Mobile World Congress: Barcelona

Article By : David Benjamin

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is a gathering of shut-ins who see little of this beautiful city. The indoor versus outdoor contrast is startling.

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is a gathering of shut-ins who see little of this beautiful city. The indoor versus outdoor contrast is startling.

The “inmates” of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the Fira Convention Center, located in a concrete complex of suburban office buildings, spend four days in Barcelona barely seeing in daylight one of the world’s most beautiful and congenial cities. To console all those shut-ins, we herewith present a profile in snapshots of the contrast between the fierce commercial confinement of the display halls in far-flung Fira and the gentle pace of Catalonia’s capitol on the cusp of a Mediterranean spring.

We begin indoors.

5G is Now

The watchword is “now” (again)

Ever since MWC’s early days as 3GSM, the next generation of mobility was heralded as “just around the corner.” Its eventual arrival always seemed sort of anti-climactic because there was another corner (3.5G, 4G, 4.5G, etc.) way up ahead, and the previous “G” was not “now” but “then.”

According to Keysight, 5G standards are “rapidly evolving,” but as new use cases emerge, the industry realizes there is more “stuff to be defined.” 5G’s Release 15 (R15) “late drop freeze” — originally scheduled this month — will be delayed by at least three months. R16, extensions to R15, will cover specifications for Cellular-V2X and mission-critical ultra-latency applications such as remote surgery. R16 will be frozen in 2020.

Huawei honcho doubles down

Huawei MWC
(Source: Huawei)

Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used his keynote to go on the offensive against such American charges as Huawei’s rampant IP theft and Huawei telecom gear spying on us. The chairman even claimed: “Huawei has not and will never plant back doors.” Contrasts abounded at Mobile World.

‘Standalone’ VR

HTC Vive Focus

Move over, Oculus. Oculus’s rival, HTC, demonstrated a headset called Vive Focus, an all-in-one system that requires no external gaming PC to run VR. It has six-degrees-of-freedom (6-DoF) controllers. Its underlying technology, ultrasound, and IMU sensor fusion developed by Chirp Microsystems (TDK) makes 6-DoF controllers possible.

Xiaomi sees Keysight

Xiaomi 5G Mi Mix 3

Xiaomi launched 5G Mi Mix 3, packed with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor and X50 5G modem, a 6.39-inch AMOLED display, dual-lens camera on both front and back, 3,800-mAh battery, and Android 9 Pie with MIUI 10. Most surprising is the price — about $680 — much cheaper than expected for a first-generation 5G phone.

Xiaomi’s chose Keysight Technologies, a test & measurement equipment company, as sole supplier of 5G network emulation solutions. Michael Griffin, Keysight wireless planning & marketing manager, said that Keysight’s solutions let users perform device characterization and validation in over-the-air (OTA) real-world conditions. “Device manufacturers can easily validate device performance, speed development, and achieve consistent results.”

T-Mobile ‘sprints’ to Mobile World

T-Mobile MWC

One of the popular show-floor attractions was tropical-motif T-Mobile theater. T-Mobile was talking about its plans, after approval of its merger with Sprint, to take on cable giants like Charter and Comcast, by delivering fixed wireless access (FWA) residential broadband — to more than half of the U.S. by 2024 — if its proposed merger with Sprint is approved, revealing that it expects to blanket more than half the country with service by 2024. T-Mobile said that it will cover 64% of Charter Communications’ territory and 68% of Comcast’s footprint. It expects to have 1.9 million FWA broadband customers by 2021 and 9.5 million by 2024.

YouTubed at Mobile World

Youtube MWC

Ubiquitous now in the depths of any trade show are itinerant interviewers, holding up a microphone and a mobile phone simultaneously while directing a cameraman to “Shoot, shoot!” at any conventioneer willing to stop and talk about the technology swirling all around. We never got this tireless woman’s name (she was too busy), but she was cornering and quoting passersby at a rate of at least 12 an hour.

Yeah, but does it make toast?

Rinspeed SNAP car

The Rinspeed SNAP car on display at the SAP stand, designed by Swiss company Rinspeed AG in collaboration with SAP, is the latest version of a recent wave of autonomous buses shaped like toasters. It was difficult to determine clearly what the “modular” vehicle will do, other than carry people cautiously down the road. But it uses SAP’s platform strategy for hardware, software, connectivity, processes, and services, “melding the physical and digital worlds to create new efficiencies and business models for intelligent enterprises.”

“Foldable” is where it’s at

LG foldable MWC

Hearing of this new “foldable” phone concept, a Mobile World veteran responded: “You mean, ‘clam shell’ phones are back?” Not exactly. These new phones don’t just fold and open. They sport two screens. We asked LG (whose phones are technically not “foldable” but “dual-screen”): Why two? LG said that the second screen can “maximize 5G experiences.” Here’s an example of a dual screen that allows the user to enlarge details on a side-by-side image.

Early adopter paradise

Huawei Mate X MWC
Huawei Mate X (Source: Huawei)

Samsung is also coming out with a foldable phone, but the big draw at Mobile World was Huawei’s Mate X phone, with a heavy price ($2,600) that’s going to be catnip for the sort of early adopter who loves to be the “first on on the block,” and price is no object. We had fun zooming on the eager beavers who jostled their way to the front of the pack to get a load of Mobile World ’19’s most coveted gadget.


It’s Qualcomm’s world, we just live in it

Qualcomm 5G MWC

As indicated by its rental of the pedestrian bridge to the Fira, Qualcomm made clear that it’s the big dog of Mobile World. Qualcomm’s tagline is that 5G is “made real by Qualcomm.” Its Snapdragon 855 with X50 5G modem enabled practically every Chinese handset vendor, ranging from Xiaomi, Oppo, and OnePlus to ZTE and Lenovo, to unveil 5G prototype phones on the show floor. Gone are the days when Qualcomm was accused of monopoly by Chinese regulators. Qualcomm at this year’s Mobile World emerged as the BFF of Chinese smartphone vendors.

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

The exterior shot of the “Qualcomm bridge,” with the stark architecture of the Fira area in the background, is our segue to a stroll through the non-Mobile World Barcelona (although Huawei did mount a 50-foot Mate X ad atop La Rambla at Plaça de Catalunya). Depicted here are the courtyard and surrounding buildings of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, built between 1902 and 1930 in the “art nouveau” style, designed by modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. No longer an active hospital, it serves Barcelona as a historic site, a center for exhibitions, and an expansive example of its architectural style.

Sagrada Familia

From the second floor, a visitor can see the towers of Antoni Gaudí’s cathedral, Sagrada Familia, begun in 1882 and still under construction. Gaudí and Montaner were contemporaries.

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