016 will see even more flocking to the Fira Gran Via during the week of 22-26 February. Past visitors have seen the definition of a connected device expand before, to include cars, the home and wearables. As Anne Morris reports, MWC 2016 is again expected to see mobile affect other industries and areas of our lives on an exponential scale.

MWC has a reputation for acting as a bellwether for the mobile industry. With a sub-title for this year’s event of Mobile is Everything, it could pull off the same trick again. At least, that is the opinion of Emma Mohr-McClune, service director, global consumer services at Current Analysis.

“The focus of MWC has always been mobility,” said Mohr-McClune. “But this year, I expect we’ll see and hear more about mobility as the predominant function of convergence and bundled service experiences, both in the consumer and enterprise segments.”

With this in mind, what can you expect to see at the Fira Gran Via this year? To help you plan your week, we have compiled some views from industry experts on what they hope to see at the show.

Devices 
New launches of smartphones, phablets and tablets have traditionally been a dominant theme at MWC, and even as the focus of the event broadens this will continue to be the case.

Indeed, Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, predicted in a research report that a number of Android vendors will, as usual, release the next generation of their smartphone flagships at the event.

“We’ll hopefully see an increased focus on differentiation by enabling unique, but relevant experiences, expansion to new functionalities and better ties to key app and service ecosystems,” he said.

Annette Zimmermann has been following mobile device trends in EMEA over several years in her role as research director at Gartner. She backs up Cozza’s earlier prognosis by noting that new flagship devices are expected from Samsung, LG, TCL and Sony. “There are already some indicators (and rumours) what these devices may look like,” she said.

For example, LG sent out an invitation to a launch event that alludes to something with “play”, which Zimmermann noted could have something to do with gaming and good graphic capabilities with a focus on “fun” rather than work.

“Or maybe they are not even alluding to a new phone but other devices like an update of a smart watch. It is really hard to differentiate for any vendor these days in such a mature market,” she commented.

Unpacked 2016Zimmermann also thinks that Samsung is likely to introduce a Galaxy S7 and variants thereof, a perennial at MWC. However, she warns that the South Korean vendor will continue to be challenged in the high-end market by Apple.

As Zimmermann also points out, it should not be forgotten that Huawei was the big winner of 2015 with a 47 per cent increase in mobile phone sales in the first three quarters of the year compared to the previous year. However, it’s uncertain the Chinese vendor will use MWC as the platform for the launch of its next flagship smartphone, the P9.

Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, summed up the situation succinctly by stating that MWC this year will see “numerous smartphone launches but little genuine innovation,” with differentiation on new flagship devices unlikely to stretch further than 4K screens, bigger batteries, enhanced cameras and materials.

Wood added that visitors should also watch out for the possibility that non-traditional handset players (such as Gigaset or HP) may announce device launches.

Wearables
Wearable devices are not only expected to feature heavily again at MWC but will also show further signs of evolution. As noted by George Jijiashvili, analyst for wearables at CCS Insight, there will be a growing number of cellular-enabled smart watches as well as a “clear convergence between consumer wearables and medical devices.”

Interestingly, Jijiashvili also expects enterprise wearables and applications for wearables to be more prominent than ever before.

Jim Bailey, senior managing director for mobility at Accenture Digital, backs up this view, noting that wearable devices “will herald the third phase of enterprise mobility – the connected worker.”

Bailey explained that while the first phase of enterprise mobility was about empowering users with mobile devices and email on the move and the second was about basic transactional apps, “the third phase that we are entering now is about the transformation of business processes using mobile technologies, including wearables and other devices that have started to enter business thanks to the reduced cost of computing capability, familiarity by employees of wearable capabilities and increased acceptance by CIOs of BYOD.”

According to Bailey, 2015 saw the mass-market launch of wearables, “focused around smart watches, as smart glasses proved too much for consumers to comfortably adopt. At MWC and in 2016, we’ll see evidence of the market evolving as people get more familiar with ‘wearing’ technology and bringing it into the enterprise.”

Gartner’s Zimmermann, meanwhile, expects to see new products from emerging vendors as well as a growing focus on smart watches for kids and more sensors integrated into wearables, such as for monitoring health and fitness levels.

