UK: Wearables, VR Headsets, 5G, IoT? Mobile World Congress 2015 Had It All

Last Updated: 24 April 2015
Article by Cornelia Calugar-Pop

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

The 10th edition of Mobile World Congress (MWC) was packed with new gadgets and technologies. This year, it was increasingly obvious that the event is becoming a cross-industry affair as more things get connected. The conference attracted more than 90,000 attendees and 2,000 exhibiting companies ranging from the world's largest mobile operators, software companies, equipment providers, internet companies, plus companies from industry sectors such as automotive, finance and healthcare.

Looking back at some of the things I've seen at the event, three key themes, in my opinion, dominated the conference floor.

1. Device portfolio diversification

As expected, MWC was the perfect opportunity for device manufacturers to showcase their flagship smartphones. And we were, as always, spoiled for choice. While smartphones continue to remain the key area of focus, in an attempt to diversify their device portfolio, the major device manufacturers also showcased smartwatches and virtual reality (VR) headsets.

In the smartwatch arena, we have seen a huge leap in design this year, a departure from the bulky, black-and-white display models seen in 2014. Some of the smartwatches showcased were beautifully designed and styled, with stainless steel bodies, and leather wristbands. For those not keen on the full smartwatch experience, traditional watches with small display areas and "smart" features such as the ability to give voice commands, talk and listen, have also been demoed. We will have to wait and see whether a more traditional-looking smartwatch will hit the spot with consumers.

Virtual reality handsets were the second most popular new device category at the event. One notable example is the HTC Vive released in collaboration with the game-maker Valve (due to hit shelves by the end of 2015). This headset boosts 1200 x 1080 resolution for each eye, and a 90 Frames per Second (FPS) refresh rate to deliver "photorealistic imagery" (earlier versions of VR headsets had a single 1080p panel able to refresh at the rate of 75 FPS). The HTC Vive is also packed with a gyro-sensor, accelerometer, and laser position sensor which when combined are meant to track the rotation of head on both axes to an accuracy of 1/10th of a degree. While VR headsets have been in a "beta" and "development kit" status thus far, it looks like we are now closer than ever to see a consumer VR headset. Applications should hopefully follow suit.

However, while we have seen a glimpse of what is possible outside of the smartphone category, it remains far from clear whether there is any consumer appetite for these two form factors and what the killer app may be.

In the near future, neither smartwatches, nor VR headsets, will overshadow the smartphone's indisputable lead in the consumer electronic arena and Deloitte predicts that around 1.4 billion smartphones will be sold in 2015, about 700 times higher than the 2 million watches sold in 2014 (a forecast for 2015 is not available).

2. The 5G vision

MWC also provided us with the opportunity to see what the future might look like from a mobile connectivity perspective, with most telecom equipment manufacturers demonstrating their pre-5G technology.

The technology could deliver speeds of up to 10 Gbps, 1,000 times greater capacity (more than 1 million per square mile), less than one millisecond latency (from about 50 milliseconds for 4G), maximum 10 millisecond response time, and reduce energy consumption by a factor of 1,000. The gains in capacity means that 5G will allow to connect more people, but also more things.

The improvement in battery life is particularly useful from an IoT (Internet of Things) perspective, especially in industries that require sensors to last a number of years before recharging, such as in agriculture. The improvement in latency time means that 5G can be used for scenarios where close-to-zero latency time is required, such as for vehicles.

But while 5G could be ground-breaking, the existing roadmap for the standard (initial system design by 2017, trials in 2018, and standards ready by the end of that year) means that we are unlikely to see commercial 5G offerings before 2020. For now, 5G remains nothing but a vision.

3. The Internet of absolutely everything

I saved the best till last. IoT dominated not just the venue floors but also the conversations. Representative of technology and service providers, manufactures of "things" and chipsets, connectivity providers were all present at the event. We saw examples ranging from sustainable citywide connectivity (smart buildings, water, lightning and waste management) and connected transportation, to connected toothbrushes and kettles. According to the Deloitte TMT predictions, sales of these connected devices will total 1 billion units in 2015.

My personal favourite was the "Magic Mirror" – a connected mirror – targeted particularly at a female audience. The mirror will give a diagnosis based on your skin complexion, and as a result of that, will show the cosmetics that you should be using. An additional functionality was the ability to watch make-up tutorials tailored to your type of skin – great opportunity for vloggers!

Once again, MWC has not disappointed and continues to set the trend for things to come in the telecom and tech space, but increasingly more across a variety of industries. The growing array of products, services and companies present at the event are a testament to that.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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