Mobile World Congress 2014 offered nothing truly surprising. Smartphone vendors unveiled new improved models, but no game changers. On the network side, data only is coming and vendors showcased equipment to transfer more data. Big data was discussed, but can carriers really monetize any customer data? And, of course, M2M and wearable technologies are emerging, but they are still in need of break-through products.
Several vendors launched new phones. Most of the phones have a better display, better camera, and faster processor, but nothing significantly new. Nokia’s Android phones were kind of an excepted surprise.
There seem to be at least three potential scenarios for why Microsoft and Nokia chose to do this (read Where's Microsoft mobile heading? ): 1) it is just legacy work from Nokia’s plan B, 2) it is Microsoft’s trial to see, what it can do with Android, or 3) Microsoft really manages the phone division as an independent unit and it must do whatever is needed to make a successful business. As the Nokia Android series are not built as ‘Google Android’, but have their own app store and UI, it is a trial of sorts.
We are still in a wait and see mode with other operating systems and ecosystems. Jolla had nothing new; except a Sailfish OS version that can be installed onto Android devices. An interesting curiosity is that Sailfish can be installed onto Nokia Android phones; something for old Nokia fans. Tizen had quite a lot of demos and promises from cameras to automobile cooperation, but nothing tangible yet.
Samsung had a Tizen demo phone and they stated that ‘it will be available this year’. Firefox looked to have more concrete new products. It has phones already available and also a published chipset for $25 smartphones. Tizen and Firefox count on HTML5 apps. A smaller French vendor, Wiko, had probably the most interesting new Android phones, reasonably priced nice design dual-SIM phones that are already available in some countries in Europe.
The carriers are really preparing for the data only time. It is means network and equipment vendors want to offer more solutions to transfer more data. This includes all big vendors, but also some smaller ones, e.g. Cambridge Broadband Networks is now planning to expand to Asia to try to utilize this opportunity. Of course, we still have questions, such as how well carriers will be able to adapt this business. For example, SingTel’s CEO asserted that they are not going to be a dump data pipe company. We’ll see.
IT, analytics and SI companies want to talk about big data and its opportunities. Many experts admit that carriers are not strong in utilizing customer data. Telecom data is always difficult to sell to 3rd parties, carriers have no competence to be a data or advertising middleman, and their own sales and marketing bottlenecks are elsewhere than in data analytics. In practice it looks like data analytics opportunities are more with technical data, e.g. to predict faults in the network and equipment and in that way improve the quality of the service.
There were a lot of M2M demos and concepts at MWC. Automobile companies demonstrated their connected cars, different kinds of fitness and health care devices and generally wearable technology got attention at many booths. Most of them are still concepts or trials. And some, like Samsung’s and Sony’s watches, have very limited functionality, if they are not connected by Bluetooth to a phone.
We can summarize that MWC 2014 was very much business as usual: improvements, but no disruptive innovations. Startups had their own show inside the event and there were some more innovative products and concepts. But I’ll expand on that in another story.
Jouko Ahvenainen is serial-entrepreneur and co-founder of Grow VC Group, a new funding solution. In the 1990s Jouko worked for Nokia in Europe and Asia, and then lead the 3G practice at Capgemini globally. The last 12 years Jouko has been an entrepreneur and investor.