MWC 2015: Alive At The Edge Of Innovation
With 93,000 attendees, this years Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona adopted the theme of the Edge of Innovation, perhaps most visually demonstrated in the keynote speech by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg whose panel session with three members of ‘traditional’ telecoms saw all three – literally – at the ‘edge of’ their seats, despite Mark’s assurances that without investment and support in network infrastructure services such as Facebook would not be able to grow.
Constraints however go beyond the network as Bill McDermot (SAP) observed that 90% of data is ‘dark data,’ that is information which cannot be gathered or managed using modern techniques and therefore cannot be utilised to facilitate the Internet Of Things (IoT)– this years ‘buzz phrase.’ Everything this year is all about IoT and the need to establish seamless connectivity.
Within this framework exists cross-industry infrastructure, such as charging stations for electric cars. Carlos Ghosn (Nissan) spoke of autonomous cars and how by 2016 they will be able to adjust a vehicles speed for better traffic management, and by 2018, effectively change lanes. Carlos doesn’t view others in the industry as competitors, rather as allies, partners with whom to grow the eco-system required for a much larger roll-out. That one third of cars in Atlanta today are electric is sufficient proof that the technology can be scaled.
Moreover Ralph De La Vega (AT&T) shared that at a grocery store, one may simply stand at a car pick up point for the vehicle to drive itself to your location from wherever it had parked itself. Though as Rajeev Suri (Nokia) observed, you don’t want an autonomous car which downloads a virus so security is paramount! But with an estimated 50 billion devices connected by IoT by 2020, it’s not just about your phone becoming a remote control for your life, it’s about the speed with which information can be shared.
Vittorio Calao (Vodafone) said that customers can finally do what the industry over-promised them years ago; where customers want quality, speed and connectivity – a statement which in principle I would agree with if it wasn’t for the fact that the journey from Guildford to London Waterloo while using Vodafone means that neither my voice nor data connections are stable with multiple drops. Holistically however, he is right, the networks are beginning to deliver
But things are changing, particularly with the nature of data we consume. In 2014, one of the on-line news services Vittorio uses had 2.4 million readers per month and 1.4 million digital items of content. Today, in 2015, the same publication now has 53 million video views per month. This significant leap reflects not just the growth of video as a content offering, but the need for the content industry to better manage it’s video strategy. He added, that on the Daily Mail’s website, for every 1 UK reader there were 30 outside of the UK, demonstrating that the reach of information goes beyond, and so blurs national borders.
In previous years the effect of terrorism has been mentioned with events of late pushing Safety and Security at the forefront of many MWC speeches. Individuals want both Privacy and Security, Vittorio said. But even at it’s most basic level, when speaking with Peter Curnow-Ford on the issue of privacy, he shared concerns over who owns data on a wearable device. For example, if a person is speeding down the motorway and is pulled over by the police, to what extend do the police have to access the data on a wearable to confirm that the driver was speeding?
Similarly, Cesar Alierta (Telefonica) said that technology is nothing without people, what matters is how it improves people’s lives. And when Jon Baksaas (Telenor) shared that the typical on-line consumer has 26 on-line user names and 5 passwords, the inconvenience of our digital life can be summed up in the expression of John Cleese who presented the Global Mobile Awards.
Cesar continued to say that what is required is a level playing field, digital confidence: empowering individuals to control their digital personality as they do their off-line lives. It still amazes me how many people subject themselves to push notifications on their devices. How can anyone concentrate on anything, in a meaningful capacity with the constant alerts? By not disabling push, and by not controlling their individual interaction with information inflow, many people live with unnecessary stress as the norm: the perfect environment for Ariel Garten (Muse) to market her product, a brain sensing headband which helps you identify and so manage your stress levels.
The night before MWC began, Showstoppers and MobileFocus Global shared some of the leading technology solutions using mobile, IoT, and social media integration. From a wireless video streaming doorbell named Ring, to connected toothbrushes from Oral-B, to Polaroid whose new Socialmatic camera would work wonders if it wasn’t for the very slow to run and awkward user interface. And while I appreciate the value of innovation in developing the swart watch generation, I still struggle with the practicality of a full sized keyboard one them.
