Edge takes centre stage at MWC 2019

For all the hype and buzz which was generated ahead of Mobile World Congress 2019, the edge stole some of the attention away from 5G.

Perhaps this is more of a realisation that 5G is not all its cracked up to, at least for the moment anyway. After handing out the accolades for ‘5G first’, this now seems to be the time to settle down and take a mature look at what we have in front of us.

Numerous telcos have not crossed the finish line to offer 5G to those who feel they need it, but with the incredibly limited nature of the coverage and a lack of devices to make use of the bonanza, you have to ask what is the point? For all the promise of greatness, this year’s gathering had a much more pragmatic feel.

Yes, 5G is exciting, but its only the beginning. Yes, there is a chance to make more money, but the usecases have to be figured out. Yes, there are some interesting ideas out there, but Release 16 is where the magic will happen. And yes, today’s 5G will bring certain benefits, but there is of course a lot of work to be done.

It might seem like a bit of a negative thing to say but keep the champagne on ice because nothing has been achieved yet. And this seemed to be the mood throughout the halls of the Fira. The industry has been building up this promise of a connected society, built on superfast 5G networks, for years, but the hype seems to have been dissipated by reality.

There was of course a lot of talk around 5G, perhaps most notably because of the devices the manufacturers were showing off, but it would certainly be fair to say the edge stole at least a bit of the limelight.

Although there are some telcos out there who believe they can build a 5G business on the concept of speed, many are building towards the latency angle. This is where the edge will play a critical role, and the rational businesses throughout the world are building partnerships and investing in technology to make these services a reality.

Telefonica is an excellent example, as while it announced a partnership with Microsoft to smarten up its Aura product ahead of taking on the likes of Amazon and Google in the personal assistant space, this tie up will help it drive towards the edge, creating a wealth of new services for a variety of customers. During the press conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed towards the edge as one of the most powerful developments over the next couple of years, and he certainly wasn’t the only one.

On the final day of MWC, Ian Fogg of OpenSignal spoke of how importance low latency will be to enhance the gaming experience for users around, while two halves of the same bad played a set in opposite ends of the hall, one in Vodafone’s stand and the other in Ericsson. While we’re not convinced this is a block-buster usecase, it does demonstrate what can be done.

While the edge plays an important role in content caching and distribution, a more intelligent can help change the industry in numerous other ways due to the idea of ‘dumb devices’. The more processing power, intelligence and storage components which can be moved off these devices, the cheaper they become to manufacture. This could potentially have a scaling effect on certain aspects of the already blossoming IOT segment.

Of course, what is worth taking into account is that there are numerous devices and services which are becoming increasingly complex. Only a segment of the IOT world will become ‘dumb’, and irrelevant of how small it is, it will open the door, encourage growth and adoption, as well as broadening the number of usecases which might be considered commercially unviable currently.

The same argument could be said for smartphones. With more ‘intelligence’, storage and processing power moving off devices, there could be more freedom to evolve the smartphone. Power demands and the necessity of having some components on the devices could be removed. There could be a lot more opportunity to create new concepts.

An interesting counterpoint to this latency usecase for 5G was raised by Bengt Nordstrom, CEO at Northstream, during our MWC podcast. Nordstrom points to the reduction in latency over the last few years, and whether this has encouraged any new (or growth) revenues in the industry. If it is simply improving experience as opposed to adding to the bottom line, is there any reason to believe this wouldn’t be the case moving forward, and does it build a business case for 5G investments?

Looking at the usecases for low latency, there are many, some of which are arguably more important than others. Video chat is one which is mentioned often, especially when one of the parties in a remote location, such as international reporters. Esports is a significant one, and this is a growing industry. Betting and bidding could be another, and while many will think of sports betting first and foremost, the financial sector would certainly benefit as fractions of a seconds could means thousands in trading, especially with automation playing a role. Smart factories, transport systems, air-traffic control, security threat detection, network automation are more. There are numerous examples.

For us, the emphasis on edge computing represents a shift in mentality from the industry. 5G discussions are all about laying the groundwork for the future digital community, but in giving more airtime to topics like the edge, the industry is seemingly more focused on the commercial realities of futuristic connectivity. 5G won’t make the future, it will just enable it.

5G was supposed to steal the show in Barcelona this year, and it certainly was the protagonist, but the edge certainly commanded more than its 15 minutes.

