MWC 2022, Tuesday 1 March

Your guide to the top stories from the second day of the event

Today’s highlights from our analysts in Barcelona cover announcements from telecom operators, chipmakers, wearables and extended reality players, phone manufacturers, network equipment suppliers and more.

MediaTek Debuts Dimensity 8000 and 8100 Chips

Following the launch of MediaTek’s Dimensity 9000 flagship chipset, the Taiwanese fabless chip company has further broadened its high-end line-up with its Dimensity 8000 and 8100 designs. Built on TSMC’s 5 nm process node, the new products are arguably the more important, albeit lower-specified support to its flagship design. They offer an alternative to Qualcomm in a segment that’s seeing robust competition and significant growth as the smartphone market rebounds. It’s also a natural arena from which MediaTek can extend its gains in mid-tier market share without having to go toe-to-toe in a premium tier where competition from Qualcomm is formidable.

We believe that these chips form a bigger challenge to Qualcomm than Dimensity 9000, and are likely to further raise phone-makers’ expectations for price and performance. With support likely from Redmi, Realme, OnePlus, Vivo and Oppo among others, the launch is a further sign of a surging MediaTek. Nonetheless, the gap between MediaTek and Qualcomm shouldn’t be underestimated, and as the market expands, both are benefiting from an abundance of demand.

Fast Charging a New Area of Competition

An interesting trend in the smartphone space at MWC is the growing prevalence of fast charging solutions — and a corresponding growing level of charging wattage. Oppo showcased two new solutions with 150 W and 240 W charging. The 150 W implementation promises to charge a 4,500 mAh battery to 50% in five minutes and reach a full charge after 15; the 240 W offering claims to fully replenish a battery of the same capacity in just nine minutes.

Honor unveiled 100 W charging on its new Magic4 Pro handset, which pledges a full charge for the same-size battery in 30 minutes. This appears to be a new area of competition as device-makers try to find new ways to stand out in the fiercely competitive premium smartphone segment.

The trend has raised concerns about the viability of this sort of rapid charging over a longer term. The underlying physics of rapidly charging batteries creates many questions about energy transfer and heat dissipation, not to mention wariness given the problems with smartphone batteries that have rocked the industry in the past. Oppo has been keen to try and dispel concerns here by offering a “battery health engine” that debuted on its Find X5 phone series (see MWC 2022, Monday 28 February). It claims this slows the rate of decline in battery capacity over time. Regardless, it will be hoping the topic doesn’t explode into the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Consumer-Grade Wearables a Long Way from Being Used in Healthcare

Bringing together professionals from the health and wearables landscape, a session titled Life Altering Wearables in Healthcare at MWC today looked at how the line between wearable technology developed for patients and consumers has become increasingly blurred.

Makers of consumer products have been at pains to articulate how consumer-focussed devices could enhance healthcare experiences, and we’re starting to see meaningful change. The pandemic removed barriers from approval processes, meaning boundaries of healthcare settings are being extended beyond clinical spaces into our homes. This is demonstrated by the rise of digital health solutions and the increased frequency of medical trials that can now continue from inside the home.

Even with this in mind, Jörn Watzke, senior director of Garmin Health, emphasized that greater partnership is needed to harness data from consumer-grade devices and inform disease prevention and treatment plans. Speaking on behalf of digital healthcare company Isansys, Georgina Horton suggested that this would need more than device integration and buy-in from regulators and policymakers. The biggest challenge, she argued, is being able to process data in ways that are meaningful for practitioners in order to encourage behaviour change in medical settings.

Orange Confirms Its Standalone 5G Core Suppliers

Traditional suppliers Nokia and Ericsson scooped the contracts, alongside Oracle, which will supply signalling and routing technology. In making the announcement, Orange revealed plans to deploy commercial standalone 5G services in its European reach starting in 2023. The much-vaunted technology is set to power a range of new services, such as network slicing and private networks.

