5G grabs the headlines at Mobile World Congress

Last week, with colleagues Steve Ozanne and Ollie Ward, we attended MWC Barcelona 2019. MWC brings together 109,000 attendees, 198 nationalities and 2,400 companies for the world's largest showcase of technology, discussion of trends and sharing of ideas related to all things mobile. So what did we learn?

5G is now

Going into MWC it was clear that 5G was going to be the headline-grabber; 'intelligent connectivity', an age of boundless connectivity and intelligent automation, was the theme of the whole event and the mobile technology was the main talking point among attendees and the focus of many of the exhibitions.

5G embodies the next generation of mobile networks and networking overall and this year it feels much more immediate. 5G is about 6 months ahead of original projections, according to Ovum. Network infrastructure manufacturers and suppliers all took the opportunity to demonstrate the features that 5G networks will provide. It's an entirely realistic prospect that the gigabit speeds offered by 5G will complement and, in time, replace traditional broadband services.

Indeed, some operators around the world have already deployed 5G networks. Asia and the USA both have 5G networks right now and EE is trialling 5G in the UK. We are looking at 10 million 5G connections worldwide by the end of 2019. According to the GSMA, the majority of these connections (around 60%) will be in the Asia Pacific region, with a further 20% in the US. Europe is lagging behind (primary constrained by the lack of consolidation of operators and the uncertainty surrounding spectrum allocation) and is expected to account for around 5% of global 5G connections in 2019 and 2020.

This might be alarming to European readers but for the Channel Islands and Isle of Man the figures demonstrate the opportunity we have to seize the initiative and take a lead in rolling out 5G. The islands are small enough that it will be relatively straightforward to achieve ubiquitous coverage and the low latency that that technology requires in order to have its potential fulfilled. Sure is currently exploring the best solutions for the islands to ensure we launch fit for purpose 5G networks aligned with the islands' governments' objectives and equipping them for increasingly digital futures as the growth in mobile internet use will spur adoption of mobile-based tools and solutions in areas such as education, transport and healthcare.

Wider uses of 5G

Also on display at MWC was the usual range of smartphone launches, led by the news that manufacturer Xiaomi is launching a relatively affordable 5G handset this year.

MWC provided plenty of examples of the potential uses of 5G beyond mobile handsets: flying drone taxis ('Hello Drono, can you take me to Sark Summer Festival please?'), driverless cars, artificial intelligence (AI factors into data monetisation, cost optimization through automation and new types of consumer and enterprises' services) and extended reality (XR, an umbrella term encompassing augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality applications) were all on show as manufactures tried to give us a glimpse of the future!

Especially relevant for our islands and communities were the demonstrations of how 5G is going to link people together beyond physical boundaries. The first tele-mentored surgery over a 5G connection was performed between the Fira Gran Via and Hospital Clinic de Barcelona, with a renowned medical expert advising an in-theatre surgeon on a live operation in near real time. That means that the possibility of a specialist surgeon in Southampton or Liverpool being able to remotely control a haptic glove in an ambulance in the Channel Islands or Isle of Man is not something out of science fiction; it's technology that is being developed right now and could have a meaningful impact on our lives in the islands.

Augmented Reality (AR) will also play an important role in the societies of the future, whether for consumers or businesses. Microsoft demonstrated its HoloLens 2 at MWC and showed how AR devices will increasingly become part of our lives. For the everyday user this is likely to be through gaming - 50% of which now happens on mobile devices - but Microsoft emphasised the business implications of AR.

Bend it like Huawei

Of course, it wouldn't be MWC with a mind-bending product launch. This year it came from Huawei with its Mate X device. The Mate X has an 8" foldable screen which allows users to multitask and expand their screen size more easily, increasing the functionality of a mobile 5G device.

Foldable devices are a long way off being affordable for the mass market, but the technology is there and is sure to be something we see more of.

MWC provides a glimpse into the future and the main take away is that some of the future is closer than we think.

Originally published by Cyrille Joffre, CTIO at Sure Group and Acting Group CTIO at Batelco Group, on LinkedIn