Orange Bank is on a roll

Cutting through the noise at Mobile World Congress is a tough job but Orange’s play for the financial industry is certainly a good attempt.

After a successful venture in the French market, Orange Bank CEO Paul De Leusse gave us a brief run-down of future plans for the business. Spain is on the horizon, as is Poland, while the African markets are going to be given some more love.

“The aim of Orange is to build banks in every country we operate as a telco,” said Leusse. “We want a bank which benefits from the telco and brings benefit to the telco.”

It’s a bold ambition for the business, though there certainly is strong progress being made. At the end of 2018, Orange Bank had 248,000 customers, only 40,000 of which were Orange employees, while the synergies between the telco and the bank are very apparent. 150 of the telcos branches now have banking sales people, each of which can open more than 12 accounts a month. Compared to a traditional banking representative opening three or four a month, the numbers are encouraging.

Looking at where the telco benefits the financial business, the facts are somewhat surprising. Using telco data, Leusse claims he can take out the 30% of customers who represent 80% of the credit risk, while the insight on risk is more reliable than the data from the Romanian credit bureau. And of course, the benefits head the other direction as well.

Those customers who have both a banking and telco relationship with Orange are 15% more satisfied, while churn has been decreased. The Polish business has seen a 18% churn reduction, while Orange Money customers in Africa are 40% less likely to. Orange is a massive believer in the convergence business model, but this is taking the idea to another level.

Interestingly enough, fortunes could be greater on the road, with the Spaniards the next to get the banking dream.

Leusse pointed out the in Spain there is no need for the sales staff to be certified by the financial regulator, perhaps suggesting there will be a larger retail footprint. The Spanish market is digitally more advanced than the French, with customers more readily embracing the new normality of the internet.

According to research quoted by Leusse, 77% of Spaniards suggest they would happily do without a banker, while the number is only 51% in France. 66% of Spanish customers would also be open to being advised by Djingo, the telcos digital assistant, while this number is only 50% in France. Launching a bank in Spain could be just as a promising opportunity as France, maybe even bigger.

We’re cashing the IoT cheques now – AT&T

Some telcos are readying themselves for the IoT bonanza, but AT&T is cashing in on the connected dream today.

With 51 million ‘things’ connected to the network today, three million were added during the last period, AT&T’s Executive Director for Mobility Marketing Mobeen Khan boasts IoT is more than a commercial win for the telco, it is driving diversification.

“We have a deliberate strategy to go up the stack,” Khan stated at Mobile World Congress.

While traditionally telcos fortunes have been delivered through the network, Khan pointed to IoT as a means to diversify revenues, a long-sought desire from the industry. At the base level, AT&T can sell customers the hardware, moving up one level it can provide the connectivity, thirdly there are platform offerings, and finally, there are enterprise applications available to manage the business of IoT. AT&T is fulfilling the ambition of being more than a dumb pipe.

This is where it becomes more interesting to be involved in the IoT world. AT&T of course makes money off everything ‘thing’ which is connected to the network, but the massive potential is providing the platforms on the third layer. This is where Khan sees the IoT fortunes being delivered.

“Most companies already have the applications and software to make IoT work at a business level,” said Khan. “We don’t need to sell them these products, but we need to create the platforms which allow the data to be integrated into these applications.”

Take Salesforce as an example. Numerous companies around the world have already purchased licenses for this product, so there is little value in attempting to compete with a market leader which is a perfect foil for the business side of IoT. However, these applications are not designed to handles the vast swell of information generated through IoT. The pain point for many is filtering and actioning the useful information.

If a fridge is designed to work at 34 degrees, no-one needs to know if there are minor fluctuations each minute. If it rises to 34.2 or drops to 33.7 degrees, this is not insight. However, if the temperature spikes to 42 degrees, then you know there is a problem, this is data which can be actioned. This filtering process is the aspect of IoT which is complicated and time-consuming, not of interest to the application developers in the business, allowing AT&T to slide into the stack and provide value to the ecosystem.

Perhaps more importantly is the compounding effect. The simpler AT&T makes it for insight to be derived from data, the lower the barrier for entry for customers. Not only does this improve the potential for platform sales, but it also accelerates the number of ‘things’ connected to the network. There’s cash everywhere.

Some might be billing IoT as a justification for future 5G investments, but AT&T is getting a jump start on the market.

