Author(s): Ben Wood
Year on year, Mobile World Congress expands in popularity, stature and credibility. The mobile industry's annual gathering in Barcelona covers not only emerging areas but also provides a platform to showcase the impressive development of technologies and capabilities across this thriving sector.
This year will be no exception. As competition heightens and businesses look to innovate and capture customers' imagination on every level, we'll see the continued evolution of the telecom industry. Here we look at what to expect at the show.
Devices and Wearables
Mobile World Congress has become a key event for phone-makers to launch new devices. Samsung, for example, has used past shows to launch its latest high-end phone. This year, however, it's chosen to unveil its flagship device at a separate event later in the year, giving other manufacturers the chance to grab the limelight.
CCS Insight expects the big announcements to come on the eve of the show at a series of press conferences. Look out for new devices from the likes of Gionee, Huawei, Lenovo (and its Motorola brand), LG, HMD Global (and its Nokia brand), Oppo, ZTE and others.
Every phone-maker will be hoping that its latest Android device will stand out in the sea of smartphone sameness. We expect the big trend is going to be smaller bezels — it's going to be all about taking stunning screens right to edge of devices. There are likely to be a few devices sporting dual cameras and biometric features such as fingerprint and iris recognition.
A notable announcement will be the return of Nokia phones. This once ubiquitous brand will reappear as HMD Global unveils its first portfolio of phones bearing the Nokia name, which it has licenced for a range of Android-powered devices. We have high hopes for the new products. In November last year, we predicted that Nokia-branded Android smartphones could grab 5 percent of the global smartphone market by 2019 (see HMD Bets on Nokia Brand).
In other device news, we expect virtual reality and 360-degree content to be hot topics at the show. We're looking forward to seeing numerous smartphone VR headsets compatible with Google's Daydream system. We think a plethora of 360-degree cameras at a range of prices will be the catalyst for an explosion of "surroundie" pictures and videos in the coming years. We may not see it in Barcelona, but we also forecast a manufacturer will launch a smartphone with an integrated 360-degree camera during 2017.
Wearable devices will also be a strong focus, with several new products expected at the show. Google is sure to take the opportunity to re-energise its efforts in full-touch smartwatches with the unveiling of the first devices using its new Android Wear 2.0. Look out for the new products from LG as well as ZTE and perhaps a few others. However, all this activity has yet to prove that smartwatches are more than just a solution looking for a problem.
We remain concerned that the new Android Wear watches will fail to impress. Smart analogue watches, which combine digital notifications with a traditional analogue face, will pick up more pace during 2017, and we think that by 2018 sales of such watches will outstrip those of Apple and Android-powered devices.
As in 2016, 5G will be a hot topic at Mobile World Congress. However, among all the noise, most operators will struggle to find solid business cases in support of 5G deployments any time before 2020. Gigabit LTE is going to be the headline story when it comes to network evolution.
Network operators see gigabit LTE as an opportunity to extend the return on their investments in 4G networks, and this is going to be one of the hottest tech topics in 2017 as leading operators around the world upgrade their networks.
Internet of Things
For several years, many of the big companies attending Mobile World Congress have heralded the ascendancy of the so-called Internet of things, yet their grand statements about embracing this world are starting to look meaningless. In Barcelona this year, the major names must put some edges on their ambitions.
Watch out for developments in machine-to-machine deployments in areas such as retail, healthcare, agriculture, construction, utilities, smart buildings and smart cites. We'll also see tremendous activity in connected cars, as well as convergence between enterprise mobility management systems and cloud platforms for the Internet of things.
We also think there'll be a growing coalition of operators seeking to take a big role in smart cities. Supporting smart cities is a natural extension of mobile network operators' business models, but they need to move quickly, given the ambitions of Google and others in this area.
Big data analytics, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence will all make an appearance at the show. The most visible aspect of these technologies is smart assistants such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Voice Assistant, but we believe the biggest opportunity lies in enterprise use of the technology.
We expect to see many types of company putting themselves forward as suppliers who can bring machine learning and artificial intelligence into an area. This will not only be in cloud services but also increasingly in networks, apps and in connected devices themselves.
A team of CCS Insight analysts will be attending Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona. We will be issuing Daily Insights summarising news from the event, as well as more comprehensive analysis in the days after the show.