logo for mobile world congress

It’s hard to adequately describe Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona, the largest mobile event in the world. With over 100,000 attendees from CSPs and companies spanning the entire mobile ecosystem, there were providers of network equipment; chipset and device; OSS, BSS, and analytics software; mobile apps; ad tech; and even phone cases and device accessories.  

Based on conversations and feedback by the Neustar Data Services team in attendance, following is a summary of observations about the show and various topics that were prominently featured.

Key Highlights

The Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices were everywhere. The GSMA Innovation City showcased production solutions from around the world addressing home security, traffic conditions, connected cars, with dashboards available on terminals and mobile devices. Component manufacturers showcased sensors for movement, ambient conditions, and other performance metrics. These sensors were displayed alongside completed products that incorporated them for applications in health and fitness applications (e.g., smart bikes and skis that recorded speed and movement), agricultural applications (e.g., measuring temperature and humidity to predict potential crop diseases), or drones with multiple sensors to measure conditions across a wide geographic area.

Virtual & augmented reality goggles of varying form factors were available from Oculus, Intel, Samsung, and many large and small providers. It was not uncommon to see Disney-esque queues for virtual roller coaster rides, people tiptoeing to the edge of a virtual cliff, and people groping in the air as they tried to move virtual objects with their hands. The solutions included consumer products, mobile phone chipsets that could power the computing requirements of rendering realistic 360-degree environments, or SDKs for programmers to create new solutions.

Despite the lack of a standard, is it clear that operators and network equipment manufacturers are racing to be first-to-market with pre-standard 5G initiatives, as evidenced by several operator announcements (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Telstra, Telefonica) of their respective 5G trials, roadmaps, and progress.

Somewhat surprising was Facebook’s launch of the Telecom Infra Project, in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom, Intel, and Nokia. The project’s mission is to evolve the next generation of wireless networks by leveraging the massive-scale technologies and approaches used by Internet giants. Though Facebook is working with operators, the initiative drew lukewarm responses from other major operators and analysts.

There were many demonstrations of new wireless technologies vying to be part of this network evolution. Various carrier aggregation technologies to achieve higher throughput —such as combining multiple LTE carriers or channels, or LTE and WiFi—were on display, and new technologies like gigabit WiFi (WiGig aka 802.11ad) showed amazing technological progress. A common sentiment went along the lines of “2G, 3G, and 4G were designed for people, whereas 5G is designed for things”. This network evolution aligns with the rise of IoT and the video/visualization-heavy applications of virtual reality. 

Secondary Themes

Also featured at the show were undertones of key important topics from the past, although relegated perhaps as foundational expectations.

Given the prominence of IOT, big data analytics was always mentioned as a necessary means to deal with the explosion of devices and associated digital exhaust. However, there definitely was less hype around it, or the “my big data is bigger than yours” attitude, likely because this has become mainstream.

The approach to a common identity framework is still evolving. At MWC 2014, the GSMA announced Mobile Connect, an identity and authorization initiative that uses the mobile phone number as the primary identifier. It seeks to standardize the user experience and APIs for authentication services, providing developers a single mechanism to access services globally. To date, network operators in 21 countries have launched the service, with additional activity expected in 2016. Neustar is involved and monitoring this development, and has a history of working with the GSMA on key identity initiatives.

As always, operators globally walk the line between subscriber data monetization and customer experience: how to make money from the wealth of customer information while addressing privacy concerns and delivering on the total mobile experience. In many ways, this explains the size, scale, and purpose of the show, where the entire mobile ecosystem comes together to address this need.

Our Smart ID Initiative 

Bringing this all home was the positive feedback we received on our Smart ID initiative, a demo of which was debuted at the show. Its promise to improve the calling experience, increase the effectiveness of voice calls and answer rates, and provide identity and context with every call and message resonated with analysts, operators, and potential partners alike. Smart ID was particularly well received by operator teams focused on the enterprise market. Since the Caller ID information in a typical scenario would be explicitly provided for display reasons, Smart ID aligns with operators’ initiatives to grow revenues from the enterprise market, acquires the requisite enterprise information along with explicit consent for its use, and validates our own initiative for self-service portals.

Over all, we’re excited for the many of the promising new developments rolled out at MWC 2016, and are especially pleased that Neustar’s Smart ID was among them.