ZTE Introduces Redmagic 7 Gaming Phone

Gaming remains an important theme on the show floor, although dedicated gaming smartphones have a limited presence, with no sign of brands such as Asus ROG or Black Shark. ZTE showcased its Nubia Redmagic 7 gaming smartphone, featuring an integrated turbofan — reaching up to 20,000 rotations per minute — with an exhaust system and advanced heat-dissipating materials for hardcore mobile gamers pushing the phone to its limit. The company also showcased an optional detachable cooling fan that could provide further cooling to the device. The smartphone uses Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset, has a 165 Hz screen and offers a raft of dedicated gaming features such as dual shoulder triggers.

The phone has already launched in China and is set to become available in Europe in March.

ZTE’s Nubia Redmagic 7

Deutsche Telekom Unveils Cross-Border Network Slicing Concept

A proof of concept between the operator and Ericsson aims to facilitate uniform international connectivity for businesses seeking enterprise applications requiring very low latency. Claimed as a “world first”, the network slicing concept — which includes SD-WAN — will offer a guaranteed quality of service and was successfully extended from Germany to Poland during trials.

Samsung Partners for 5G Virtual RAN Ecosystem

Samsung continues to consolidate its claim to be the leading provider of commercially deployed virtual radio access network solutions (RAN) to tier-one communications service providers by building an ecosystem of solutions that have been tested and validated for interoperability. The partnership covers providers of chipsets (Intel), cloud and software platforms (Red Hat and WindRiver), and servers (Dell and Hewlett Packard Enterprise) — to expand the range of 5G virtual RAN solutions.

Given the challenges for communications service providers in aligning road maps from multiple suppliers of virtual RAN solutions, fostering a fully interoperable approach and achieving an end-to-end virtual RAN solution, this partnership programme will help in the preparation for commercial virtual RAN deployments and help the push for greater adoption of Open RAN in 5G deployment.

Vodafone to Use Open RAN in 30% of Its European Masts by 2030

Open RAN is an important theme of this year’s MWC and Vodafone is one of the technology’s biggest advocates. During a speech in Barcelona, group chief technology officer Johan Wibergh said that about 30,000 of its sites in Europe will eventually use Open RAN, with rural locations set to benefit first. In the UK, Vodafone plans to have 2,500 sites live with Open RAN by 2027 and in January 2022 switched on its first site near Bath.

Extended Reality and the Metaverse

We had feared that MWC would be fertile ground for overblown hype about the metaverse, following a busy show for the term at CES in January. But engagement with the concept has been fairly limited in Barcelona, with few of the leading names in attendance trying to force their way into the metaverse narrative. This isn’t to say that it has been altogether absent; SK Telecom’s stand features both a roller-coaster simulator replete with VR headsets which offers a “4D metaverse” experience, as well as the chance to join a virtual gig through its Ifland platform by donning a VR headset.

But generally, other VR headsets being demonstrated stayed away from metaverse discussions. The most popular headset on display is Meta’s Quest 2, which appears on multiple stands, although HTC is also present with its own stand. Its new Vive Flow headset formed the basis of an in-car VR demonstration from HTC and HoloRide; this offers in-car VR experiences, with GPS data from the car used to track movement while driving, mirroring motion in virtual experiences. The Vive Flow had no major demonstration space on HTC’s stand, despite being the company’s latest headset, with the Vive Pro headset used for most demonstrations. Discussing the road map for the Vive Flow, HTC said that the promised hand-tracking technology and iOS connectivity remain features in development.

Beyond this, VR demonstrations throughout the show focussed mostly on enterprise uses such as collaboration, productivity and training. On the whole, we believe that this more grounded take is more beneficial for both virtual and augmented reality technologies as they seek to raise their profile by offering clear solutions to user needs.

HTC Vive Flow headset

Orange Demonstrates 5G Underwater Drone

The drone, submerged in a large aquarium in Valencia, 400 km away from Barcelona, can be remotely controlled from the operator’s stand using hand movements that are converted into signals in real time over a 5G network. Visitors in Barcelona can view images from the drone’s high-definition camera. The demonstration aims to showcase the high throughput and very low latency of the 5G network.

