From Barcelona with love: part three — this week we have mostly been seeing…

James Ash, Ketchum’s roving reporter in Barcelona

Date: Wednesday, 24th February 2016. Location: Barcelona, Catalonia, and the latest staging of Mobile World Congress is gradually winding down. As the last full day of the show wraps up for another year execs, media, events teams and communications people are all breathing a collective sigh of relief!

This week has been for many, about as full on as it will get in 2016. A mixture of partner and customer meetings, miles covered between halls, media engagements, early mornings and the odd late night have combined to mean there are more than a few people who would not look out of place on the set of The Walking Dead, lolling from side to side in the (increasingly long), coffee queues.

Fatigue aside however, this year has been another record breaking (the GSMA anticipate the attendance will make the six figure mark for the first time ever this year), and thoroughly interesting show. So what did we learn from MWC this year? And what do these new trends mean for the year ahead?

Before we delve into the actual technology trends, it is worth noting that there have been three undercurrents running simultaneously at this year’s show: first, the message from the big device/hardware vendors and operators; secondly, the enterprise’s emphasis and thirdly, the umbrella show theme.

So let’s begin the #MWC16 tech hack. The talk of the town on day one was undoubtedly the Mark Zuckerberg keynote and the highly creative and pivotal role virtual reality played in the run up to the Facebook chief’s oratory. Rather than being a flash in the MWC pan however, VR has gone from strength to strength this week.

Almost without exception the big brands of the handset (and now apparently headset) world, chip makers and mobile operators have jumped on the virtual band-wagon and pushed this technology hard. The queues for the VR rollercoaster & submarine experiences are testament to the imagination VR is capturing here in Barcelona, and will no doubt continue to do in the future. Its applications and value add for brands are huge and as a technology it’s very much here to stay.

VR’s ‘younger’ cousin, while not wholly new has also enjoyed a renaissance this year and I’d be willing to make a prediction that augmented reality will be prominent in 2016 (and beyond) too.

The enterprise focused ‘big blue’ chips have gone down a familiar route again this year, and what began slowly as just messaging and hyperbole around the Internet of Things last year, has continued as a 2.0 reitteration. The IoT message is stronger than ever this year, but where it differs from 2015, is that it is far more mature and there are genuine user cases and tangible examples on show now.

The darling of the IoT discussion this year is undoubtedly the automotive sector and there are more ‘connected cars’ on show this year, (sporting all manner of IoT functions), than at any tech show I’ve ever been to before — in hall 3 you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were at the Motor Show in Germany!

Of particular interest to me, is that the IoT is not only changing the consumer and technology landscape, it is also changing the way that established brands view themselves too. In 2016 I’d expect more and more brands to start realigning themselves as ‘technology + X’ companies — exactly what a certain, established American automotive firm announced this week.

IoT is here to stay and I personally feel that it represents the greatest opportunity in technological, industrial & (arguably), societal terms since the advent of the Internet, so watch this space carefully!

Finally, the big ‘umbrella’ trend to emerge from this week was undoubtedly 5G. While the fifth G, has been speculated and mused over for some time, this week has really seen the topic elevated to new heights, with everyone from MNOs, and blue chips, to startups and device makers all talking about it.

One of the more interesting discussions around 5G has been the belief that it is this technology that holds the true key to the long-term success of the connected car concept, and (more widely), the proliferation of the IoT. With 5G tests underway in South Korea there is every chance that the 2020 target date for first stage roll out is not simply a pipe dream.

In a week that saw Facebook’s chief and Formula 1’s world champion take to the stage in Barcelona, a VR rollercoaster, an invisible museum and an awful lot of other super cool technology developments, Mobile World Congress comes to a close for another year, as do my musings on tech trends for 2016.