Big data, IoT and 5G were the key words at Mobile World Congress this year. Almost all big companies asserted they support two or three of these and lots of smaller companies focus on one of these. But can you find something tangible behind these key words?
First, the device business. Most larger phone vendors published some new phones at MWC. The market leader, Samsung, announced a new flagship Galaxy S6. LG, ZTE, Lenovo, Sony, and other Android manufacturers also had nice high-end new models there. But were there some really disruptive new models? I doubt it. For example, Samsung has done it many times that they come out with a new high-end Galaxy that has some very new technology features. But have they really changed the user experience? Not so much. It is hard to tell the difference between Android phones from different manufacturers.
I wrote earlier that Microsoft is becoming more relevant again in mobile with its Office and business solutions for all operating systems. But its own phone line was a disappointment at MWC. They published one new model, a new low end phone. The most interesting thing was that they offer Office 365 with the phone for free for one year. It tells how important the success of Office is for Microsoft. Another question is how long they will have their own phones.
Otherwise the trend looks like phones have large screens – approaching tablets, several ultra-light laptops and everyone wants to offer a smart watch (that start to look nice) or wristband. The market for larger screen tablets can become very difficult and users prefer light laptops and larger screen phones. Those light laptops are probably good for Microsoft.
The relationship between telcos and Internet companies have not got easier. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked again about free basic data. His story itself makes sense, if we think the Internet business; offer something for free and get people to buy more. Of course, he would like to see that carriers offer especially Facebook connections for free, and those people start to buy more data. But carriers are worried about their own revenue stream and especially how to pay all investments in data infrastructure. And carriers don’t really have a track record in innovating productization or pricing.
Money, payments and wallets are coming to mobile, but slowly. Samsung published its own payment solution Samsung Pay. Someone could claim that it is a reaction (or a copy) to Apple Pay. MasterCard especially promoted its Financial Inclusion solution, i.e. to get bank and payment services to people in developing countries. But we still must wait and see the first big commercial breakthrough in mobile payments. It is not far away anymore.
What about the key words, big data, IoT and 5G? The problem of big data and IoT is that they definitely are important and there will be many areas to utilize them, but many companies still have too unclear and intangible plans. For example, in data analytics it is really crucial to have very clear products for very concrete needs and also a model to monetize the results. Analytics have too many nice to have things, and people or companies are not ready to pay for those. 5G is important in research labs, but carriers still have a lot of work to do and investments to make to get most people to use 4G.
Finally, some interesting random observations in Barcelona this year: 1) Apple has always wanted to be different and not be present at MWC. I went to one evening event to a luxury hotel in Barcelona and asked for my event in the reception. The person in the reception gave me a list of all their ‘mobile’ events on that night and asked, which one I mean. The first one on the list was “Apple: Mobile World Congress event”. So, it looks like they anyway do something there; 2) I looked at a group of ZTE staff in Barcelona subway. They personally used iPhones; 3) Gemalto emphasized security and trust in their stand. After the latest issues, many people saw more irony than anything else in those slogans; 4) There are all the time more and more Asian companies and people at MWC, Asia is really taking the leading role in this business.
As a whole MWC15 offered no surprises, but it remains the leading event in the mobile industry to see the latest trends, new products and meet people around the world. Somehow I also feel it had got back its focus, it is especially for telcos and companies for mobile and connectivity technology, not so much e.g. for all kind of mobile apps. This is probably good, because there are so many other events for apps and services.