Telcos don’t understand the hacking community – Oracle

Security is a challenge for the industry, we all know that, but the speed in which security threats are evolving is creating new headaches every single day for the telcos.

Speaking to Travis Russell, Oracle’s Director for Cybersecurity, at Mobile World Congress, the issue for the telcos is a relatively simple one to identify, but heartachingly difficult to address.

“Risk management and tolerance is the Achilles Heel for telcos,” said Russell. “The telcos are always looking for a smoking gun before changing risk tolerance.”

This has been the issue in recent years, though it is only today the real damage is being dealt. In by-gone years, telcos have been unwilling to address the problem of security until it has become a direct threat to the business. Due to finite resources and increasing pressure on the spreadsheets, telco have had to focus on immediate problems instead of getting ahead of greater threats.

“IP was an enabler to vulnerabilities,” said Russell. “It took a while for the hackers to catch-up, but now they have.”

As Russell points out, prior to IP being introduced to the world of telcos, risks were much smaller. TDM technologies were incredibly secure, but as networks evolved, new problems emerged. These challenges are persistent today, but the main issue is few people understand the community which is the most dangerous threat.

A lazy stereotype of a hacker would be a 17-year computer whizz, sitting in his pants at his laptop with red bull scattered throughout the room, causing chaos on the digital highways in search of kudos on the dark web. This might have been true one-upon-a-time, but the threat has evolved.

Hackers nowadays can herald from the worlds of organized crime. These are not thugs who extort the local corner shop anymore, but nefarious organizations which use the virtual world as a means to make money illegally. Few people think of organized crime mobs or terrorists groups as containing PHD computer genius’, but this is increasingly becoming the new norm as undesirables poke and prod networks for illicit gains.

However, as Russell mentioned before, the challenge has not been adequately addressed because the smoking gun has not been found. Few people consider a data breach as major news anymore, but that is because there have not been enough reported instances of identity fraud as a result of personal information hitting the dark corners of the web. Another example of a new threat is Metro Bank’s recent incident in the UK.

Here, Metro Bank was the victim of SS7 attacks, which allowed anyone with access to reroute text messages and calls. Considering banks use SMS during the two-stage authentication process, this presents a massive risk for many companies in the future. They are becoming much more common.

Elsewhere, the risks are becoming much more sophisticated as well, with open source communities coming under threat. Russell notes that while ecosystems like Linux might be safe, there are plenty of eye balls on code to ensure its legitimacy, lesser known or more niche ecosystems could be at risk. In these cases, vulnerabilities could be placed into the source code before being used elsewhere. It is a risk few consider and demonstrates the sophistication and intelligence of those who are aiming to do harm.

While this might sound like scaremongering, it is a perfectly legitimate point to make. Due to the fact companies have been brushing aside security concerns for years, there is a lot of catching up to do. Governments need to force security ownership on all segments of the community, as well as do more do educate the consumer on the risk of digital society.

The fact of the matter is, each element of the supply chain has to take ownership for security, even if there are elements which are slightly outside of their control. As it stands, each layer, whether they be connectivity providers, operating systems, hardware manufacturers, software providers or the consumer, has to take a more pragmatic approach to security. The security conundrum can only be solved if each element takes a more serious approach, to create an end-to-end landscape of protection. Gone are the days responsibilities can be passed elsewhere.

The hackers have got a head-start, but with new fines enforceable on incidents and substandard security protocols, security might be taken seriously before too long.

Telefónica and Microsoft team-up to own connected ecosystem

Every telco is attempting to figure out how to survive in the newly-defined digital world and Telefónica’s approach looks to be one of the most interesting attempts yet.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Telefónica CEO Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete was joined on stage by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to preach the promise of its ‘fourth platform’ and the power of digital assistant ‘Aura’ as a play to capture the fortunes of tomorrow’s digital ecosystem. Many are attempting to realise the glories of the connected economy, but this approach, leaning on the ‘gated community’ lessons of the OTTs looks to be one of the most encouraging yet.

“We decided cognitive intelligence was an amazing new opportunity,” said Alvarez-Pallete. “It is a new wave of interaction with our customers.”

The idea, which has been in the making for the last two years, is a relatively simple one on the surface. Build an effective digital assistant (tick), an intuitive interface (tick), a network designed for intelligence (tick) and open all this up to third parties (the next tick). It is remarkably similar to the ‘gated community’ model which has been championed by the likes of Facebook.

