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5G devices, live entertainment and AI for retail: What we saw at Mobile World Congress Americas

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As a keynote speaker and futurist, I spend a lot of time evaluating emerging technology and its impacts on consumer behavior with an eye towards how experiences are going to evolve.

I recently had the opportunity to attend Mobile World Congress Americas 2019 in Los Angeles (MWC LA). Intelligent connectivity was the theme, and the various vendors, speakers, and sponsors brought forward several experiences and solutions that may transform the consumer experience. 

Among them, new interfaces and form factors will redefine the line between physical and digital reality. Artificial intelligence will process massive amounts of information required to create new experiences and transform business. And 5G will usher in new ways to enhance creativity, connectivity and allow for the shift from the internet of things to autonomous things. 

When evaluating new technology and how it impacts behavior, I like to use three filters. Empower, Exponential, and Enhance. Empower is all about technology that allows consumers to control experiences. Exponential is all about the role of intelligent systems with a focus on providing ease, convenience, and efficiency. Enhance focuses on the line between digital and physical reality, and multimodal interfaces such as voice, vision, and touch that redefine how we view reality. 

Empower – Technology that empowers consumers

The accessibility and ubiquity of mobile devices have led consumers’ expectations of control over their experiences. YouTube is now a remote control, gaming is a vital part of culture, and the camera is a platform to create experiences via augmented reality filters. It is this reliance on connectivity for human connection that drives the filter of empowerment. 

5G networks will fundamentally transform how we interact with the world around us. Through instant connectivity, reduced end-to-end (E2E) latency, energy efficiency, and reliability, consumers will have the computing capability to connect with friends and families across modalities. 

5G Devices – During the 3-day conference, both Samsung and Verizon showcased 5G-enabled devices. Samsung demoed the Galaxy S10 5G, and Verizon set up a private 5G network to showcase incredibly fast download speeds, highly responsive augmented reality, and the ability to cast in 4K resolution wirelessly.  

Verizon phones with 5G network at the Mobile World Congress Americas 2019
Verizon demos their 5G network at Mobile World Congress Americas 2019

During the Nokia analyst session, I had the opportunity to listen to a keynote by Mike Murphy, Nokia’s CTO, North and South America. Mike talked about how 5G is going to happen, outlining the timeline for 5G, and when 5G devices will ultimately surpass 4G. The tipping point, according to Mike, is 2024. This is a pivotal date to consider, as the ubiquity of 5G will lead to advanced capabilities and experiences. 

5G Gaming – Gaming is now a 100 billion dollar industry. With the rise of streaming and competitive gaming, now 665 million people watch others play games online, and esports has an audience of about 300 million. With the growth of cloud-based gaming services like Google’s Stadia and mobile-centric Hatch, the need for high connection speeds combined with low latency will be essential to keep on-the-go consumers connected to their favorite games and streamers.  

Gaming was a key area of focus from NVIDIA, Nokia, and Sprint. Nokia and Sprint recently partnered with Hatch, a game-streaming service designed for mobile 5G networks, and will be preloading the Hatch premium service, offering a three-month subscription. Nokia is providing the 5G infrastructure, and Sprint will offer various devices and packages focused on enhancing 5G gaming.  

NVIDIA’s GeForce PC Gaming on 5G on display at Mobile World Congress Americas 2019
NVIDIA’s GeForce PC Gaming on 5G on display at Mobile World Congress Americas 2019 in Los Angeles. NVIDIA is expanding their cloud gaming system to Android devices. 

At MWC LA, NVIDIA showcased its GeForce PC Gaming on 5G. NVIDIA’s next evolution of mobile cloud gaming is called NVIDIA GeForce Now, a beta program that allows any device to become a high powered gaming rig. It’s built on NVIDIA’s powerful GPUs with promised frames per second of 120 or higher with reduced latency.  The ability to convert any device into a high powered gaming device on par with a gaming PC could be a game-changer as it allows for accessibility, where the cost for a high-end PC could be prohibitive. 

