Author(s): Ben Wood
Geoff Blaber, Kester Mann, Martin Garner, Nicholas McQuire
Telefonica Launches Aura Voice Assistant and Cognitive Services
Telefonica is marketing its artificial intelligence offerings as a "fourth platform"-that runs on top of its other three platforms: the physical communications network, its IT and support systems, and the products and services it offers users. The most prominent feature of this fourth platform is Aura, a new artificial intelligence voice assistant for consumers. Telefonica's move into data-driven services was properly visible for the first time in October 2016, when it announced its new Luca division, mainly offering business-to-business services. Today's announcement rounds out the services to include consumers, and simultaneously takes a bold step into uncharted territory for a network operator. The launch of Aura raises many questions, including how ambitious the scope of the voice assistant will be, and how it will work with other voice systems such as Alexa. Telefonica will need to convince consumers it can add value and is not just providing a vehicle to sell them more services. It will also need to earn credibility with developers in what is rapidly becoming a crowded field.
New Nokia 3310 Prompts Wave of Mobile Phone Nostalgia
Nokia's original 3310 is a true icon of the mobile phone world. It democratised the mobile phone market and for many people it was their first phone. It comes as little surprise that there has been such a huge wave of nostalgia in response to the launch of this new spin on a classic device. It's a smart move by HMD Global to resurrect it. Even if the new device sells in only moderate volumes, the publicity it is likely to generate will be hugely valuable as HMD Global tries to reinvigorate the Nokia brand for its portfolio of smartphones. It will be interesting to see if the new device becomes the must-have retro-chic gadget. It might even spark a craze of people using it to embark on a "digital detox" at weekends. That said, it is a damning indictment of the current state of the smartphone market that a €49 feature phone can dominate headlines at the industry's annual gathering. It also underlines the challenge HMD Global faces at it looks to take a bigger share of the market with its mid-range Android smartphones. It will be hoping the Nokia brand will help it stand out in the sea of smartphone sameness.
TCL Unveils BlackBerry KeyOne in Effort to Extend Market Reach
TCL will be hoping that by licensing the BlackBerry brand it can extend its market reach beyond the low-margin consumer segment occupied by its Alcatel brand, and enter the higher-margin market for secure enterprise devices. In our view TCL is targeting the "long tail" of the smartphone market, which is made up of a series of small but lucrative niches. BlackBerry-branded devices offering enhanced security and a familiar qwerty keyboard may have some potential. However, TCL has not yet clarified how it intends to sell the KeyOne to enterprise customers beyond the usual operator channels. In addition, some potential buyers are likely to baulk at the device's $549 price tag.
Flurry of Gigabit LTE News
As expected, gigabit LTE has emerged as a prominent theme at Mobile World Congress 2017. Qualcomm's launch of its Snapdragon X20 modem underlines its connectivity leadership. Built on a 10 nm process node, the X20 adds category 18 downlink speeds up to 1.2 Gbps and a single-chip RF transceiver that supports up to 12 streams of data on just three 20 MHz bands. The addition of support for licence-assisted access and LTE-U means operators will be able to deploy gigabit LTE with as little as 10 MHz of licensed spectrum. In addition, both Intel and Samsung have announced their first-generation offerings in the XMM 7480 and Exynos 8895, which support LTE category 16 connections. With numerous device launches and operator announcements expected, it is reassuring to see support from chipset suppliers and network operators arriving in parallel.
Nokia Launches Range of Solutions in 5G, IoT, Software and Cloud Services
This could be a significant year for Nokia and we expect that the company — now bolstered by the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent in 2016 — will seek to capitalise on Ericsson's recent setbacks. A strong showing in Barcelona is likely, with the company planning to launch over 20 products and services. Today's announcement of an end-to-end 5G solution shows an ambition to gain early leadership in the nascent technology, launching ahead of standards to forge a prominent position as part of operator testing while committing to updates in line with 3GPP standards. In addition, its Wing IoT network grid illustrates its strategy to expand into high-growth sectors such as transport and energy. Other focus areas will include cloud services, software and licensing.
Huawei Reveals P10 Smartphone and Rolls Dice Again on Smartwatches
The P10 is an even more refined flagship smartphone for Huawei than its P9 predecessor. The latter helped establish Huawei as a credible high-end phone maker. The company's ambitions in the global smartphone market are clear and this device, coupled with other products such as the Mate 9, will help cement its number-three position. Its partnership with Leica sees it further enhancing the camera technology in this latest device. The front-facing camera cleverly offers a narrow angle for solo pictures but automatically adjusts to a wide-angle setting for a group shot. The decision to use the HiSilicon Kirin 960 processor means it lacks support for high-speed LTE — a signature feature of the latest crop of top-end smartphones — but this will mean very little for most buyers.
In addition to the P10, Huawei is attempting another roll of the dice with two new Android Wear-powered smartwatches. Although they are an improvement on the first Huawei Watch, the broader full-touch smartwatch category still appears to be touting a solution for a problem that doesn't really exist. Of the two new models, dubbed the Watch 2 and Watch 2 Classic, we were most impressed by the former, which also comes in a version with LTE connectivity. However, beyond emergency calls, basic alerts and tracking, we question what people will actually use either model for.
Industry Puts the Pedal to the Metal on 5G NR
The progress of 5G New Radio (NR) received a boost as 22 companies committed to accelerate its standardization. The first standard was due to emerge with 3GPP Release 15, which was slated for completion in mid-2018, enabling volume commercial 5G deployments in 2020. Under the new proposal, an intermediate milestone will be established to create a configuration called non-standalone 5G NR. This will use the LTE radio and core network as an anchor for mobility management and coverage while adding a 5G carrier for new uses. This will enable large-scale trials and early deployments in 2019 yet reaffirms the schedule for the complete standard. Although some may question the need to accelerate the schedule, the new approach will enable standards-based testing to start earlier while retaining consistency with 3GPP Release 15.
Enterprise Mobility, Security and Digital Workplace on the Agenda
Enterprise-related topics have gained greater prominence at Mobile World Congress in recent years. We expect relevant announcements from Samsung at its event on Monday evening, as well as updates on partnerships in enterprise markets, including Apple's agreements with IBM and SAP. However, the major agenda-setting announcements in the enterprise market from giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple happen outside Mobile World Congress. That said, there may be one or two surprises this year, especially from smaller players trying to get noticed.
Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 Modem Goes Multimode
Qualcomm announced the X50 in October 2016 but has shed more light on its plans for commercial roll-out. The X50 family will support non-standalone and standalone 5G NR as well as multimode operation. This will mean that 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G will all be supported in a single chip, including simultaneous connection on 4G and 5G. This is an ambitious statement of intent from Qualcomm given the complexity of integrating a huge number of band combinations on a single chip, particularly given the demands of carrier aggregation, massive MIMO and the introduction of unlicensed and shared-use spectrum. CCS Insight believes that the transition to 5G will widen the gulf between leaders and followers and spark further consolidation of modem suppliers.
LTE in Unlicensed Spectrum Gets an Overdue Welcome
The cellular industry has been campaigning for the standardization of LTE in unlicensed spectrum for almost half a decade but has met regular roadblocks erected by cable and Wi-Fi industries concerned about interference. The US Federal Communications Commission has now approved LTE-U equipment for use in the 5 GHz band and licence-assisted access is already live in Europe. T-Mobile US and Verizon have both stated their commitment to launch LTE-U in in the next few months. This is a significant step that enables operators to significantly improve capacity and customers' experience. We expect more statements of support from operators during Mobile World Congress.