Although there are services and products which will be designed by Telefónica, there are more intelligent ways to monetize the consumer. The digital assistant and ‘Movistar Living App’ help Telefónica own the relationship with the consumer, but by opening the gates of this cultivated community Telefónica can monetize the relationships and (in-directly) the services which are build on top of its own intelligent network.

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However, for this idea to work the services have to be captivating and innovative. Telefonica must give customers a reason to use ‘Aura’ and the ‘Movistar Living App’ as the focal point of their own connected world. Effectively, Telefonica will have to go head-to-head with the likes of AWS and Google who are also trying to own this relationship with their own digital assistants. This is where Microsoft will be able to help.

Under Nadella, Microsoft has been reborn as a new company. After a brief fall from grace, the now cloud-defined business is fast becoming one of the most innovative players in the market, and part of this is built on its own AI platform and cognitive intelligence offerings. If Telefonica is going to go toe-to-toe with some very innovative players and own the connected ecosystem, the power of Azure (machine learning research, speech recognition etc.) will be critical to this success.

Another crucially important factor to success here will be earning, and maintaining, customer trust. Facebook succeeded so forcefully in the first few years because no-one questioned the data-sharing business model. Perhaps this was because no-one could understand these concepts, but the world has changed. Privacy is a priority for consumers, and Telefonica will have to prove it is serious about keeping personal information safe and managing the relationships with third-parties responsibly. Without this trust, Telefonica’s drive towards evolution with fail and the business will be nothing more than a dumb pipe.

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What is worth noting is that the strategy is off to the best possible start. Aura has been launched in six different countries, across 30 channels and has developed more than 1000 different usecases. By the end of 2019, these numbers will have improved to 9, 50 and 1500 respectively. The ambition and the growth potential is certainly there.

Owning the ecosystem which is fast developing behind the connected economy, including the smart home, is an opportunity which looked to be lost for the telcos. With the likes of AWS and Google seemingly wrestling control away with their own smart speakers and integrated personal assistants, it might have been a case of another missed opportunity due to inaction. Telefonica is looking to right this wrong however.

Competition is a problem, removing Huawei could be disastrous – Vodafone CEO

With all eyes in directed towards Mobile World Congress this week, Vodafone CEO Nick Read took the opportunity to vent his frustrations.

Competition is unhealthy, accusations are factually suspect, protectionism is too aggressive, the trust with customers has been broken, collaboration is almost non-existent. From Read’s perspective, there are plenty of reasons the 5G era will be just of much of a struggle for the telcos as the 4G one.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a telco press conference if there wasn’t a reference to Huawei.

“I would like a new contract for the industry, I want to go out and build trust with consumers and businesses,” said Read. “This will require us to engage government and build the vision of a digital society together.”

Read has reiterated his point from the last quarterly earnings call, there needs to be more of a fact-based conversation around the Huawei saga. There is too much rhetoric, too much emotion, and perhaps, too much political influence.

Huawei is the punching bag right now, but any ban or heavy-handed response to US calls for aggressive action would be a consequence for everyone.

As Read points out, Huawei is a significant player in almost everyone’s supply chain, controlling roughly 28% of mobile infrastructure, while Nokia and Ericsson also have market share in the 20s. Removing one of these players from the market will further compound a problem which plagues the industry today; the supply chain is too concentrated around a small number of vendors.

There simply isn’t enough diversity to consider removing a key cog to European operations.

Of course, you have to consider the status quo. The US is happy to ban Huawei as it has never been a significant contributor to its infrastructure. Should the same ban be enforced in Europe, negotiations would be de-railed, and operations disrupted. Read suggests this would set 5G plans back by two years across the bloc.

The issue here is of confidence to invest. Why would telcos enter into deep negotiations when future conditions have not been set in stone. This is already evident in Vodafone’s decision to pause work on the core with Huawei; delaying these important initiatives could push Europe further behind global 5G leaders. Telcos need confidence, certainty and answers. The longer reviews go on, the more precarious the situation becomes.

This is one of the many challenges the industry is facing. There is an ‘us versus them’ mentality when it comes to telcos. Read is referencing the relationship with regulators and government, suggesting a lack of collaboration which is negatively impacting the ability to operate, but it is also evident in the relationship with the consumer and competitors. Collaboration is a key word here.