Xplora Launches Three New Kids’ Smartwatches

Following its most successful quarter to date, Xplora has announced three new kids’ smartwatches for release in 2022. Xplora is a kids’ smartwatch company that aims to help parents better track their children’s whereabouts and activity levels.

The XGO3 and X6 improve on the company’s portfolio and are expected to target less-developed markets for the product category. Notably, the X6 features better screen technology and a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset. The third release targets Xplora’s mature markets and forms its most premium device offering to date. It includes an AMOLED screen and a Snapdragon Wear 4100 chipset. The ultrapremium device will reportedly be priced similarly to the Apple Watch and offer more advanced applications; this may include support for music, a voice assistant and better integration with the GoPlay smartphone app.

A totally renewed product portfolio demonstrates the company’s confidence in the growth of the kids’ watch segment and follows its latest operator deal with EE in February for its XGO2 device.

ActiveLook Forms an API Partnership with Suunto

Although major sports watch brands aren’t present on the show floor, Suunto’s tech features on ActiveLook’s stand, having entered a partnership with the augmented reality smart glasses brand to open the Suunto sports watch API for connection on ActiveLook’s smart glasses.

Although no product has been launched with the capabilities enabled, the partnership signals a strong intention from Suunto to explore augmented reality technology — a move that rival Garmin has previously made with its Varia Vision In-sight Display.

ActiveLook smart glasses

Plethora of 5G CPE Devices a Good Sign for Fixed Mobile Connectivity

There has been a slew of customer-premises equipment (CPE) devices on show or announced at MWC at a time when 4G and 5G network coverage is continuing to grow globally. Oppo announced the 5G CPE T2, TCL unveiled the 5G Linkhub HH515 and ZTE has numerous CPE units at its stand, making the bold, unsourced claim that it has “number-one share in 5G CPE”. Based on our observations at MWC, chipset-maker MediaTek appears to be developing a strong position in the CPE market.

As competition hots up, we’re seeing performance and specifications improving and costs coming down, which is extremely positive for the growing adoption of fixed wireless services. Expect to see a growing wave of affordable CPE devices from network operators around the world.

Oppo 5G CPE T2

Rakuten Symphony Secures Several Partnerships

Rakuten Symphony, the Open RAN-focussed spin-off from Rakuten Mobile, has had a busy MWC as it seeks to win business with operators outside its Japanese home market. On Monday, it confirmed a partnership with AT&T and the acquisition of cloud service provider, Today, it announced an alliance with Cisco to accelerate the adoption of Open RAN and a deal with Nokia to use its cloud-native software.

Cat Rugged Mobile Hot Spot Unveiled by Bullitt Group

The maker of Cat rugged phones has diversified its portfolio to add a rugged mobile hot spot to its range. The Cat Q10 5G device differs from most other mobile hot spots by offering a rugged IP68 weatherproof, dust- and water-resistant product that will cater well to the brand’s existing customers.

Although the mobile hot spot device segment is already a crowded space, identifying a more differentiated niche will help Bullitt. Additionally, the Q10 5G has a removable battery, allowing users in remote locations with a limited power supply to maintain a network connection by swapping out the battery for a fully charged spare.

We expect the Q10 5G will attract those working in the construction, logistics and agricultural industries and in ad hoc events such as festivals where businesses need connectivity for point-of-sale payments. It could also court a broader set of consumers looking for a rugged solution when camping or on the beach.

The challenge for Bullitt will be securing strong distribution channels, building awareness and offering a competitive price in a cutthroat market for mobile hot spot devices.

Xiaomi CyberDog

Xiaomi highlighted achievements for its CyberDog product to date. According to the company, it has sold about 1,000 of the robot dogs in China, primarily to developers, hoping to encourage collaboration and new uses for the devices. Priced at the $1,500 mark, the device offers an affordable platform for robotics experimentation, without the burden of hardware research and development.

Xiaomi CyberDog

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Geoff Blaber, Shaun Collins, Ben Wood, Kester Mann, Richard Webb, James Manning Smith, Leo Gebbie and Issy Towell