MWC 2016: Our Experts' Report

Back to the Mobile World Congress 2016, b<>com’s experts share trends of this edition : mobile payment, internet of things, virtual reality, 5G…

The smartphone market reaches cruising speed

Though the mobile phone market remains appealing and dynamic, it seems to have reached maturity, as shown in the recent Gartner study that reveals that growth in the smartphone market in 2015 went down to 2008 levels (source: Techcrunch)

Historic leaders in the sector (Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC) are seeing their Chinese rivals (Huawei, Xiaomi, and Lenovo) capture more market share bit by bit, as evinced by the size of certain booths.

Among the models unveiled during the show, the stars of this 2016 edition are definitely the Galaxy S7 and LG G5, followed closely by the Sony Xperia X. As they run on the same technology, these products differ by the features they offer (lightness, airtight casing, fingerprint and facial recognition).

A large number of booths with various accessories for terminals take up a sizable space at the show.

Mobile payment, new alliances and biometrics

Because the development of digital payment on mobile terminals offers new opportunities to the banking and retail sectors, major world players in payment attended the Mobile World Congress in full force. 

PayPal, for example, chose the show to announce its entry into Facebook Messenger and Uber, as well as new partnerships with the mobile service operators Vodafone and America Movil. Visa announced the launch of a payment service designed specially for automakers, which takes the form of a payment button connected to an application that detects, for instance, the amount of fuel just added, or calculates how long the vehicle has been parked and what the charge should be. MasterCard, the international bank card group, used the occasion of MWC to announce the launch of a payment system based on facial recognition ("selfie" payment), as well as payments based on fingerprint reading, to authenticate online transactions by bank card made from a mobile phone.

Large technology companies (Samsung, Google) aren't absent either, and are continuing their search for suitable mobile payment solutions. Strategic partnerships are being carried out between telephone operators and banks in order to ensure secure payment methods.

Fewer watches, more connected objects

Smart watches were ubiquitous in 2015, but their presence this year was more subdued. On the other hand, connected objects and the IoT have proven to be THE trend of the 2016 edition. From transportation (cars, motorbikes, bicycles, skiing, etc.) to pets to automation in the home, farm, or city, IoT showed up everywhere.

Many start-ups were present at the show to make a play for certain niche markets that major groups passed up.

Our experts noticed that some of the solutions failed to be innovative and relied on existing technologies like Low Energy Bluetooth (already in use for over ten years). 

Virtual or augmented reality: A good use case for 5G

Virtual and augmented reality made appearances this year at many booths, like Samsung (which generated buzz by demoing a theme park presented on the Gear VR 3D Theater) and HTC (with its Vive virtual reality headset). VR/AR is one of the applications that justifies a slight degree of lag in a live-use setting, and therefore is being used by equipment makers and operators to demonstrate the appeal of 5G in pre-5G prototyping environments where very high transmission rates (close to 10Gps) are worthwhile. However, it is not necessarily the case that MWC has become a VR/AR trade show, or that the market is finally read to take off: The content that was demoed is often unconvincing (low image definition, uninventive games or immersive environments). A VR concert demo with spatial audio at the Nokia booth should nonetheless be noted as giving a good idea of what we could be experiencing in our own living rooms in the years ahead.

The big 5G laboratory

Though 5G is becoming a specialists' affair (again), the demos presented at MWC match the pace of standardization underway at the 3GPP, namely one of continuous, incremental progress with successive releases expected in 2016, 2017, and 2019.

Among the biggest messages announced during the show, release 13 of the 3GPP (March 2016) already allows for announcements on NB-IoT (Narrow-Band IoT) with two evolutions of the standard, NB-LTE (Narrow-Band LTE) and EC-GSM (Extended Coverage GSM, an evolution of 2G). These versions were also demoed with pre-implementations at the Intel, Qualcomm, Nokia, Huawei, and Ericsson booths, to name just a few. Each of them is pushing one evolution over the other, or both with a promise to expand coverage (a cell's coverage radius is multiplied sevenfold). An intermediate evolution that was showed off in many places also consists of strengthening the convergence and co-existence between LTE and WiFI systems, either by using unlicensed bands to deploy an LTE coverage expansion (LAA solutions, for "Licensed Assisted Access") or by aggregating both access types (LTE/WiFI aggregation).

According to our experts, release 14 will be mostly tied to the evolution of the RAN (Radio Access Network) part, which is expected to be operational on a 4G LTE core network.

Release 15, planned for 2019, will define the evolutions of the 5G core network, which will allow lines to be moved between the RAN and the core network. 5G must be flexible in both uses and services (the notion of slicing) and will be able to adapt to constraints imposed by lag, speeds, mobility, and power consumption.

In conclusion, despite the strong signals to the general public about the IoT and VR/AR, this 2016 edition of the MWC presages the coming arrival of 5G and reaffirms the roles of specialists, manufacturers, suppliers, and operators, who have demonstrated real technological advances in the field. This new generation must be accompanied by a reduction in telecom infrastructure costs, particularly involving the adoption of virtualization technologies by hardware makers.