“Mobile isn’t just a communications device or a technology. It’s a phenomenon at the heart of everything we do. It’s fundamental to our everyday lives.” Mobile World Congress 2017

‘The Next Element’ was the official theme of Mobile World Congress 2017, which took place last week in Barcelona. Intended to explore how mobile is no longer simply about smartphones and tablets, but about the deeper impact connectivity has on our everyday lives, the theme moved the conference far beyond devices to showcase a range of technologies and concepts with connectivity at their core.

Here are five key themes from Mobile World Congress 2017:

Providers are taking an early position on 5G

5G is the next ultra-fast, super-responsive wireless technology. Set to make 4G look like snail’s pace, it will take connectivity to a whole new level, driving advances in connected living and emerging technologies such as virtual reality. While 5G deployment is a long way from a reality – with network architecture and specifications on service requirements, radio standards, security, and maintenance still to be agreed – tech providers are keen to position themselves as leaders in 5G to take advantage of its immense opportunities.

At Mobile World Congress, Cisco announced it is providing Verizon with pre-commercial 5G architecture as it begins large-scale testing of a 5G home broadband replacement service across the US this year. Samsung also revealed a portfolio of pre-commercial 5G network products, and LG and Qualcomm announced trials of 5G connectivity in cars.

The past is as exciting as the future

Tapping into a growing desire for digital disconnection, as well as nostalgia for a time when sending a text message was the ultimate in technical sophistication, HMD Global induced flashbacks to the year 2000 by launching a revamped Nokia 3310. Although the new phone has extended battery life, a colour screen, and a camera, it’s worth noting it will still run on 2G.

Although the move certainly attracted attention to the brand, it may have somewhat overshadowed the launch of the range of affordable Android-powered Nokia smartphones it was designed to publicise. The new Nokia 3310 wasn’t the only Mobile World Congress release to embrace the nostalgia theme, with the BlackBerry KeyOne making an appearance along with its full physical keyboard.

Use of Artificial Intelligence is routine

Artificial intelligence (AI) was in evidence throughout the conference, particularly at IBM’s stand where its cognitive technology Watson was used to create the first thinking sculpture by analysing research on Gaudi and Barcelona, as well as real-time social signals throughout the event.

The use of AI in mobile marketing also formed a key part of discussions throughout the event, with an overriding view that implementing machine learning into the ad bidding process is not a futuristic concept but a routine practice, which marketers must embrace to avoid being left behind.

The Virtual Reality momentum continues

Immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) were key themes at last year’s Mobile World Congress, leading many to predict a less prominent role this year. But almost every booth had some form of immersive experience to try – via a headset or glasses – and immersive smartphone technologies such as 3D cameras and 360-degree video, as well as facial recognition and age recognition, were ever present.

While 5G is expected to be the catalyst to accelerate VR and AR, these technologies are already becoming more accessible, with Google using the event to announce it has shipped more than 10 million of its low-cost Cardboard viewers, and that it is adding the 360-dgeree video Sky VR app to its Cardboard platform. The event saw an increased focus on the practical use of the technology and enhancing its relevance to consumers, with BT and Nokia demonstrating how live sport could be broadcast in high definition VR.

Vehicles are getting smarter and safer

From self-driving cars to drones, Mobile World Congress showcased a fascinating range of innovative vehicles. Roborace unveiled a self-driving electric AI racing car, with light and sound detecting sensors and artificial intelligence cameras, which can exceed 320km per hour. The collision avoidance algorithms used by the car are likely to be incorporated into road cars of the future.

Chinese technology company DJI unveiled new technology to help drone operators avoid aeroplanes or helicopters using ADS-B receivers, a safety measure that will expand the possibilities of using drones in restricted airspace. Ford combined the two technologies in unveiling its ‘autodelivery’ concept where autonomous vehicles and drones work together to make deliveries within cities.

While smartphones and other devices still played a role at Mobile World Congress, the event illustrated mobile is about more than devices. Connectivity really has become an elemental part of the world we live in, touching every part of our lives. It will be fascinating to see how these themes evolve when we next visit Barcelona in March 2018.

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