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‘X’ marks the spot for verticals and mobile

2017-03-20 By Kavit Majithia

    Key takeaways:

  • Industry leaders share their views about the new dawn of tech. But collaboration is the key in today's mobile world. That's why Huawei has built Xlabs - for its customers and partners.

From 3G to the emergence of 4G LTE and the evolution to 4.5G, the past decade has seen faster, more efficient networks driven by an insatiable demand for constant connectivity. 

A number of innovative apps have become prominent that, coupled with the rise of the smartphone, have changed how industries and services operate forever. 

For example, without owning a single car, Uber has established itself as the largest taxi company in the world. Equally, Airbnb has emerged as the largest accommodation provider without holding a single piece of real estate.

Media services, such as Netflix and Spotify, don’t sell their customers anything other than a subscription. Instead, they provide a platform that gives users access to a plethora of rich, streamable content. 

And that’s all been made possible through the power of faster networks and innovative thinking. In effect, ownership is dying and sharing is on the rise. 

As we now move towards 5G and a world that’s  adapting to new applications and services and interconnected devices through the Internet of Things, new companies and traditional players are ramping up efforts to capitalize on the evolution of mobile technology. 

At this year’s Global Mobile Broadband Forum in Tokyo, the focus on verticals and cross-industry collaboration was understandably huge. 

From dancing robots and high-flying drones to innovative VR games, AR capabilities, and of course, connected cars, players across the ecosystem were keen to showcase how they can tap into new verticals and use mobile connectivity to shape our future world.

X Labs 

Huawei currently partners with more than 20 global players to look at how mobile technology can promote various vertical industries. At this year’s event, it launched X Labs. The initiative will comprise three new research labs that will explore various use cases for mobile applications, drive innovation, and promote an open industry ecosystem.

“At Huawei, there are many labs, but X Labs is different,” says Shi Yong, head of the project. “This lab is for our customers and our partners, because we want to find new business with our partners.”

Cashing in on connectivity

The drone market, for one, is beginning to gain real traction, both in the consumer and enterprise markets. 

Michael Parry, VP of corporate marketing at leading drone manufacturer DJI explained how the company has made the technology easier to use, more affordable, and better performing, “so that more and more people can get up in the air.” 

Parry says that wider availability means more people can do new “creative” things with drones and, perhaps more importantly, provide tangible benefits in various industry use scenarios. 

“In the last year, we’ve started opening this up to more advanced, longer range communication that includes live streaming,” he says. “So while you’re in the air, you can be streaming to Facebook and show your friends around the world what you’re seeing.” 

Parry believes that while this is fun and novel for consumers, it’s a game changer on the industrial side. “A mobile broadcaster could be out of sight in the middle of nowhere, but you can send a signal back to your headquarters on the other side of the world, and get it up in the air live.”

The sheer reach of mobile is represented by the fact that a vertical player can pretty much mean anything. From DJI to MasterCard’s, all enterprises are looking at how to provide new and simpler solutions through connectivity. 

Mastercards’s EVP Nandan Mer asserts that cellular networks are now “vital” to the payments industry and commerce in general.

“Speeds are of extreme importance,” he says. “Consumers come to expect that the data they’re sending over the airwaves will be secure for their benefit, and not shared or compromised as it’s transmitted back and forth to complete commerce transactions. 

“In many ways, the mobile industry, the payments industry, buyers, and sellers are connected at the hip.” 

Robots on the rise 

The market for drones is clearly gaining momentum, but the hype around robots is on the verge of fever pitch. 

Whether in industry doing repetitive tasks or assisting consumers in everyday life, robots are becoming a mainstream technology. 

This rise will no doubt be further fueled once 5G comes to market, and one company that’s been pushing robots heavily in recent years needs little introduction. 

Japanese behemoth SoftBank started by developing robotics solutions for B2B, but is now pushing B2C hard, doing a lot of work on understanding exactly what the consumer wants from a robot. 

For the average person, SoftBank believes robots can develop beyond being just a toy and have actual real-life uses.

“At the very beginning, of course, the early adopters of robots will consider them more or less a toy,” says Rodolphe Gelin, EVP, chief science officer at SoftBank Robotics. “But in time, we can roll out new services, and people will learn how to use a robot. We’ll learn how we can provide the right services that people want from robots.”

Gelin believes robots will possess three key capabilities in the future to make them attractive to the average future consumer. 

One, the ability to check that everything is safe and secure in the home; two, butler-type services, which would be particularly useful for elderly people; and, three, cognitive and even educational support, for example, teaching languages. “I think that by 2025,” predicts Gelin, “every family will want a robot.” 

Tristan Dai, CTO at gaming firm Noitom, cautions that it’s still very early stages for things like VR, AR and robotics, and that use cases need to first be worked out commercially before such technologies reach the consumer. “VR, AR, and robotics are still very, very new,” he says. “Everything is growing so fast, but there are a lot of things to do, and at this early stage, a lot can change.” 

Opportunities for operators

No doubt, connectivity will play a big part in bringing the robot into the mainstream of consumer technology. 

IoT, which will see billions of devices interconnected, will be crucial for ensuring that robots and other devices are constantly connected and able to reach their full potential. 

This is a big area for Toshiba, another prominent vertical player, which has launched a dedicated solution to develop IoT, providing products and services for different verticals and accumulating data intelligence for customers. 

Shigeyoshi Shimotuji, VP of Toshiba Corp & EVP of Toshiba Industrial ICT solutions, believes the growth of IoT varies heavily between the consumer market, where the adoption of new devices could take about a year, and the industrial world, where uptake could take considerably longer. 

But for operators, Shimotuji’s message was clear. “Collaboration with verticals in IoT lies with the development of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks, which are designed to provide low cost, efficient connectivity for devices.” 

On the wider IoT opportunity, MasterCard’s Mer agreed, stating it’s a “trend that we’re watching very closely. I think it’s early days, but if consumers are willing to trust their devices to make decisions on their behalf, who are we to question their trust?” 

So, whether it’s financial payments, drones, VR, AR or robots – all of which can be applied to the rapidly growing IoT ecosystem – the opportunity for verticals to tap into mobile technology continues to grow with deeper, faster, and more efficient networks.  When 5G is rolled out, the influence on verticals will be huge. 

( Republished from Mobile World Live Show Daily )

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