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Jouko Ahvenainen

Alternative facts from MWC2017

It’s again time to see what really happens at Mobile World Congress. The official announcements have included new handsets, 5G, IoT and big data. People are talking about the Nokia 3310, how carriers could transform from bit-pipes to something else and how networks wouldn’t include only intelligence, but artificial intelligence soon. But the event is much more than the official announcements, it is interesting discussions, observations and revealing details. I tried to pick you some of these.

Many mobile phone manufacturers have new models at MWC. Of course, Apple and Google are not here to publish new phones, and Samsung is also late this year, and no new flagship Samsung yet at Barcelona. Basically, all those new phones use Android and look the same. I think I have seen dozens of phone models and if I should try to recognize which is which, I couldn’t do it. They probably have different processors, displays and cameras, but I don’t know how much that actually matters.

One exception is the Chinese firm TCL that makes the new BlackBerry phones. Those still include the physical keyboard and are different that way. It constantly surprises me that BlackBerry is the only vendor that has the keyboard anymore and no company is even trying to innovate somehow unique devices. Maybe it is hard and people want to get these standard models, but could it make sense to even try to make some experimental devices?

The Nokia brand is back in mobile. HMD announced Nokia 6 for the global market and two new Android based smartphones. So, how do they look? They are like all those other Android smartphones. It is still hard to say how Nokia can get people to buy Nokia phones again. The promising factors are that they are relatively cheap and use pure Android. HMD hopes people would remember Nokia, but an old brand is not such a simple thing. Older people still remember Commodore computers in the 1980s, but would it get them to buy a Commodore branded PC? Maybe to raise more memories HMD also introduced a new version of the old Nokia 3310 phone. It is a nice retro toy, but compared to other retro toys, you also need a SIM card to use it. I wonder how many people are ready pay for that.

Another question that came to mind after HMD’s launch event was whether someone could disrupt phone launch event concepts and not try to organize another Apple and Steve Jobs copycat event. Many people think Apple’s events after Jobs are not what they used to be. But all these other events are worse: business executives come in their smart casual clothes, try to claim their new products change everything and then play some fancy videos about the design and materials. It is often said in marketing that you must be genuine with your actions and communication. It would be much better if each company had its own genuine style to launch too, not just a copy of Apple.

Jolla announced a new $250 million Sailfish OS licensing deal for the Chinese Shan Li. Jolla’s business is starting to be interestingly linked to international politics. The OS was already earlier accepted for use by the Russian authorities. Especially the current political situation can increase interest in using software that is not American.

The discussion about the future role of carriers continues. AT&T’s CEO John Stankey recommended carriers to have a more active role in software, not only focus on the network as such. This recommendation is easy to understand, but probably much harder to implement. Carriers haven’t had a great track record in software and services beyond the actual network. They would need totally new competence, but also new attitude to be ready to do more services.

Big data, data analytics and AI are big things at MWC17. Some companies offer only tools and platforms to collect and analyze the data, but those who offer actual applications to utilize data offer mainly old ideas like how to know your customers better, optimize your operations, target your marketing and advertising and start to utilize all IoT data. Sometimes I get a feeling that a value for customers is in a very small side role in this data analytics business. Of course, companies say they want to make experiences more personal, help customers to get more relevant advertising and have more relevant information, but in reality it is to monetize customers better. And it is always like that in business, but when we talk about customer’s personal data, privacy and data they own, it would be good that customers could get more actual value and a bigger control in these fancy data plans.

You always see many better and worse slogans in the MWC halls. The typical stuff includes all versions of “tomorrow starts today,” “future next generation technology,” and “value to everyone”. But then there are some slogans that cause you to think, for example this year Qualcomm says “5G from the company that brought you 3G and 4G.” My first feeling was that I didn’t know Qualcomm brought me 3G and 4G, but I know they patented them and forced others who brought them to me to pay.

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