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Speed dating with vendors and three key trends from Mobile World Congress 2017

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Mobile World Congress, hosted in beautiful Barcelona, is the perfect platform to spot trends, determine the maturity of a technology and to network with vendors. This year was no different. With two thousand plus exhibitors one has no choice but to speed date through the halls whilst trying not to trip over one of the 108 000 attendees.

Here are three key trends and common themes that stood out this year:

5G application enablement

Even though 5G has not yet been ratified as a standard, one could not ignore the 5G theme throughout MWC2017. 5G promises transformative speeds, low latency, lower battery consumption and significantly enhanced spectral efficiency when compared to 4G / LTE networks.

Initial trials have shown sub-1ms tests with download speeds in excess of 10Gbit/s (around a 1000 times faster than 4G networks). This enables new applications on mobile networks and devices that will be able to communicate to each other in near real-time, and make very quick decisions.

Self-driving cars can specifically benefit from 5G’s low latency.  An example could be when a car receives a digital signal, in sub milliseconds, from a traffic light to confirm that it is red or green, which means that the car’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) is able to make split millisecond decisions that could mean the difference between life or death.

5G holds big promises and mobile operators are looking at moving that way in the next couple of years. While the marketing hype certainly rung strong at MWC2017, the truth is that 5G is still far from a reality. Estimates vary, but operators and manufacturers are settling on 2019/2020 as a possible date.

IoT maturing

The Internet of Things (IoT) was a common theme and an observation is that the industry is maturing. Vendors now have definitive roles and are finding their groove, whether they are manufacturers of devices, managing connectivity or provisioning services.

Founder and CEO of SoftBank, Masayoshi Son gave an intriguing keynote on the reasoning behind his recent acquisition of ARM Holdings plc (NASDAQ: ARMH) for $23 billion and his vision for the next 30 years.

Son spoke of singularity, the day AI will surpass the human brain’s intelligence. He reasons that the average human’s IQ is around 100 while outliers like Einstein and da Vinci had IQs of over 200. He believes that the average computer’s IQ in 30 years’ time will have a super intelligence of 10 000 IQ.  He goes on to compare neurons to transistors and describes their similarity. Son estimates the human brain to have around 30-billion neurons while the average computer today still lags behind. His logic though is that while humans have always had 30-billion neurons and always will, computers are growing in their transistors (hardware) at a rapid pace, in fact so fast that he believes this growth will be a million times in the next 30 years and will be the birth of what he calls “Super Intelligence”.

To bring this back to ARM, he estimates that the chip manufacturer will ship 1-trillion IoT chips in the next 20 years, that is over 100 IoT devices/chips per human being on planet earth and he believes these chips will eventually be super intelligent!

Son sees the growth for ARM in IoT, not in mobile phones, as this market is starting to plateau. This is certainly not the case with IoT.

As we observe this explosion in interconnected IoT devices, security will become a critical component of these chips and this is where ARM is focusing a lot of its efforts – on the next generation of chips.

Common themes

The Mixed Reality (MR) / Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) applications present were mostly around consumer electronics and entertainment with very little practical use in the business world as yet.

The number of vehicles and accompanying software at this year’s show can indicate that software may become more important than the car itself. Can a future scenario include basic hardware cars with a choice of relevant software to deploy?

Although consumer electronics reach our shores almost immediately, there is an interval of about eighteen months to two years before we see a local adoption with regards to business technology. Enterprises are generally quite cautious and want to see new technologies mature before they bring them to South Africa, which can be a double-edged sword.

One key tip when attending the next Mobile World Congress is to research vendors and the technology that are up for exploration before arriving. This allows you to schedule one-on-one time with vendors to unpack their offering as there is limited time to do a deep dive into their tech at their stands.

Post written by Greg de Chasteauneuf (CTO)

Saicom Voice Services (PTY) LTD