It was yet another record for Europe’s largest technology conference- Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, and while the title of the conference implies mobile, the content and discussions really transcend mobile into all areas of connectivity and mobility. And while Barcelona tapas bars and restaurants will be just fine, the rest of the tech industry and related press will spend weeks trying to figure out what just happened.
Over 108,000 attendees circulated around over 2,200 multimillion dollar booths and enough cutting edge wireless technology to make even the NSA blush. It is big, massive really. And while CES in Vegas may claim larger numbers…nothing feels quite as important as Mobile World Congress. All the major players are there (sans Apple…because you know, they don’t do conferences). Samsung stole the show again but perhaps for all the wrong reasons. The South Korean chaebol received a lot of press coverage before the show for the absence of a new phone introduction to offset the Galaxy 7 Note fiasco….only to close the show at the top of the headlines with their beset CEO Jay Y Lee arrested for bribery charges. The kind of stuff that keeps the media and marketing communications teams really busy, but not in a good way.
So what possibility could outshine all of that headline grabbing buzz? A lot. Here are my top five highlights:
1. IoT and the Connected Car
Is it the “Internet of Things”, IoT, or just Things? Regardless, the next wave of sensors, connected machines, high speed data gateways, and the networks to carry all those bits/ bytes were on prominent display. One of the more interesting demonstrations was in Intel’s booth showcasing the fully autonomous driving BMW 7 series connecting multiple internal and external sensors across a fully functioning 5G broadband network…actually two of them. One powered by Nokia and the other by Ericsson. The amount of sensors on the car are staggering, all processing internal and external conditions out to the cloud where AI acts on the decisioning and sends it back down to the vehicle for execution adjustments. Of course, this all happens in milliseconds, because seriously, anything slower would result in a really bad outcome for the car and others on the road. That is more than 4,000 gigabits coming off a single connected car. I still don’t even know what that really means, but I know that it is a lot.
We need this if we are ever going to have any hope of approaching Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity” and seeing Skynet from the Terminator movies in our lifetimes. Honestly, neither one of those propositions are particularly interesting to the viability of the human race…but the promise of high speed 5G networks is just too compelling to not pursue. From instantaneous high-bandwidth communication networks in a disaster relief scenario (think Nepal earthquake) to connected autonomous vehicles on the roadways…we are going to need more bandwidth and my spotty LTE is not going to cover it. There is still a lot of work left to do on standards, protocols, etc…but there are a bunch of smart people working on it so it is going to happen.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Lots of products and services demonstrated at MWC that could nest under the heading artificial intelligence, but IBM Watson and their application of cognitive technology continues to impress. So many demonstrable examples in their booth that it is hard to narrow it down to one, but their collaboration with high fashion design house Marchesa for the MET Gala was particularly interesting. The blending of technology in high fashion, a field that habitually is associated with artistry, craftsmanship, and human touch, shows the diversity of this technology.
4. Sony Relevance
Sony spent so many years defining categories (read: Walkman) that it is nice to see them back on the side of innovation again. They showcased a number of products under their Xperia smart home product line. The Xperia Touch was super interesting as a means of creating a touch screen interface on any surface (table, floor, wall, etc..). This compact device runs on Andriod 7.1 and will list for around $1,500.
Maybe the most interesting thing of all on display at the show was the area entirely devoted to the application of the atomic material “graphene”. I am hardly qualified to even discuss graphene, but Nobel Laureate Konstantin Novoselov was there to discuss it. I understand, generously, maybe a third…ok a quarter of what he was saying, but it is hard not to acknowledge how much of a role his material is going to play in our future lives. It is the thinnest, strongest and lightest known material. It is both flexible and impermeable to molecules and extremely conductive (both electrically and thermally). I mean seriously, this stuff is straight out of Star Wars, or Superman, or both. Showcased applications included everything from chemical based sensors to race cars built from the material. Flexible screen technology and biomedical devices, including deep brain implants (what?) are some examples of the application of graphene. Dang.
So what does all of this have to do with advertising? Nothing…and everything. More on that in later posts.