5G in the Home – 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) was a key point of discussion at MWC LA. Whole-home coverage will allow for streaming in 4K, low lag video chat, faster connections, and increased productivity. Verizon showcased 5G home devices that included an Alexa voice-enabled 5G router, receivers, and range extenders.

Depending on the location of the home and its proximity to cell sites, it can be an easy setup process and features automatic upgrades. What’s different from 5G in the home vs. previous 4G FWA systems is that previous methods were built for a single purpose. With 5G in the home, it’s designed with a smartphone chip that allows for it to be a multi-purpose network, so whether it’s a 5G mobile device or 5G home, the technology is the same.

5G live entertainment – Verizon recently launched new 5G networks across 13 NFL stadiums and a handful of NBA arenas such as Madison Square Garden. The goal with 5G for entertainment venues is to truly enhance the fan experience. 

With 5G enabled devices and areas, it will be possible to deliver a fully immersive, low-lag augmented experience at scale. Nokia talked about having the ability to incorporate a stadium-wide augmented reality experience, like how SK Telecom used 5G AR to bring a fire-breathing dragon to a baseball park, as well as having the ability to see digital overlays of the field or court to enhance the experience. 

5G Augmented Reality – 5G will bring forward the ability to deliver low-latency augmented and virtual reality content over 5G networks to any device. NVIDIA highlighted their efforts to bring this vision to reality through their NVIDIA CloudXR SDK. With this software development kit, it’s possible not to be physically tethered to a computer to deliver rich and immersive environments. As hardware like the Oculus Quest push the boundaries of tether-free immersive experiences, the combination of advancing hardware and the ability to deliver and render immersive environments thanks to 5G are a major step towards virtual reality and mobility.  

A tv screen streaming graphics-intensive AR
According to their website, NVIDIA’s CloudXR Software Development Kit “provides a way to stream graphics-intensive AR, VR or mixed reality MR, content often called XR over a radio signal (5G or Wifi) to one or more devices.”

Through my proprietary research across generational cohorts, I found that 83 percent of gen Z, born 1996-2010, had tried an AR filter. The ability to enable and express creativity, provide utility, and enhance experiences are why 5G’s impact on the ability to deliver augmented and virtual reality experiences at scale is key. 

Exponential  – The role that intelligent systems have in enhancing our lives 

The realization of a 5G connected world holds the promise of not only connecting everyone but everything through millions of sensors. IDC predicts that by 2020, 44 trillion gigabytes of data will exist. With the coming wave of 5G-enabled devices and sensors, that number is expected to triple.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions are key to how networks and connectivity are going to evolve. Through my research, I have found that the number one factor for why consumers of all generations will adopt artificial intelligence or intelligent systems is if it provides ease and convenience.

Ease and convenience can be through frictionless experiences that are enhanced through AI and 5G such as lower latency for video buffering on conference calls, or the ability to walk into a store and have an autonomous AI check out your items and charge you automatically. MWC LA showcased many intelligent systems that are designed to both enhance end consumer experiences or simply streamline a mundane experience.

Nokia AI – Nokia is focused on integrating AI and ML to enhance their offerings. From transforming operations, differentiating the customer experience, and managing network complexity, AI plays a critical role in parsing through the vast amount of datasets that will be created with 5G’s ability to connect everyone and everything.  

Nokia is also using AI to predict and recommend cell site degradation, automate and assist triage (which Nokia stated was 50 percent more accurate than human + software tools), provide faster coverage optimization, and most notable for consumers, boost the quality of experience through predictive video analytics. Nokia’s focus is to provide the 5G infrastructure that will support autonomous cars, smart communities, industrial IoT, immersive education through aligning AI with 5G.

NVIDIA Smart Retail – NVIDIA showcased their version of an autonomous store. This included computer vision-enabled AI, which is designed to pull out high dimensional elements from the environment and drive predictive decisions.

a screen set up with a smart retail system
NVIDIA’s Smart Retail solution on display at MWC LA. Here, the consumer is reaching for a bag of chips and watching as the system identifies what he is holding. 

