MWC: Phones lose grip on mobile

What is interesting about Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016 is that the most exciting developments won’t be in mobile phones.

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As the mobile industry shows its technology in Barcelona this week (22-25 February) it will be health monitors smart watches, connected cars and smart cities which will grab the headlines and the interest, maybe.

The mobile industry no longer only focuses on the handset but on the connected device, and in this world of IoT that device could be a car just as it could be a watch, health monitor or building.

So what’s going wrong with the smartphone? Nothing, it’s just user perceptions and market expectations which are changing.

Mobile World Congress: Your Electronics Weekly guide »

The global mobile phone market is still the big market for semiconductor and network suppliers. It is still big and it is still growing. But the rate of growth is slowing down.

The world’s biggest smartphone supplier, Apple saw iPhone sales growth pegged back dramatically in the last three months of last year.

According to market watcher, Strategy Analytics, shipments of handsets increased by 2% in 2015. But rate of growth is slowing down, significantly in the emerging markets in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The big markets of Asia, Western Europe and North America are starting to saturate.

The handset market is waiting for something new and it doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.

Samsung, Huawei and HTC will all announce new smartphones in Barcelona but will these grab more headlines than the latest LG smart watch, or a cloud-based mobile data platform for delivering groceries?

The painful reality is that 4G mobile phone technologies no longer excite the consumer. We want something new and this may not happen until 5G comes along. But 5G is five years away.

There will be much talk of 5G at MWC 2016. But this will be about massive MIMO research and spectrum allocations. Or it will be about how mush processor power is need to operate 1GHz data channels. It is way too soon to talk sensibly about 5G handsets and applications.

5G involves such a fundamental change in technology direction that it is unlikely to be ready for the market before 2020. In fact, the network developers are already hinting that it could be 2022 or even 2024 before 54G can deliver on its promise to transform the mobile communications landscape.

So unless the semiconductor suppliers and handset firms get together and come up with something new like 4.5G, the great and the good of the mobile industry in Barcelona will have to feast on smart watches and smart cities and connected cars. That’s not too bad is it?


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