There was a lot of news coming out of day 3 at Mobile World Congress. Here are a some interesting highlights:
The 5G Debate
One big area of discussion was 5G, which continues to be a hotly debated topic. Not surprisingly, the Asian telco sector is clearly bullish on the transition to 5G, while other regions are more mixed on its roll-out with companies like Orange and Qualcomm cautioning against moving too quickly before fully understanding the implications of rolling out the new technology.
5G is expected to be critical, particularly in enabling the hyper-connectivity/IoT that’s at the core of the telco sector’s future. This was underscored by Huawei’s CEO Ken Hu who proclaimed that “5G will be capable of 100 billion devices, which will be very valuable for industrial applications.” However, there are concerns around redundancy and waste of current LTE networks which, as summed up by Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, “we don’t need to make a huge technology jump when LTE is providing some of this already (ie connectivity needed to power IoT use cases).
The EU is hoping the “key regions of the world” will find a way to resolve their differences in terms of point-of-view and deployment speeds in order to identify an international standard on 5G. They’ve already started the ball rolling on the effort, signing an agreement with S Korea last year. However, the biggest diplomatic feat will clearly be getting China, Japan and the US on-board.
4YFN IoT competition finalists show IoT is quickly moving beyond gadget status
This year, 4YFN decided to split their startup competition into three categories – Disrupted by Mobile, Internet of Things, and Digital Media. As IoT is a space where there’s a lot of excitement at the moment, this was perhaps the category most anxiously awaited at the event. There were 8 finalists this year, literally from all over the world – Sentiance (who played big role at our Connected Conference last year), FueLoyal, Visualead, Undagrid, Clime, Hanhaa, Atooma, and Puzzle Phone. Although France is very strong in the IoT space, unfortunately there were no finalists from France this year, but hopefully this will change next.
The round-up of finalists this year showed that IoT is quickly moving beyond the ‘gadget phase’. All of the finalists, with the exception of one, focus on technologies that either power the IoT ecosystem or squarely fit within the industrial realm. Most already have customers as well as compelling use cases that clearly illustrate the value of IoT solutions. Here are the ones that most caught my eye during the final:
ParceLive by Hanhaa – The Winner
The tracking of objects, particularly those shipped to consumers around the world, is a classic IoT use case. There have been many propositions on ways to do this, but few that are not only effective, but also cost effective. Hanhaa with their ParceLive solution seeks to do both. The concept is fairly straightforward – a very small, inexpensive device that can easily be put in any package. However, unlike some other solutions, they would not charge customers for the device itself, but for the service (per track) which can track where the item is geographically at any point, the temperature of the shipment, and whether the package was tampered with in any way. Hanhaa’s main targets for ParceLive are ecommerce vendors, suppliers/manufacturers and, of course, postal carriers. They’re already off to a great start as they’ll be rolling-out a test case this August with Deutsche Telecom, who like other telcos, ship thousands of parcels around the world each day.
Fuel theft in the transportation industry apparently costs the sector billions of dollars each year. FueLoyal have developed a smart fuel cap called the iCAP1000 that prevents theft and also helps control the fueling process and deter against misuse. More specifically, the fuel cap can track, measure and transmit back to the trucking company via the cloud how much fuel has been entered in the tank, used, etc. The beauty of their fuel cap is that it’s, quite frankly, simple to use as the cap can easily be installed in 30 seconds. Similar to ParceLive, they charge for the service rather than the device itself which they’ve chosen to give to customers for free. They’re starting to get some traction in the US with one trucking company signed and are quickly working on expanding to new customers and across the States.
O2O, or connecting online-to-offline, is the next big thing for brands, marketers, and others, particularly in Asian markets. While consumers around the world are exposed all day, everyday to all types of advertising while their online, most would agree that few have determined how to translate this online interaction into a physical world one. Visualead is betting that QR codes, and more specifically visual, customized QR codes with images or video will be the answer. Currently it is the O2O standard with approximately 80% of O2O interactions being facilitated via this technology.
The idea of personalizing a QR with an image or brand particularly resonates in Asian markets where, given the huge population and sheer volume of new brands entering these markets, connectivity and distinctiveness are particularly important. Visualead is already a leader in this space with big name customers on-board like Coca-Cola, DeNA, and Yves Saint Laurent. Realizing the massive potential of what Visualead can do for their business and O2O more broadly, Alibaba quickly got on-board, investing an undisclosed (but reportedly sizeable sum) in Visualead’s series B round. While Oded Israeli, Visualead’s VP of Marketing, is focusing heavily on Asia and particularly China at the moment, he stressed that Visualead’s ultimate goal is to put QR codes at the heart of O2O around the world.
Putting to use spare mobile phones and phone parts is has increasingly been a hot topic of debate in the telco sector. Many solutions have looked at how to redeploy these parts to the developing world or recycling as a way to create a more eco-friendly mobile ecosystem. But what if the wasteful parts weren’t created in the first place? Puzzle Phone is looking to do just that with their modular mobile phone approach whereby mobile phone parts can simply be switched in or out as the phone is upgraded or enhanced in some way. The challenge for them will be convincing the handset manufacturers to get on-board. While some are starting to address eco-concerns, the more compelling argument is perhaps that moving to a modular approach will substantially reduce the time required for bringing new product releases to market.
How does this fit with IoT and connected devices? This concept isn’t one that Puzzle Phone hopes just to reserve for mobile phones. CEO and founder Alejandro Santacreu has stressed that their goal is to expand this approach and explore how a modular approach could apply to other types of connected devices as well.
Last month, we wrote about Sentiance’s $2 million round and big name change from Argus Labs. At 4YFN they revealed the ambitious goal to ‘build the brain behind IoT’. They also revealed how they’re currently working with handset manufacturers, who are looking to make their devices as well as the applications running on them more contextually aware. One area that they are smartly avoiding at least for now is monetizing the contextual data they gather on users (rather than licensing the software which is the model they have in place for now). Founder & Chief Product Officer Filip Maartens stressed that before they make any moves to do this, they want to understand how to do so in a fully responsible way which protects user privacy at all costs.