CCS Insight: 5G to steal the limelight in Barcelona

Ben Wood/CCS Insight
21 Feb 2019

Next week on Monday February 25, the technology industry will swarm into Barcelona as the city once again becomes a platform for companies showcasing products at the cutting edge of innovation.

With 2019 marking the moment 5G achieves commercial reality, we expect it to underpin most aspects of the big news at MWC, spanning devices, infrastructure, software and services. We anticipate a slew of telecom operators will announce their commitment to deployment of next-generation networks, and expect to see manufacturers unveil the first commercial 5G devices.

The current 5G leadership in the US and Asia will be reflected by a greater degree of global involvement than we've seen in previous years. However, European operators will also be keen to flex their 5G muscle, even if they are lagging those in other regions.

However, we caution that the huge focus on 5G will also deliver a significant amount of hype for the new technology, and our team will be working hard to assess how realistic the claims being made actually are. We remain concerned that there's too much attention on peak speeds rather than focusing on the technology's other benefits such as capacity and latency. Furthermore, we'll be looking closely for truly persuasive uses for 5G and hope to see more examples of telecom operators working alongside and within specific industry sectors. This approach is important in identifying business cases for 5G.

A big story at the show will undoubtedly be 5G devices, and we expect some commercial products to break cover (although they will only start shipping sometime after the event), along with a number of 5G prototypes being used in 5G demonstrations around the Fira Gran Via. We expect to see a range of 5G mobile broadband (MiFi) devices and fixed wireless access routers announced. These products could well spearhead early 5G experiences.

This year Samsung is choosing to announce its new flagship S device family ahead of MWC on Wednesday 20 February at simultaneous events in San Francisco and London, which CCS Insight will attend. Samsung's latest products will certainly form the centrepiece of its product display at MWC. They come at a critical time for the company's mobile business given its weak start to 2019.

Pretty much every other phone-maker will also have updated products, with LG, Nokia (HMD Global), Nubia, Oppo, Sony, Wiko, ZTE, Gionee and many others set to flaunt their new smartphones. We also anticipate several of the new devices will follow Apple's lead by supporting e-SIMs.

Devices with folding screens are also tipped to be a prominent theme and a magnet for gadget lovers, likely to grab the headlines. Samsung may tease a folding-screen phone at its event today, and other phones-makers such as LG, Huawei, Nubia and Xiaomi could also have foldable devices on display. However, it's as yet unclear how close these products are to being commercially released.

This year's MWC is also likely to put a major focus on 5G in enterprises, as the market explores the promise of a transformation in networks and connectivity, and a significant new business opportunity for operators in the enterprise space. Identity, security and solutions that take advantage of new devices and voice-enabled technologies are also on our watchlist.

We expect artificial intelligence, which was a leading theme at CES 2019, to continue to be a hot topic at MWC. However, we fear that near-meaningless claims of "intelligence" will outweigh substantive implementations and products. Unfortunately, the technology is being badly abused in the usual one-upmanship of tech buzzword bingo despite its enormous future potential.

The Internet of things (IoT) is also expected to be a highlight and there will definitely be plenty of 5G-enabled IoT examples. In reality, most successful implementations are using 2G and 4G, with growing interest in NB-IoT and other low-power solutions such as LoRa and Sigfox. We'll be looking closely for updates on deployment and tariffing of narrowband networks. It's worth noting that at the same time that MWC will be in full swing, Nuremberg will play host to Embedded World, an event with a strong focus on IoT. CCS Insight's Martin Garner (@Martin_Garner) will be attending the show in Germany to get the latest updates in this area.

Other areas to look out for include:

  • Extended reality (artificial reality and augmented reality) will be a popular theme, and the widely anticipated unveiling of Microsoft's HoloLens 2 headset will be one on the big stories in this domain.
  • We expect several announcements of new wearables including lots of smartwatches powered by Google's Wear OS platform and Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor, devices from Samsung including a smartwatch and wireless earbuds, watches from MyKronoz as well as further details of Nubia's Alpha wrist-worn smartphone with a flexible display as showcased at IFA 2018 (see IFA 2018: Wearables). We also anticipate plenty of smartwatches for kids and the elderly, particularly from Shenzhen-based companies.
  • The GSMA's Innovation City will bring attention to a wide range of projects linked to the smart city, ranging from city-centric solutions to automotive developments, but we worry the business model for such deployments still seems weak.
  • We expect to see several smart home showcases, notably from companies such as D-Link, Samsung and Vodafone.
  • And, for the first time, blockchain and edge computing could emerge as important themes at this year's event.

Ben Wood is chief of research at CCS Insight

This article first appeared on CCS Insight and can be found here

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