The NVIDIA Smart Retail experience combines computer vision with edge computing to deliver an AI auto-checkout solution for everyone. NVIDIA demonstrated real-world deployment of their solutions, highlighting installations with Carrefour, Ahold, Zabka, and Valora.

The solution is built on NVIDIA’s EGX platform for edge computing, which is designed to accelerate AI to the edge to drive real-time decision-making across various industry types. Other components of this solution include NVIDIA Metropolis, which focuses on retail analytics that connects the edge to the cloud; and the Jetson Nano developer kit, which is a small computing solution that allows for running multiple neural networks for image classification and object detection.

Enhanced – Explores the line between physical and digital reality

5G connectivity will unlock our ability to deploy augmented, virtual, mixed, and extended reality solutions at scale and combine with volumetric spatial capture of the physical environment. Tools that were reserved for Industry 4.0, such as digital twin simulation (replicating a physical system digitally) will begin to expand into consumer experiences.

5G will also unlock multi-party telepresence experiences that will close the gap between physical locations, open new capabilities for education, and further enhance our ability to collaborate socially.

Nokia – 360 VR Live – Nokia highlighted a recent collaboration with Sprint that featured 360-degree virtual reality multi-party telepresence. The demonstration connected individuals in Los Angeles in 4K, shared via 5G, and rendered for guests sitting in New York.  

A man wearing Vuzix smart glasses
The author tries on a pair of Vuzix smart glasses. By partnering with Verizon, the hope is to create seamless AR interfaces and experiences with 5G networks. 

A host speaks and moves through space in a live video format, and attendees are co-watching and interacting with the area in full 360-degree view. Viewers are represented as avatars in the space, and the host can view the perspective of any of the viewers. 

Verizon & Vuzix – I closely monitor the patent filings for the major tech providers, and everyone from Apple to Facebook has filed patents tied to smart glasses. I have followed the evolution of Vuzix smart glasses for the past few years, and most recently, tested the device in person at CES 2019. At MWC LA, Vuzix was featured as part of Verizon’s 5G experiences.

Verizon partnered with Vuzix and spatial mapping software provider 1000 Realities to leverage Verizon’s 5G network to deliver AR content that connects the physical and digital world. I was impressed with the form factor and the enhanced capabilities thanks to 5G connectivity. 

Voxon – Another company I have been following that had a showing at MWC LA was Voxon Photonics. Voxon is unique in that its technology does not require a headset or device to view full 3D renderings of objects similar to the holograms from Star Wars.

They focused on delivering a shared perspective as a key point of difference versus augmented and virtual reality. Their concept is a volumetric display with a focus on rendering 3D objects that are fully interactive. I like the idea of a fully interactive 3D rendering that allows for real spatial computing. This solution is ideal if you can have a fixed location for the experience versus mobile.

MUV Interactive – BIRD – As we move towards multimodal experiences at scale, voice, vision, and touch, the role of gesture-based interfaces that allow freedom to interact with any physical environment will become more essential for our day-to-day lives.

This is true for connected home technology, as well. At MWC LA, MUV Interactive’s BIRD technology was featured. The tech has been around since 2015 and has gone through several iterations. BIRD allows for seamless control of mobile experiences that can cast, project, and control experiences. Touch, pull and swipe with precision. It allows up to 10 individuals to collaborate with the projections. 

BIRD’s ability to convert any physical space into an interactive medium fits with the vision of an ambient computing future. Essentially, we will continue to evolve towards a time where we are not only inputting into devices, but our environment continues to adapt to us. 

Mobile World Congress in LA was an inflection point of how the future of intelligent connectivity will continue to evolve. 5G represents a significant leap forward in the ability to connect everything and everyone. By using the filters of Empower, Exponential, and Enhance, it’s possible to categorize emerging use cases and align consumer behavior with the ideal experience.

Intelligent systems combined with the massive amount of data exhaust that 5G will provide will rapidly change how we experience reality. From enhancing the real world through digital overlays, providing 360-degree multiparty telepresence to full simulation, 5G will be one of the most significant technological advancements of this century.

All images provided by the author.


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