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Beyond the Handset: Mobile World Congress In The Age Of 5G

Infrastructure, ecosystems are the stories of this year’s show

Watch: 5G Will Change More Than We Can Know

Over recent years, smartphone innovation has slowed. Developments from major vendors have trickled in, with refinement of functionality being brought to handsets, rather than leaps of innovation. Smartphones have no sign of disappearing; they remain one of the most widely used devices. However, there is certainly a lull in terms of market growth and buzz surrounding the products.

Mobile World Congress (MWC), which kicks off Monday in Barcelona, is the largest wireless trade show of the year, and has been the launch pad of many innovative handsets. Vendors have continually used Barcelona as a meeting point industry-wide to market new technologies and capabilities. Despite its continued prominence in the smartphone yearly calendar, MWC has become more than a destination for mobile phones. The event now hosts members of the wider IoT industry, exhibiting companies from network infrastructure vendors to car manufacturers. It is safe to say, that if a product in any way connects to the internet, it will be under the roof of Barcelona’s Gran Via.

While advancements in mobile handsets may have slowed, there is certainly a lot of up and coming technology that will be found within MWC’s halls. With AI, 5G and autonomous driving on the edge of commercialization, and voice personal assistants (VPAs), bezel-less displays and computational photography all becoming increasingly important developing technologies, there will be a lot to talk about.


Since the launch of 4G networks in 2009, 5G has been a talking point at every communications trade show, including CES. The forward-looking nature of this technology development is certainly testament to the commitment to innovation found in the industry. 5G promises to open the flood gates to new technologies that have been in development over the last ten years but require bandwidth unobtainable with current network technologies.

See: AT&T Picks 1st Three Cities For 5G

Much of the development behind 5G is ready, but a lag between development and infrastructure creation has meant we will be waiting until 2019-2020 until 5G is operational. 5G is expected to dominate MWC in terms of near-commercially ready products in anticipation of network rollout over the next two years. We expect to see a plethora of industrial based networking and IoT products hit the market, from gigabit car connectivity, live VR streaming networking devices and 5G smartphone chipsets.


Voice-controlled personal assistants (VPAs) integrated into home electronics were the standout feature in 2017. The last year of market development has shown the technology has firmly found a place in our homes; the focus for Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa has been as part of smart home devices, rather than as a smartphone functionality. Products such as the Pixel Ear Buds and Apple AirPods have tried to revitalize Siri and Google Assistant’s importance on mobile devices.

However, excitement remains stuck in the home electronics segment. Following the launch of the HomePod, and with a Samsung Bixby Wireless speaker on the horizon, we may see a more aggressive approach to locking consumers into a VPA ecosystem within the four billion smartphones in use. There is a huge potential to engage consumers in VPA ecosystems through smartphones, laying the foundations for next generation voice interaction.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) also promises huge potential. However, due to limitations of processing power in consumer devices, AI has largely been resigned to the Cloud. Qualcomm, Huawei and Apple have all touted dedicated neural cores and processor optimization for AI applications. Though, full use of these technologies is yet to be harnessed. Mainstream application and software developers are yet to make the leap to utilize the on-board AI processing power; in some cases, open access to the hardware is not granted, and in others it does not make sense to take the transition from the Cloud.

See: 5G Transition Will Create ‘Massive IoT’

2018 could be the year we see vendors recognize the importance of building a smartphone handset base with AI-optimized processors onboard. A number of new handsets using Huawei’s Kirin 970 and Qualcomm’s 845 processor are expected to be announced, while other SoC vendors will announce further plans for AI integration for next-generation products. While these chips coming to market in handsets is important, equally as vital is how smartphone manufacturers will use the processing power. For vendors to take advantage of new AI processor technology, these themes will need to have a clear focus this year.

We are at the turning point for network connectivity, connected car, wearables, Cloud technologies, AI, operator services and digital currency, plus many other advancements that will be discussed during MWC. With more than 2,300 exhibitors from across the industry attending, the event will showcase innovations that will impact technology for years to come.