GSMA Mobile World Congress 2017 Highlights
Connected Everything Abounds While Identity Concerns Loom
As smartphone adoption slows and with 5G still largely on the horizon, service providers and technology firms offered different views on the next big thing – or The Next Element – at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress, held in Barcelona last week. Robots and connected everything captured the imagination, sustainability goals added new challenges for the global mobile industry, and identity and security concerns remained a key part of the discussion.
Robots, rather than handsets, took center stage in the eight football stadium-sized exposition halls. Themes of connectedness and IoT loomed large. One artificial intelligence event, intended to be a panel discussion, instead turned into a robotics and AI show-and-tell. Martin Brandenburg, Director of Europe for drone powerhouse, DJI, showcased the Matrice, its latest water and weather-resistant camera and sensing UAV. Ben Scott-Robinson, Founder of Small Robot Company, then stole the show with models Tom, Dick and Harry, the company’s robots-as-a service offering, which were designed to help farmers boost crop production.
Those participating in the event were asked to take a sustainability pledge to align with the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ericsson took this most to heart with targeted displays in its mega-sized presence, highlighting the company’s technology and humanitarian contributions related to each of the 17 goals.
Mobile World Congress was also host to the tenth anniversary celebration for M Pesa, the first large-scale mobile money solution, which was
rolled out in Kenya in 2007. Today, two-thirds of all low and middle-income countries now have access to banking and money transfer since the introduction of mobile money solutions, with users conducting over 296 billion transactions in 2016, reported Yasmina McCarty, GSMA’s Head of Mobile for Development. GSMA aims to parlay this success into expanded financial access for women, who are 36 percent less likely than men to use mobile money services. GSMA has even recruited Queen Maxima of the Netherlands – who has served as UN Secretary-General Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) since 2009 – to support the cause.
SMS vs. RCS
In the text arena, Rich Communication Services (RCS) – part of GSMA’s Network 2020 initiative – will cause disruption in the messaging space. Thirty percent of all SMS messaging in 2017 will be business to consumer, cited Google’s Amir Sarhangi, Head of Product Management for RCS. Google is betting on this enhanced messaging platform, as part of its newly re-branded Android Messages offering, to deliver a more visually enticing and interactive experience for consumers and brands. Chatbots will enable entire business interactions to take place in the context of a text conversation. Compelling demos from Walgreens and Virgin Trains, early RCS development partners, gave a taste of what is to come.
“Software people preserve agility because agility is the ability to adapt,” said Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson at his keynote. Adaption was a key theme throughout the conference, as service providers and technology providers find new ways to adapt to a world less reliant on voice services. The aim for connectedness and personalization threaded throughout the many conference sessions and product demonstrations, with software-driven technologies in Internet of Things (IoT), Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) taking center stage. From connected cars, to digital assistants, to new and enhanced handsets – the product focus was on simplifying the lives of worldwide consumers.
Fraud and Identity
Identity and security issues added the only dark element to the week-long proceedings. During the opening keynote, SoftBank Chairman and CEO, Masayoshi Son, talked about the company’s acquisition of ARM and its emerging dominance in the IoT space. He followed this with a chilling statistic – a single automobile contains an average of 500 ARM chips, and none of them are secured today. A video demonstration featuring the hacking of a car’s steering and braking capabilities followed. This theme was then echoed throughout the conference proceedings – with nearly universal interest in balancing personalization, privacy and protection. However, notably, fewer than 50 of the conference’s approximately 2,200 exhibitors featured a product that specifically addresses identity and/or fraud. So, while the need is great, the pool of suppliers may be few. (Notable solutions included GSMA’s own Mobile Connect offering and iconectiv’s revenue assurance and identity assurance solutions).
Despite the fractured conference focus, the industry outlook remains positive. SoftBank’s $100 billion technology investment fund, first announced in October and then promoted by CEO Masayoshi Son at the Mobile World Congress opening keynote address, will fund continued innovation in the mobility and IoT space. Speaking to the packed room, Son closed by saying, “I am looking for partners because we alone can’t do it. I am hoping we can make it happen together for the goodness of humanity.”