Personal Highlights from Mobile World Congress

Our Team Picks Out a Few Notable Sights

As the CCS Insight team gathered for a beer at the end of a demanding week in Barcelona, we reflected on our individual highlights from the show. These were not necessarily from each analyst’s research area, but just things from the show that made an impression.

This post gathers a few of those thoughts.

Ericsson app coverage game (Martin Garner). Infrastructure provider Ericsson believes that mobile operators need to rethink their approach to the definition of network coverage. Historically this focused on where cellular coverage was available for a voice call, but this only needs a data rate of 20 Kbps. People now expect to get music on the move or stream video to their handsets, and these applications require much greater bandwidth — Spotify, for example, needs about 200 Kbps; HD video needs around 500 Kbps. Ericsson calls this concept “app coverage”. To demonstrate this principle, it challenged visitors to take part in a game in which they had a certain amount of money to invest in a network. By mixing capabilities and technologies, players had to optimise the network to offer an adequate level of service and so generate more revenue from consumers. Many players were unable to create the optimal network, implying that working with Ericsson would help operators make their networks more profitable.

pickmwc1NFC admission badge (Ben Wood). The show’s organisers, the GSM Association, gave delegates a virtual entry badge on their mobile phones. This was authenticated at the venue using NFC. Attendees were not limited to one particular device; in fact, the service was supported on Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices. Personally, I thought it was a huge risk, but I admired the ambition of the initiative. Had the system failed in front of the most influential people in the mobile industry, it could have set NFC technology back a couple of years. Yet it turned out to be a great success and in my view helped add more momentum to NFC within the mobile industry. To learn more about NFC at Mobile World Congress watch our video clip.

LG’s second-screen ultra HD TV games (Paolo Pescatore). There were lots of multi-screen demos and initiatives at the show, but the one that impressed me most was LG’s. It showed off technology that upscaled a game you normally play on a mobile phone onto an ultra HD TV, with the handset being used as the game controller. The quality of games on smartphones and tablets is growing at a tremendous rate, and the use of a second screen is a significant emerging trend. I talk about LG’s demo in this video clip.

pickmwc2Ubuntu phone and tablet user interface (Geoff Blaber). There was a batch of new platforms on display, such as Firefox OS, Sailfish OS and Tizen, but the one that stood out for me was Ubuntu. It felt tangibly different. The implementation on phones and tablets isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach, but nor does it lose all consistency. That’s a pretty tricky balancing act that I’d argue only iOS has achieved to date. Sadly, an attractive interface alone is no guarantee of commercial success, but it’s a great first step.

SnapKeys Si (Digantam Gurung). Despite almost every smartphone offering a full-touch screen these days, I’m still not very comfortable with the virtual keyboard. So I’m always keen to try new applications that claim to improve the experience. The beta version of SnapKeys Si for Android is one such application, which I found particularly interesting. It attempts to reduce the keyboard to four main buttons and a “random letter” button in the middle, which is based on predictive typing. I was very impressed with how this works and I’m now using it on my own phone.

NTT DoCoMo voice translator app (Kester Mann). The quality and ease of use of the voice translator app that NTT DoCoMo demoed on its stand was a highlight for me. The app can translate a variety of languages into the native tongue of the listener. It works as a virtual interpreter, allowing people to have multilingual conversations. Translations are provided as spoken words and on-screen text.

Robust mobile networks at the show (Geoff Blaber). One of the most outstanding features of the show for me was the quality of the mobile networks. I can’t think of an event even half this size when the network has stood up so well. It’s a practical example of how far the industry has come, how reliant we are upon it and how in many situations the cellular network now offers a better experienced than fixed lines. At Mobile World Congress this year I found cellular connectivity to be much more reliable than the Wi-Fi network, which was patchy at best.

NEC Medias W dual-screen phone (Ben Wood). I heard quite a few complaints in Barcelona about the monotonous succession of mid- and low-tier Android phones and about how all smartphones are starting to look the same. Although I have some sympathy with this view, as you can see from the wide range of videos we shot, there were notable new products on display. The one that impressed me the most was the NEC Medias W smartphone, which has two 4.3-inch screens. This was a clear demonstration that it is possible to differentiate on the Android platform. I thought some of the user interface elements were really well thought-out, especially as it’s not straightforward getting a user experience to work well on two screens. It’s well worth taking a look at this video to see the device in action.

Huge investment in exhibition stands (Alex Hern, cameraman). As a first-time visitor to Mobile World Congress, it was the design and scale of the exhibition stands that impressed me. Several caught my eye, but the two that really stood out were the stands by Deutsche Telekom and Ericsson. The Motorola stand was one of Paolo’s highlights. The company had little to announce but the graphics on the floor of the stand were a lot of fun.