One example of collaboration is in the UK where the National Cybersecurity Centre effectively monitors Huawei equipment. This model could be rolled out across Europe, though Read’s stressed the point that there would have to be a harmonised approach. Fragmentation is the enemy here, and it would stifle progress. If there is a European level of monitoring, or even if it is taken down to nation states, it doesn’t actually matter as long as it is consistent.

The Huawei ban is set to become one of the talking points of this years’ MWC, that is not necessarily an idea anyone will be surprised about, but what we are not sure about is the disruption. Will it slow 5G development? Has the uncertainty already slowed 5G development? Will the anti-China rhetoric, dilly-dallying and confusion kill Europe’s ambitions in the global digital economy?

Three questions to ask at MWC this week

The sandwiches are stale, the beer is over-priced and the queue for a taxi is a depressing sight, it can only mean one thing; we’re heading back out to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress.

Some people might suggest the importance of this annual event is dwindling, but it is arguably still the focal point of the telecommunications industry. Buzzwords will be everywhere this year, but there are three important questions we are hoping to find the answer to over the next four days.

How will the telcos sell 5G to the consumer?

After years of being promised 5G will change our lives, now is the time for the hype to transfer into reality. Over the next twelve months dozens of operators around the world will launch 5G networks and we’ll start to experience the connected vision of tomorrow. But for all the propaganda, now we need the delivery.

While many have been gearing up for enterprise related services and business models, telcos will have to figure out how to sell 5G to the consumer. It might not be the biggest pot of gold available, but it is certainly revenue which can be squeezed out of customers. But how do you convince consumers to spend those extra pounds each month?

Marketing and sales strategies in the telco industry have always been built around the idea of ‘bigger, badder, faster’, with consumers constantly being told extra speed is the best possible solution for worldly woes. To be successful in the future, new ideas will be needed. As it stands, 4G is very fast and can get faster. These are networks which can handle pretty much every service or product which is available to the consumer, and it’ll be years before we hit the speed ceiling again. So how do you sell 5G to a consumer when speed is no-longer a pain point.

Currently, 5G is a solution without a consumer problem. Soon enough the services will appear to demand the bigger speeds, but whoever figures out how to balance this tricky equation in the meantime will certainly be in a good place.

What impact is politics having on the telco industry?

Its impossible to escape politics at the moment, and the on-going conflict between the US and China is central to this tale.

There is certainly an impact, though how much trauma this will create in the long-run remains to be seen. Right now, you can already see certain markets thriving and others dithering through a landscape of accusation, aggression and uncertainty.

Over in Korea, the telcos are rapidly rolling out 5G. This is one country which snubbed Huawei, though this should have come as little surprise considering a preference for a domestic champion. The Korean telcos are embracing 5G and the stable environment which has been created, leaping ahead to claim a leadership position in the race towards connected riches.

In Europe, progress might be faltering. Although many of the European nations do not seem to share the aggressive anti-China sentiment as the US, rule makers are yet to carve out a specific position on Huawei as a vendor in the 5G mix. Right now, it does look like Huawei will largely be able to operate throughout Europe, but the various governments and the European Commission are yet to define a concrete position.

All this creates is an element of uncertainty and uncertainty is the enemy of investment. It’ll be interesting to see what impact this political predicament is having on the industry, and how much of a slowing impact it is having on deployment plans throughout the bloc.

What does the future hold for the humble smartphone?

Foldable phones have been stealing the headlines over the last couple of weeks, and it does beg the question of what the smartphone will look like in a decade.

Although numerous companies have tried and failed to redefine what we conceive as a communications device, there are certainly some interesting developments which will not only encourage the evolution from a form-factor perspective, but also the way in which we use and perceive devices.

The foldable devices are an interesting development, entertainment and gaming will be taken up a notch, but you also have to consider gesture control, voice interaction, biometric authentication and edge computing.

Looking at the gesture control and voice interaction to start, with connectivity being built into everything around us not just the smartphone, the idea of a digital gateway is completely redefined. Factor in Bluetooth headsets and augmented reality glasses, suddenly you don’t need to look at a screen all the time to ride the virtual highway. The constant demand for a screen might erode when your voice can deliver everything you need.

For biometric authentication, once most of your data is stored on the cloud, theoretically every screen could become your interface. And of course, once edge computing starts leaping forward, more processing power can be removed from the phone and hosted elsewhere. Not only will this allow for more powerful services and applications, but it changes the requirements for components in and on devices.

