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Monday
Mar062017

MWC17 recap: Drones, 5G and an old favourite

The last tapas has been ordered, connected cars have been unplugged, the remote racing cars have returned to the lab.

Another MWC over. The highlight for most people in the world would have been the welcome return of the Nokia 3310. It's tempting to suggest that underlines the irrelevance of everything else in the mobile industry, but that's unfair. The swell of affection for the 3310 is no different to devotion to a classic car, with perhaps a touch of nostalgia for those days when phones merely kept us in touch with other.

 

The unexpected that caught my eye at Barcelona was drones. If you thought telecom and drones was just about Facebook’s remote internet project, you’re wrong. The drone business is one of the biggest openings for mobile operators if they can solve some of the technical challenges.

Drones need connectivity but can’t get any. Most commercial drones fly with an SD card because they can’t get meaningful connection while aloft. It’s either non-existent or woefully weak. But aerial cellular connectivity is difficult. In a recent trial by DT, a drone touched on nearly 50 terrestrial base stations. A typical smartphone reaches three or four.

The other thing is the SIM: it looks to be the simple solution for the registration and authentication that drones so badly need. Mobile can supply that and become a link in the drone supply chain.

 

Not so many surprises with 5G.  There was a kind of unofficial latency contest. Nokia sent remote-controlled (toy) cars around a racetrack from the conference stage, Ericsson set up a remote heart surgery demo, SKT and DT put self-driving connected car on their booths that wasn’t actually self-driving. 5G is still pre-field trial, so this is what you'd expect around now. 

I chatted to a few people about network slicing, which will be a big part of the 5G standard. An Ericsson engineer suggested that operators could carve out chunks of network resrouces for entire industry sectors, eg, a platform of optimised services and resources for hospitality or retailers. Operators would struggle with the business challenge of doing that but you could see one of the big cloud firms offering it as a PaaS perhaps. Again, at this stage people are doing a lot of guessing about what might be the business models.

 I also talked to some small cell execs, who I believe are forging some new business models thanks to the emergence of neutral hosts and shared spectrum via CBRS. These trends aren't getting the attention they deserve; they're going to broaden out the mobile business model and attract new players into the sector.

I missed most of the quirky gadgets, including Olay's AI skincare app, and a Korean startup flogging a rain-predicting smart umbrella. But I did check out another Korean startup with an app-driven bike lock that might work.

Until next year.

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