“Another theme – driven by Samsung – will be how to integrate smart watches into the connected home,” she added.

The Internet of Things 
iotThe Internet of Things (IoT) includes wearables, connected cars and connected objects in the home. Yet there is still a great deal of discussion about how these various devices and objects will actually get “connected”, with a number of technologies already competing to become a de facto IoT connectivity option.

One such contender is Narrow-Band-IoT (NB-IoT), an LPWA technology being standardised by the 3GPP.

As noted by Peter Jarich, vice president of consumer and infrastructure services at Current Analysis, “by all accounts, the progress made by LPWAN [low-power wide-area network] technologies in addressing today’s IoT demands has been impressive. It was no surprise, then, when the cellular industry got together behind NB-IoT as a way to fight back. While it’s still unclear what the standard will look like, we’ve already seen claims of trials and 2016 availability. MWC 2016 is sure to generate more hype around the technology – hopefully alongside more details.”

Martin Garner, a senior VP at CCS Insight who focuses on Internet services and experiences, added that specialist LPWA players such as Sigfox will also make use of MWC to raise their profile.

In Garner’s view, “there will likely be a heavy focus on implementation rather than technology breakthroughs…inevitably, connected cars will also feature strongly,” while other focus points include integration, scaling, management, cost reduction, security, the smart city, M2M and 5G.

OTT 
OTT has long-since ceased to become a four-letter word for the traditional mobile industry players, but although relations between the large Internet players and operators have thawed there is still some wariness on both sides.

zuck2Nevertheless, the likes of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are becoming regular faces at the event and over-the-top providers and players are certainly here to stay.

At this year’s MWC, Current-Analysis’ Mohr-McClune believes we will witness what she described as “the end of an era” in the OTT world.

“OTTs are all looking to add access to their propositions,” she said. “OTTs are no longer merely going ‘over the top’; they are evolving into orchestrators of complex ‘network of networks’, invisibly steered, and at lowest cost, for a wireless experience that could take some beating.

Paolo Pescatore, director of multiplay and media at CCS Insight, also said mobile OTT video is expected to feature heavily at MWC.

“This builds upon the slew of OTT video launches we’ve seen in the last 12 months,” he said. “Even telecoms operators have been jumping on Netflix’s bandwagon, such as Verizon. Expect providers in emerging markets to take the lead given the lack of fixed-line infrastructure in these markets; and coupled with Netflix’s global rollout programme, which will raise the awareness of video.”

Privacy and security 
Privacy and security are always paramount, but recent security breaches and growing concerns over device security have increased sensitivity levels among consumers over this issue.

As noted by Accenture Digital’s Bailey, “more devices mean more potential weaknesses, and consumers’ understanding of that is improving. Security and privacy will be differentiators in device choices.”

“At MWC and into 2016, an important differentiator will become security and data privacy. Even consumers with little interest or understanding of technology will see news stories about hacked devices and companies, and as a result will look to be reassured about how secure their personal data is, but also how far that data will be ‘legally’ shared with other companies,” said Bailey.

Kester Mann, principal analyst with a focus on operators at CCS Insight, also said that privacy and security are becoming increasingly important and are “hugely topical given recent high-profile breaches,” such as at TalkTalk and Ashley Madison.

“Expect an update on the GSMA’s SIM-based Mobile Connect initiative for secure authentication,” Mann said, noting that security is “vital for ubiquitous connectivity.”

Mohr-McClune added that secure mobile authentication and identity, as a conduit to new partnership models and revenue streams, has been an emerging theme at MWC for several years, “and I’m hoping to get an update on Mobile ID progress and best practice in this area.”

“There’s clearly a competitive tussle brewing between the likes of Facebook, which now likes to claim that Facebook account authentication is superior to any form of mobile number identification, and carriers, who have far more invested in the latter,” she said.

And another thing…
Of course other themes will emerge during the show, from further moves towards 5G through to regulation and M&A, solutions for sky-rocketing mobile data usage including LTE-U/LAA and LTE-Advanced Pro, virtual reality, semi conductors, and much more besides.

It’s set to be an exciting week, and the Mobile World Live team will be there to keep you up to date on all the developments. See you there!

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