Combine all of these factors, and the idea of a smartphone changes. There could be a lot more freedom to create new products.

Grab me and talk to me!

We’ll be wandering through the halls over the next couple of days at MWC, so if you want to expense a beer and set the world to rights, grab me and talk to me!

Telefonica and Seat get the MWC wheels turning

Telefonica is fuelling the hype as we motor towards MWC with connected car announcements alongside Spanish automotive giant Seat.

In an early effort to drive traffic towards its stand, Telefonica has carpooled with Seat to give the green light to three new innovations in the connected vehicles race. While there are sceptics who would want to curb autonomous vehicles enthusiasm, the duo is racing towards a happy middle-ground with three assisted driving use cases.

Firstly, the team will introduce pedestrian detection capabilities, which will allow traffic lights to sense the presence of pedestrians with thermal cameras, before relaying this information onto cars in the nearby area. Display panels will be able to inform the driver of potential risks on the road.

Secondly, connected bicycles equipped with a precise geolocation will notify vehicles in the area when the rider decides to turn right. The bikes will be detected by ultra-wideband beacons placed along the road, and should there be a risk of collision, the driver in the car will once again be notified.

While both these ideas will be powered by edge-computing, the final usecase will rely on direct communication interface. Should visibility be particularly low, stationary vehicles would detect moving vehicles, emergency lights would be turned on while the driver would, again, be notified on the display board.

These usecases might not be on the same level as the glories of autonomous vehicles, but there is a satisfactory amount of realism on display. Autonomous vehicles are not going to be on our roads for a long-time, and while that does not mean we should not continue to fine tune the technology, there has to be a focus on improving road safety today. This is exactly what is being done here.

Another similar concept is being developed in MIT. Here, an AI application analyses the way pedestrians are walking to understand whether there might be any risks. This sort of analysis is something we all do subconsciously, but a very useful and important addition to the connected car mix.

Using lidar and stereo camera systems, the AI estimates direction and pace, but also takes pose and gait into consideration. Pose and gait not only inform the pace and direction, but also give clues to future intentions. For instance, if someone is glancing over their shoulder, it could be an indication they are about to step into the road.

Looking further into the future, when autonomous taxis might be a real thing, this could also be incredibly useful. Of course, the simplest way to hail a taxi in this futuristic age will be through an app, but if the vehicle can see and understand an outstretched arm is a signal for a taxi, it would be a useful skill to incorporate into the AI.

All of these ideas are not only relevant for the long-term ambitions of the automotive industry but also very applicable today. Connectivity and AI can be incredibly beneficial for human-operated vehicles, especially with the advancements of edge-computing and leaning on the high bandwidth provided by 5G. Not everything has to be super-futuristic, and it’s nice to see a bit of realism.

Nokia plugs AI to get MWC ball rolling

Nokia has announced the launch of its network of Cognitive Collaboration Hubs which will aim to bring telcos and enterprise into its realm to work on a series of AI usecases.

Fitting very well into Mobile World Congress’ ‘Intelligent Connectivity’ theme, the network based on a similar Cloud Collaboration Hubs, focusing on developing cloud-based capabilities. While artificial intelligence has been praised as one of the saviours of connectivity and a justification for 5G, the usecases are relatively simplistic, this initiative will aim to correct this.

“Network operators are eager to deploy AI to improve network operations and strengthen customer relationships,” said John Byrne, Nokia’s Service Director for Telecom Technology & Software, Global Data. “Nokia’s Cognitive Collaboration Hubs can help accelerate those plans by providing a space for operators, partners and enterprises to co-create new AI solutions utilizing a mix of data science and telco domain expertise.”

One example of these usecases is Driver Behaviour Analytics, a service which aims to analyse driver performance and road conditions. The data and insight can be offered to governments to help improve driving conditions, delivery companies to aide with logistics or insurance companies to more accurately price premiums. Such a system has already been trialled by the Dubai Police.

“Nokia Cognitive Collaboration Hubs are yet another step in the expansion of our data analytics and AI services capabilities, which are widely recognized as industry-leading,” said Dennis Lorenzin, Head of the Network Cognitive Service Unit at Nokia. “Building on our data science and telco expertise, we are helping our customers apply AI technologies to improve their operational efficiency, prepare their networks for 5G, and generate new revenues.”