It is not just the technology but the practicality and speed which determines the viability of the consumer experience. Hans Vestberg (Ericsson), shared that there would be significantly lower latency with 5G by 2020. Contextualising this, Ken Hu (Huawei) shared that latency at 4G is 50 milliseconds, and at 5G it is 1ms, meaning that a car driving at speed, would take 1.4m to brake with 4G vs 2.8cm with 5G; a significant increase in safety confirming what Stephane Richard (Orange) said, that 5G will support the rise of the connected device.
Dr Chang-Gyu Hwang (KT) shared that the 2018 Winter Olympics will be the first demonstration of 5G’s capabilities with multi-angle highlights being delivered. But it was in the main exhibition where the first demonstration of 5G was made where a robot designed by Nam Yeong Lee (Robobuilder Co, part of the SK Telecom stand) was controlled in real time by a man wearing an exoskeleton to control his head, arms, body, torso, legs.
Speaking in-depth with Nam Yeong, it transpired that many of the robots he creates have a rudimentary artificial intelligence (AI) and by placing motors in the various joints of the human exoskeleton that control the robot then switching on the AI, it is possible for the robot, through leaning, to control the human being wearing the exoskeleton; perhaps eventually aiding some with particular medical conditions.
Technology is an enabler. Francisco Gonzalez (BBVA bank) said that mobile is the most important channel. Money is data he said, adding that they have more information on people than Google but they do not use it. In this context, Anne Bouvert (GSMA) said that we need better services to access information but we do not want to give away our numbers or emails or to be spammed, a point stressed by Jeanie Han (Line) showing that less than 7% of people open promotional (spam) e-mails.
Francisco continued to say that just as we built NATO for security; we need a dedicated cyber-security organisation representing all countries. For while 5G should enable better efficiencies, ensuring safety on-line for every person should be made a priority. And as Taavi kotka (CIO, Estonia) said it isn’t so much our geographical territories that matter, rather, that we come together with those who share our values; irrespective of their race, faith, or geography.
With all this information comes responsibility. Chris Moody (Twitter) shared that in 2014, there were over 5 million negative tweets by women with regards to their bodies; much of which, sadly, is a by-product of the pressure put on women in society. To counter this, he gave the example of Dove’s Speak Beautiful campaign, which is designed to help these women feel better about themselves by providing a positive counter-narrative.
As the digital content landscape becomes more complex Bernardo Hernandez (Flickr) made the distinction between content that is cool and content that is useful. Sokratis Papafloratos (Togethera) observed that people create more photos than video because of the effort to make video, demonstrating the richer value and quality of video content. Irrespective, one way to demonstrate a practical use of digital content was by BroomX who along with Worldline and Eurostars hotels created a smartphone powered room complete with digital projects and full interactivity. Last year, I stayed at one of Europe’s leading properties, Hotel de L’europe in Amsterdam. There the tablet in the room was great, but this offering by BroomX was something significantly more.
So it is with technology, information and innovation. Life is constantly changing. One of the names used to described God in the religion of Islam is Al-Hayy, meaning, the Ever-living. Sitting at the McDonalds at Barcelona airport, the four Israeli men behind me spoke in Hebrew and English about MWC, the two American men to my right spoke about ISIS, having a discussion on privacy and security (also from MWC), while the lady in front of me – Malaysian wearing a headscarf (also from MWC) – was on her phone smiling, perhaps speaking to a loved one before she flew home.
It used to be that it was just food that would bring people together, but as the rate of change of technology continues to grow, we all came to MWC to learn, to share, even to trade. Personal religions, personal choices in life while relevant individually, didn’t make a difference to the whole. We adopted and reflected the purest form and example of the Arabic word Ummah, meaning community; an inclusive word used by Prophet Muhammad in the Constitution of Medina, to describe people who share values, coming together, irrespective of their faith, for the common good.
As sure as day turns into night, there are those who are add value to the quality of people’s lives, wherever they are in this world, irrespective of any personal religious belief. It is they who are sitting on the edge, leading the status quo, who tend to be static, and often, resistive to innovation and change.
As I come to the end of yet another MWC, I am reminded that while many of us live, it is only those few leaders, those few innovators, those few who believe so passionately to want to fix a problem, to drive change, adding value, meaning and purpose to the human experience – and those who help them; it is only they who are truly on the Edge of Innovation. It is only they who are truly alive.