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Mobile World Congress 2017 Gears Up

February 13, 2017

Gigabit LTE, artificial intelligence, voice assistants, smart cities, the Internet of things, Nokia phones, 360-degree cameras, virtual reality, the rise of 5G and more

Year on year, Mobile World Congress expands in popularity, stature and credibility. The show 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 intensifies and businesses look to innovate and capture customers' imagination on every level, the telecom industry will continue to evolve.

CCS Insight reveals its top picks of what to expect at the event.

Devices and Wearables

Mobile World Congress has become a major event for phone makers to launch new devices. CCS Insight expects several smartphone announcements. However, Ben Wood, Chief of Research at CCS Insight, notes, "Historically Samsung has used the event as a launch pad for its latest high-end phone. This year, the launch of its flagship device will come later, giving other manufacturers the chance to grab the limelight".

We expect the main announcements to come on the eve of the show at a series of press conferences by companies including Huawei, Lenovo and its Motorola brand, LG, HMD Global and its Nokia brand, ZTE and others. Wood comments, "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 the edges of devices. In addition, we believe dual cameras and biometrics such as fingerprint and iris recognition will play big at the show."

A notable announcement will be the return of Nokia phones. We expect the Nokia brand will make a significant comeback, with Nokia-branded devices reappearing on the market as HMD Global unveils its first portfolio. At CCS Insight's Predictions event in November 2016, we shared our view that Nokia-branded Android smartphones could grab 5 percent of the global smartphone market by 2019.

In other device news, CCS Insight believes virtual reality and 360-degree content will be hot topics at the event. We expect to see numerous smartphone-based virtual reality headsets compatible with Google's Daydream system. Furthermore, 360-degree cameras at a range of prices will be the catalyst for an explosion of "surroundie" pictures and videos in the coming years. It may not happen at the event in Barcelona, but we expect a manufacturer to 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. Wood comments, "We expect Google to use the show to re-energise its efforts in full-touch smartwatches by unveiling the first devices using Android Wear 2.0. Look out for products from LG as well as ZTE and perhaps a few others." However, he also cautions, "With this latest update, Google needs to prove that smartwatches are more than just a solution looking for a problem."

CCS Insight remains concerned that the new Android Wear watches will fail to impress. The company reiterates its view that demand for smart analogue watches will pick up during 2017, and that by 2018 sales of these products will outstrip those of Apple and Android-powered devices.

Networks

As in 2016, 5G will be a hot topic at Mobile World Congress. However, CCS Insight predicts that among all the noise, most operators will struggle to find solid business cases in support of 5G deployments any time before 2020. Gigabit LTE will be the headline story when it comes to network evolution.

Wood comments, "Gigabit LTE is incredibly disruptive. I recently used the first commercial deployment of this technology on Telstra's network in Australia, so I've had first-hand experience of what a dramatic change it offers consumers. 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 (IoT). Martin Garner, CCS Insight's lead analyst in this area, underlined the analyst firm's belief that the Internet of things is a nebulous term that needs more definition if one is to understand the opportunities it presents.

Commenting, Garner states, "Grand statements about embracing IoT are virtually 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 IoT products."

Picking out smart cities as a headline theme, Garner predicts there will be a growing coalition of operators seeking to take a big role in smart cities. He notes, "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."

Other topics CCS Insight will be following closely include the rise of big data analytics, machine learning, deep learning and artificial intelligence.

The most visible of these technologies are smart assistants such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Voice Assistant, but CCS Insight believes the biggest opportunity is in enterprise use of the technology.

Garner notes, "We expect to see many types of company putting themselves forward as suppliers that can bring machine learning and artificial intelligence into their areas. This will not only be in cloud services, but also increasingly in networks, apps and in connected devices themselves."

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