This is perhaps the area where many are struggling right now; generating new revenues and creating new services for the data-driven era. The most simplistic was to implement AI is relatively obvious, buy an automated bit of software and sack the employees were roles have been made redundant, but the search for value creation is much more difficult than operational efficiency.

The usecases which are being discussed today are of course of value. Self-correcting networks which can identify difficulties will improve customer experience, as will building a profile of users to improve experience, but these are examples of improving what you already have. The reason internet companies secured the lion’s share of profits in the 4G era is because they sought to create new value and revenues which didn’t exist before. The telcos need to start doing this.

It will certainly be interesting to see the usecases which emerge from the Cognitive Collaboration Hub, but for now it serves as an excellent way for Nokia to plug itself under the increasingly popular AI buzz.

Gimmick or genuine progress? Foldable phones are coming to MWC

Pretty much all the major phone manufacturers have been teasing the world with foldable smartphone launches, and now its Huawei’s turn to tickle the fancy.

The Chinese brand has not gone as far as promising a foldable phone, but in a tweet (which you can see below) the imagery suggests this might be the next step in the evolution of Huawei devices. Considering Samsung, Xiaomi, LG and others have all dropped their own hints, it should hardly come as a surprise Huawei is joining the party.

“It is certain that foldable devices using flexible display technology are going to be hot topic at MWC,” said Ben Wood, Chief of Research at CCS Insight. “Samsung’s intentions to deliver flexible displays are clearly building on its Infinity Flex Display showcased in October. Xiaomi has teased an interesting prototype and upstart Royole has managed to steal the limelight with its FlexPai foldable tablet/smartphone albeit little more than a clunky prototype still a long way from being a mass-market consumer device.”

But here is the big question; is this a gimmick to catch the attention of bored consumers, or could foldable devices be the next big thing in the smartphone world?

Starting with the gimmick accusation. The last genuine disruption to form factor for smartphones arguably came a decade ago. Apple released its smartphone which decided to ditch the keyboard, a move which was initially dismissed by some in the industry. Nowadays anything but a massive screen looks positively odd.

With global smartphone shipments flat-lining, manufacturers need to search for a means to re-capture the attention of the consumers, convincing them the increasingly extortionate prices are justified. The devices segment needs to be reinvigorated, but foldable devices need to be more than a gimmick.

“It feels like we’re currently in the Stone Age when it comes to products with flexible screens,” Wood said. “But this isn’t a criticism, merely an observation that we have seen the first very tentative steps toward implementation of a technology that may seem to be a solution looking for a problem now but is likely to become a pillar of designs of consumer electronic devices in the future.”

That said, the sceptics need to bear one thing in mind; smartphones are so much more than communications devices nowadays. These are devices which people work on, play games, watch content and increasingly access services such as online banking. Perhaps the foldable devices can help with increased interface.

A foldable smartphone could soon become a hybrid communications/entertainment device, folded for normal phone functionality, but then opened up to allow for a bigger screen to improve the gaming and content experience. More people are catching the gaming bug while video has been massive on smartphones for some time now. It can potentially address a pain-point for consumers.

Improving the experience is difficult as people don’t want to carry massive devices around with them. The convenience of a smartphone is its size, this is the reason its rare to see people carrying around a tablet. A foldable phone could bridge the chasm. That said, there could be some issues in the pipeline…

“The big worry I have with the sudden rush in foldable phones coming out now from several manufacturers is that the technology could be coming to market before the software is properly optimized to work with foldable designs,” said Ovum senior analyst Daniel Gleeson. “Turning technology advances into satisfying and impactful user experience changes has not be the strong suit of Android manufacturers.

“This is partially due to their lack of control over Android, but also the intense competition between various Android brands means that short term thinking tends to win out when it comes to deciding when a technology will be introduced. Apple on the other hand has traditionally been much more controlled with how and when it introduces new technologies, ensuring there is a good user experience and clear use cases associated with each innovation.”

As Gleeson points out, the devices need to pass the ‘so what’ test. As long as the device manufacturers prove there is a use-case and genuine applications for the advancement in form factor, this idea could be a keeper.

We are going to reserve judgement on the devices until we get to see, and play around with, them at Mobile World Congress later this month. If the experience is positive, it could certainly provide some impetus in the sluggish smartphone segment.