After years of focusing on specific technologies—5G networks, blockchain, AI, big data, and of course IoT, some may see the 2019 Intelligent Connectivity theme for Mobile World Congress and wonder, “Are they running out of ideas?” Is the whole industry now ablaze over these technologies and catch-phrases? Has the humble mobile phone finally reached its final point of evolution—a glossy rectangular slab where the only standout features are ever growing screens, more powerful processors, and the ability to fold in half?
GSMA would have you think differently. Intelligent connectivity is their push to get manufacturers and vendors thinking beyond mobile phone connectivity and creating a world where connectivity is always on, always smart, and always available. The GSMA is also referring to this as “hyper-connectivity”… we’ll see if this sticks!
So let’s dive in and explore what MWC’s new headline is all about, and what the hot news in each of those areas was.
More widespread than ever, 5G was present in some form on almost every single stand this year. Like the IoT space, almost every single product or device had to have some kind of 5G upgrade path or be 5G ready. This was certainly true in the phone space, where each vendor had a 5G-capable flagship. In particular, Samsung had their Galaxy S10 range split off into an entirely separate 5G-ready section.
There were also lots of announcements detailing 5G carrier technology; for example, Qualcomm used the event to push home the point that “5G is ready”. This was backed by their 5G capable chipset reveals. Qualcomm also aligned with the Intelligent Connectivity theme by promoting a platform for their chipset to work with VR and AR headsets through 5G.
On a network level, Ericsson demonstrated its spectrum sharing software in collaboration with Intel’s 5G mobile platform and chipsets. The software allows carriers to run 4G and 5G traffic simultaneously on the same frequency. The demonstration also showed that network operators could leverage existing 4G networks to start carrying 5G traffic as an upgrade path on the journey to 5G.
Companies such as VMware promoted virtualisation to support 5G services. Many vendors providing edge devices such as routers and gateways also showcased new technologies; these focused on moving computing and data storage capability back to the edge device in order to free up 5G core network resources.
Despite speculations over it’s viability and arrival in the public eye, no company at MWC was willing to be left out of the 5G conversation, and all hands are on deck when it comes to potential applications; ourselves included.
Much like the 5G-related innovation, there was a shift towards the edge device in the AI space. However, in the AI world the edge device takes far more forms than simply a router; think cars, wearables, or cameras. AIStorm, an artificial intelligence startup that specialises in edge products, announced two chips designed to implement AI capability on these type of devices. One advantage of the solution is its ability to process analogue information directly from sensors before transforming it into a digital format. This means in V2X applications such as cars, intelligent decisions can be made on-device, eliminating extra latency by having to send digital data to the cloud to be processed (no matter how fast 5G promises to be).
Microsoft kept up the edge theme by introducing the Azure Kinect DK sensor. Originally sold as a video game accessory, the Kinect product line has been sold for a few years as an enterprise device. The latest iteration combines AI and the cloud (and of course, 5G) to allow Azure-based computational tasks, such as using AI on the image stream to detect flaws in the production line system. Combined with their HoloLens 2 announcement, Microsoft is also pushing the theme of Intelligent Connectivity in their quest to be the frontrunner in the mixed reality space.
There were a ton of major players emphasising the need for Big Data in 2019. SAS referred to the ”Analytics of Things” and how Big Data analytics played a pivotal role in Industry 4.0. Big Data covers a wide range of disciplines, from consumer devices to network cores, and SAS demonstrated how Big Data can be leveraged in all of these situations. There were demonstrations covering network analytics, fraud detection and risk assessment, machine learning with the Viya enterprise platform, and data governance and GDPR.
IoT continued its march towards a world with billions of connected devices, however with a focus on cell-based connectivity technologies such as LTE-M and NB-IoT. Whereas a few years ago it was enough for a manufacturer to provide for a SIM slot and take a consumer or standard SIM which would operate on a 2G, 3G or 4G network, all devices now call out current or roadmapped support for these specific narrowband technologies.
Furthering the Intelligent Connectivity theme (and drawing together the other bits of AI and big data), vendors also demonstrated an increase in computing power at the edge, to make devices smarter and offload both network and processing requirements from the mobile core.
No doubt there will be further announcements and more at the IoT Solutions World Congress taking place in Barcelona at the end of 2019—which Pangea will of course be attending!