Every year, rain or shine, I go to Barcelona at the end of February for Mobile World Congress. This year I'm not representing any company, I'm just going to soak things up. I'm a telecoms guy and probably always will be, so it's the show I will probably never miss. I always promised myself I'd do that one year and here's my chance. Here are my predictions for the show.
- The talk about IoT has moved on to discussion of machine learning and 'digital transformation'. This is a natural evolution and I'll be blogging soon about how there's no more IoT any more. It was always only a convenient umbrella term for a whole bunch of diverse things. The real value comes from transforming business processes and automation. So I expect the conversation to move on from the umbrella to talking about the compelling factors for doing IoT. It's notable, of course, that the event has moved on from being a mobile event to being much more about wider technology. But that's not a new trend for 2019. NB - just like last year there will also be lots of things described as AI that aren't anything like it.
- Much of the IoT conversation has also moved on to what to do with data and how to integrate it with non-IoT data. I'm running a session entitled Cashing in on Industrial Data: Data Exchanges, Brokering & Analytics on the Tuesday at 15.30 looking at how data can be shared, bought, sold, rated etc. Ostensibly the starting point is IoT data, but largely the distinction between IoT and non-IoT data is arbitrary. IoT data tends to be more diverse and more real-time, but the key distinction of data is whether it's useful or not. And typically it's only useful when combined with some other non-IoT data. Smart metering, for instance: real-time consumption data is only useful when combined with unit costs to allow the user to adjust usage. So I'm expecting/hoping everyone will be talking about how to manage these issues. They certainly were last year. Every vendor I spoke with had a game in this space (or claimed to). The guys on my panel: Chordant, Deutsche Telekom and Terbine are further ahead than most.
- Yeah yeah 5G, but probably not for IoT. Of course this will be the biggie in terms of talking points. I maintain my scepticism about the real applicability to IoT in the medium term. Most sensors don't need ultra low latency or super high bandwidth. I sense the vendors who have been beating the 5G for IoT drum for the last few years will rein that in a bit.
- 'Edge' will be the buzzword de la semana. In particular it's relevant because we're dealing with an event run by people who own the edge of the network. The irony is that the whole point of 5G is that you need to do less at the edge. Mind you, it depends on your definition of "edge". It certainly means different things to different people. I'd prefer a dose of 'subsidiarity', i.e. doing things at the level they're most appropriately done at.
- Badmouthing of the NB-IoT competition. My view was always that the licensed tech was going to dominate the low power space. For consistency of deployment and expertise in setting up and running networks the existing carriers are in a strong position to make NB-IoT the de facto LP connectivity technology. But I still expect a whole load of diversity. I'd expect to hear a lot of stories next week about how Sigfox is going down and how LoRa won't be viable in a plethora of countries due to limitations on using the unlicensed bands. I don't feel like these things are an existential threat to the technologies. There may be some resettling as different organisations have to make specific choices to suit their wide area requirements.
- Network security issues will be keenly debated but Huawei will be shown some love. Safe to say Huawei has had a rough few months. I expect operators and others to line up during MWC week to talk about how comfortable they are about working with Huawei. I'm not enough of a cyber-security expert to know whether the risk is real or imaginary. It feels like a situation that has been engineered for political purposes i.e. to hammer Huawei for chronic issues in China related to intellectual property rights.
- Lots of vendors will talk about how they can help enterprises escape from POC hell (as I termed it a couple of years ago). This seems to have entered the zeitgeist based on a rule of thumb that I had which was that 80% of deployments are POCs and 80% of POCs never go to full deployment. It's nice that we've moved into talking about the practicalities of actually getting this stuff done. The big challenge though is that avoiding the pitfalls of perpetual beta is almost entirely about having a structure within the deploying entity that isn't just messing around with trials and can actually deploy something that is potentially transformational. I'm expecting to hear a lot from vendors who claim to be able to help organisations bridge the chasm from POC to full deployment. The reality is that they almost certainly can't. It's up to the adopter to change.
- Blockchain is on a downward trajectory. It was a big topic a year ago, in as much as people would drop reference to it into most discussions. I expect far fewer references this year. Good.
- No particularly interesting launches in the consumer IoT space. I'm sure a few toasters and fridges will be wheeled out and there will be a few drones too. But I'm expecting the discussion on the consumer side to be muted. Not least because I think the mobile operators have made their peace with the fact that they won't really make any money in this space (see here at about the 36:00 mark).