Smart cities, smart homes, smart cars, smart vendors, smart factories and more, plus virtual reality are at the centre of every discussion and exhibition at the ongoing Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.
All the giant global industry players like Intel, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Google, Samsung, STC, ZTE, Huawei, T-Mobile, NEC, LG, HTC, AT&T, Vodafone, SEAT, Oredoo, and others are projecting smart cities solutions and virtualization over and above the normal cool smart handheld, playable, wearable and hearable devices.
The discussions and exhibitions already make 4G look extinct and bring to the fore the Internet of things (IoT), where everything is connected to everything via cloud solutions billed to run mainly on 5G technology for optimum efficiency.
It also shows that devices and technology companies are collaborating, and in some cases overlapping roles to develop more holistic and relevant solutions together, instead of buying from each other.
Key among the smart cities solutions are the connected factories, cars, homes, utility systems, health facilities, face recognition systems, transportation systems, agricultural processes, security systems, down to drones, smart vendors and many more, that allow things to remotely interact with service stations via cloud for efficiency.
Indeed, Ericsson has set up a complete IoT and smart city centre doing live testing of a host of 5G facilities like base stations, data centers, customer experience measurement centers, manufacturing plants, connected trucks, connected homes, power stations and many more, all live through cloud.
Other industry players also hold their own in terms of smart cities and IoT solutions.
The smart cars, for instance, have features that allow them to communicate directly with manufacturers, regulators, insurance companies, traffic systems and more, and give the user and other stakeholders relevant and timely information.
Indeed, there are smart cars that also do auto drive and allow the occupants to just relax and configure the destination address into the car’s GPS. The car recognizes traffic lights, curves, obstacles and others.
Smart homes also allow the users to control stuff at home just my issuing audio commands, and also allow homeowners and security services to know what is happening back home even while they are out.
AT&T’s smart home solutions, for instance, allows the home to automatically lock doors and open them when necessary, and in case of fire outbreak, the home can lock gas channels to prevent explosion, and direct occupants to a safe exits.
Intel also has a smart home chip that ensures optimum data experience for as many people that enter the home and use the wifi system. The experience is as if only one person was at home and is using the Wifi.
There are smart health items as well, key among which are special glasses for blind persons, that communicate with trained agents remotely and they see what the blind person is not seeing, so they are able to get the blind person around very complex places like airports, shopping malls and other places without human assistance.
Ubuntu is also showcasing a smart vendor, which is basically a vending machine that can scan ID cards and actually issue people with items that require the use of ID, like SIM cards and other items.
So telecom operators could, for instance, place such smart vendors in shopping malls and offer potential customers the convenience of purchasing SIM cards without having to go to customer service centers.
The smart vendor takes up to 45 SIM cards at a time.
Oredoo Telecoms has also developed a drone that automatically launches itself on rescue missions when there is need. The drone can be configured to rescue people drowning by flying to where they are and throwing them a safety net.
The drone can also be configured to provide border security.
Key at the NEC stand is a facial recognition solution designed to recognize people and deliver information about them within nano seconds (very fast).
This allows terrorists, criminals and other wanted persons trying to cross borders or board a plane to other countries to be easily identified and quickly arrested before they could get away.
Samsung’s Galaxy smart watches that connect to both iPhone and Android phones via Bluetooth and Wifi make it possible for users who leave their phone at home to connect to it via Wifi in the office and still make and receive calls and messages.
The watch has a 4GB memory which can store enough music, and it does everything like a phone, while still working as a watch.
Close on the heels of Samsung is MyKronoz, which is showcasing a smart watch that is both digital and analogue. The digital watch has a battery that lasts for three days and the analogue battery lasts for 30 days.
In terms of handheld devices also, ZTE is showcasing a prototype of a first ever 5G phone that does a one gigabit download in one second.
ZTE is one of many companies pushing for 5G to come on stream one year earlier than the planned 2020 launch, and they are ready with the first 5G base station and now the phone.
Also big at MWC 2017 is virtual reality, which until recently has been used mainly for games, where players wear special classes and see virtual images they interact with in games.
But now virtual reality makers are not just playing games but they are using the solution for training and education.
HTC Vive, for instance, has virtual reality solutions for technical training in painting, where people could learn how to spray a car excellently without physically touching actual spraying equipment.
They also have solutions for education, where schools can actually teach about, for instance, the body parts by letting both the students and teacher wear virtual reality glasses that show the specific body part as the teacher navigates them through while explaining.
All of that brings up the issue of security because IoT means all information about everything is running in the cloud and sophisticated hackers could tap into private information about any system and hack into it.
The CEO of cyber security company Kaspersky, Eugene Kaspersky noted that IoT poses a huge security danger and that gives rise to jobs for many more IT savvy people in the area of cyber security to ensure that users feel safe and comfortable to connect.
Indeed, AT&T is one of the companies showcasing as security solution providers that protect the automated production plants of manufacturing companies from being hacked.
The system blocks all other remote commands apart from what was originally configured into the manufacturing line and therefore ensures data and intellectual property are secured even though it is connected to Cloud services.
As if MWC this year is a conspiracy to leave Africa behind as usual, Vice President for Sales in Africa at Japanese technology company NEC, Chad Baker told Adom News in an exclusive interview “Africa is not ready for smart cities yet” citing infrastructural, regulatory, attitudinal and other hurdles the continent would need to deal over the next five to 10 years.
Indeed, the most advanced African economies in terms of modern technology are largely grappling to really popularize 4G technology, as most players in that space are only offering piece mill coverage and services.
In Ghana, the regulatory environment appears to be an impediment in the way of operators who have the financial muscle to deploy 4G, while government has also not supported local license holders enough to deploy.
Meanwhile, as African telecoms and ICT industry players still struggle to deploy 4G widely, some global companies are pushing for 5G to come on stream a year ahead of the planned global deployment.
Industry watchers believe it is time for Ghana, for instance, to clean up the mess in the 4G space pursue policies that allows a faster spread of 4G before idle spectrum become extinct as 5G come on stream.
By Samuel Dowuona