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Mobile trends: looking towards a connected world

by Nitin Dahad

As I wrote prior to Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, wearables, connected devices, and IoT interoperability would be a major topic at the show this year, and they certainly were – everywhere you looked, there were smartwatches, wearable electronics and textiles, and even connected toothbrushes. The other topic was of course 5G, which is yet to be defined, but everyone from Korea Telecom to Huawei has their take on 5G and what it should be enabling.

So what were the key trends at this year’s conference? The following list matches my observations most closely, so rather than re-write it, here’s a list courtesy of Imagination Technologies:

  • Wearables and wearable technologies are going mainstream
  • Interoperability of IoT (internet of things) will be key going forward
  • Security is becoming critical across mobile, IoT and wearable platforms
  • The emergence of vision aware technologies are permeating mobile devices
  • The proliferation of highly integrated, ultra-low power communications
  • Network infrastructure is expanding and virtualizing

Top trends in mobile technology as seen at Mobile World Congress 2015

On the key trends at Mobile World Congress, the EVP of Imagination Technologies, Tony King-Smith, comments, “Over the past decade, we’ve seen enormous changes and disruptions in the mobile landscape in everything from communications standards to smartphone functionality. However, this year’s MWC signaled the start of a new era that goes far beyond phones and infrastructure, as everything from IoT sensors and actuators to wearables to highly connected and increasingly automated cars become an integral part of MWC. What is clear to us is that security and interoperability together with software and system portability lie at the heart of bringing these latest visions of a connected world to life.”

Wearables are entering the mainstream: wearables are now an integral part of any OEM product portfolio. At the conference, we saw numerous smart bracelets and smartwatches. There were even specialized products such as fitness bands introduced by new and emerging companies – for example, AIQ Smart Clothing Inc of Taiwan, which uses innovative technologies to integrate stainless steel yarns and threads directly into clothing to create fashionable, functional, lightweight, washable and easy to use products. AIQ says it merges electronics with textiles to create smart clothing in sports & fitness, outdoor & leisure, home & leisure, home care & healthcare products. The next wave of wearables will be defined as electronics meets fashion.

IoT interoperability: the number of connected IoT devices will continue to grow and be provided by an ever expanding number of vendors, and perform a wide array of functions. Hence high-volume success and consumer satisfaction will be dependent on a level of interoperability not previously seen in the industry.

Security: embedded security has become a critical issue for the next generation of connected devices. Numerous companies announced initiatives and technologies around security, including secure payments, secure mobile operating systems, virtualized solutions for BYOD (bring your own device), encryption and key management technology, security enhanced phones and smartwatches, and even privacy glasses designed to protect against facial recognition technology.

Computer vision and VR/AR applications: vision-aware technologies are increasingly incorporated in smartphones, IoT devices, automotive, robotics, and other products. There was also a re-emergence of virtual reality (VR) and a growing interest in augmented reality (AR) at Mobile World Congress 2015. To create devices that support computer vision, computational photography and new user and social experiences, companies need processing solutions that go beyond CPU/DSP cores to deliver sustained video-rate processing of HD content.

One example of a company using vision applications at the show was SpeechTrans, which was featured on the Intel developer stand. While the company is focused on building out a platform for enabling translation from one language to another, using automatic speech recognition, translation, and text to speech, the addition of Google glass type technology allows them to make a difference in medicine too. Yan Auerbach, its chief operating officer, said that using the combination of vision technology with translation can help medical specialists carry out procedures or deliver telemedicine across different languages and countries.

Highly integrated, ultra-low power communications: at MWC, it was clear that the ‘mobile’ device category now includes a huge number of products beyond mobile phones and tablets – from wearables to automotive to the huge range of new and emerging IoT devices. Low-power Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart, Cat 1 and Cat 0 LTE and other short range wireless technologies are key to enabling these devices that are finding their way into every industry, every product category and everyday life.

Network infrastructure expansion and virtualization: to accommodate the ever increasing number of connected devices and expanding cloud infrastructure, 4G buildout continues around the globe. At MWC, 5G was a hot topic, despite the fact that it is yet to be defined. Companies are already looking to the advantages it will provide in the 2020 timeframe. The next generation of infrastructure will require advances in communications and also in embedded processing to support software defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV).

Mobile payments, mobile health: in addition, there also appears to be a race for building mobile payments ecosystems, and mobile healthcare ecosystems. Many companies were demonstrating their systems – for example, Mozido, which raised $185M in series B funding, partnered with MasterCard, acquired CorFire and PayEase and invested in SimplyTapp; the company was keen to emphasize its innovative mobile financial and retail engagement solutions, interoperable between different platforms and payments technology.

Everyone is talking 5G

5G-technology-by-SamsungAs mentioned, everyone at the show had their own definition of 5G, and what it would do for the mobile industry. The boldest statements were delivered by Korea Telecom’s chairman, Hwang Chang-gyu, who said, “We shall create a wondrous future with 5G.” He said that in 5G, the network capacity would increase 1,000 times and would require a guarantee of a seamless connection.

He added, “In the era of Internet of Things(IoT) where everything will be linked via network, ultra-real-time, and ultra-capacity, 5G network is a must in order to allow various different devices to be linked with each other. In order to realize 5G, which is the basis of IoT era, cooperation on a global scale is a must.”

In the connected environment, Hwang explained the need for this level of capacity. If everyone is driving around in self-driving cars, to identify and make sense of the surrounding environment each car must be able to process 1GB of information per second. To allow billions of vehicles to exchange information at the same time is way too much for the current LTE network to handle. He also went on to underscore that setting up a new network (5G) is a must to handle the vast data traffic of the future.

KT is one of many companies developing their ‘5G’ core technology, also having co-developed with Ericsson, a ‘HetNet CA technology’ which is a frequency band merging technology for organic interlocking between small cells. Furthermore, the Korean company has also developed D2D (device to device) technology for IoT and disaster networks with Samsung, and Qualcomm is currently in the process of commercializing the technology.

In summary, there was indeed considerable excitement at Mobile World Congress about the potential of emerging mobile technologies, applications, and the effect of connectivity on modern and future lives. As always with technology conferences though, the hype eventually settles down to reality. So we’ll wait to see how some of these trends emerge in real life products and applications.

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