I’ve spent four days at MWC Barcelona, the mobile industry’s premier event, running through the exhibition halls, meeting partners and customers and planting seeds for future collaboration. I was once again amazed by the size of the event, the always increasing number of visitors (107.000+) and exhibitors (2.400+).

Here are some of my key takeaways:

  • Everyone talking about 5G

From buzzword a few years ago to reality, 5G is (almost) here. Major technology, networking and mobile giants have signalled their intent to accelerate and support 5G efforts and trials, most of them announcing partnerships or having demos around achieving 5G speeds on various devices/plans/spectrum – from phones to drones, cars or VR headsets.

Just a few of the most relevant announcements: Intel is already working with Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft on bringing 5G connectivity to Windows PCs; furthermore, they announced a partnership with Japanese Operator NTT DoCoMo on providing 5G coverage and technology for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Huawei launched its first commercial 5G CPE, a terminal device supporting 3GPP 5G standards. ZTE is working on their 5G Smartphone, expected to be launched by end of 2018. US Operators AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are rolling out 5G networks across major cities.

The transition to 5G brings significant revenue opportunities to telecom carriers; Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm predicted that real-time automation has a revenue potential of $101 billion by 2026.

  • Nb-IoT solutions – the most popular of the IoT solutions mentioned at MWC18

The demand for low-cost, low-power connectivity is extremely high across the globe, therefore Operators are focusing on creating partners ecosystems to create and deploy “smart” solutions; we are seeing an incredible adoption from businesses across industries – from smart water management, to smart waste management, smart lightning, smart metering, transport, logistics, industrial automation, smart parking, smart fire control or smart agriculture;  even winemakers and bridge builders can now improve their products supported by Nb-IoT.

China Mobile announced at MWC Barcelona that they have already launched NB-IoT networks in almost 350 cities. Deutsche Telekom, leader in Nb-IoT deployment across Europe and the US,  already did a roll-out in 8 European countries and is actively pushing forward the NB-IoT ecosystem through IoT R&D labs and its Nb-IoT Prototyping Hub Initiative, delivering innovations across multiple industry sectors.

  • Hype & buzzwords: AI, blockchain, VR 

Artificial Intelligence is here to stay and it will definitely impact all our lives – we currently see timid attempts to take it further across various industries; this means more pressure on networks to become much more powerful in order to support the growing capacity need. On the telecom side, AI could optimise the way telcos manage and plan their networks, helping them predict demand/ use best tariffs or it could  significantly improve customer experience and personalisation using chatbots.

Blockchain has the potential to bring significant benefits to operations and services within most organisations and communities; companies are striving to figure out their cryptocurrency strategies, to leverage the current hype around decentralised financial services.

Telefonica is already using blockchain technology to sell loans in Germany, and is currently exploring how the technology can be deployed further. Giants from the food industry such as Nestle or Unilever presented at MWC about how to adopt the blockchain technology in their domain to increase economic and operational efficiency. Cisco IoT spoke about using Blockchain within smart cities whether for trading through Blockchain or for the creation of crypto currencies for individual cities. So the hype is there, and all industries want to know more.

Virtual Reality devices have been around at MWC for years, but they gain more traction as they become more powerful, interactive, smaller and lighter. Samsung’s S9/S9 Plus smartphones offer support for the 2017 Gear VR. The adoption of 5G will finally allow the usage of powerful VR streams which were impossible to use before using legacy cellular technology.

  • The Graphene Pavilion

For the forth year in a row, the Graphene Pavilion presents prototypes and demonstrations developed by leading industry and academic partners on specific topics. The focus was on four different innovation areas: Sensors and IoT, DataCom, Wearables & Health and Energy. The Graphene Flagship is a Future and Emerging Technology Flagship by the European Commission, one of Europe’s biggest ever research initiatives, coordinating over 150 academic and industrial research groups in more than 20 countries.

  • Connected everything and distributed intelligence

We already have billions of devices connected to the internet comprising the IoT, therefore there was (and will continue to be) a lot of hype around connectivity, 5G and IoT/Nb-IoT use cases, mostly referring to autonomous vehicles, smart cities/smart everything and robotics.

This creates a great challenge but also a great opportunity: access to relevant data that can be used for amazing customer experience, for optimising everything – from the workspace to operational flows or day-to-day personal needs.

Large telcos (eg: Deutsche Telecom, BT Group, Orange, Vodafone or Telefonica) already started IoT/5G enabled services and products to enterprise customers, empowering them to work more efficiently and to improve operational performance.

  • The Smart home is getting smarter and more affordable

The buzz around smart homes continues and applications just get better and more interactive. Digital assistants like Alexa, Google or Bixby empower everyone to control various connected appliances and devices. From home security cameras to smart refrigerators, connected lights, pillows and showerheads, we’ve seen various use cases at MWC.

Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+ helps users control their entire Samsung smart home through the Bixby voice assistant and Samsung Smart Fridge Family Hub serves as a full SmartThings home automation hub; Samsung also announced a partnership with Vodafone Group to develop consumer Internet of Things (IoT) ‘Smart Home’ product and services (the “V-Home by Vodafone”); we’ve seen also LG SmartThinQ, Amazon’s New Ring, Smanos SmartHome DIY Kit, and much more.

Telefonica has launched Aura, an artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant, in six countries, as well as Movistar Home, their smart home device.

  • Some exciting Startups

Beyond mobile, at MWC we’ve also s promising startups around blockchain, drones, self-driving cars, AI and much more. Just to name a few:

Appcoins – a blockchain based app ecosystem that can be considered an alternative Android marketplace that used allows cryptocurrency payments

Kumbaya zeroXess – provides solar power home energy bringing electricity and connectivity to remote corners of the world. Their touchscreen device controls power, lights, communication and connectivity

Sentiance – pulls sensor and device data, as well as map location from various mobile apps to create contextual user profiles and their habits (extremely valuable for ecommerce, retail, insurance and other industries)

White Raven – a digital browser and AI software for connected and self-driving cars.

  • Cool wearables

I’ve seen a lot of hype around smart watches, headsets, and various other wearables (some of them quite weird!), some examples:

Modius – a headset that sends electric pulses to your hypothalamus to help you lose weight; the company has been running medical trials that proved to be successful so far – one of my favourite!

Voixatch Bezel – smart watches that turn into earphones

Sony Xperia Ear Duo – offers dual listening features to multi-task, with music in one year and a call in the other, syncing in the same time with voice assistants including Siri or Google Assistant

Headsets for the Hearing-impaired – various versions that offer support to the hearing-impaired, including headsets that vibrate at specific sounds—such as a car horn or fire alarm.

Nokia x Kolon First Responders Jacket – a fashionable jacket that helps cops or firefighters during emergencies with features like a removable heart rate monitor and body camera

Technology, applications and (too much) data is reshaping business needs and markets, is transforming the way we work, we interact and we live. Future technologies are going to be astronomical. It is hard to understand the impact, beyond the opportunity to improve quality of life for everyone across the globe. The era of transformation is work in progress.