Foldable phones and the promise of 5G dominated the headlines at MWC this year. 5G is not a new topic; it has been a headliner at MWC for the last two years. What's different this time is that network equipment vendors – including Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei – are in the process of rolling out their first 5G deployments. In addition, device manufacturers such as Samsung, Huawei and LG are bringing to market 5G devices that will be made commercially available later this year. In this report, we look at MWC 2019 announcements that highlight the imminent arrival of 5G; we also look at the impact we expect this will have on workforce productivity in the near term.

The 451 Take

There is a case to be made for 5G in the enterprise, but in the near term, we expect it will be for narrowly defined use cases. To have a noticeable impact on workforce productivity will require wider adoption, which, we believe, is still at least a couple of years away. The same can be said for devices such as the HoloLens 2 and foldable phones, with pricing being a major limitation. However, the promise of 5G does not entirely rest on network coverage and device availability. We believe that mobile-native and mobile-first vendors and initiatives – including those featured in this report – will bridge the gap, paving the way for 5G in the enterprise. Enterprises can benefit from evaluating how these initiatives can support their digital transformation efforts; this can serve as a stepping stone for leveraging the full benefits of 5G connectivity when it finally becomes widely available.

Network Vendors Evangelize the Promise of 5G for the Enterprise

5G was once again the big star at MWC 2019, with network equipment vendors Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei evangelizing the promise of 5G as they prepare for their first deployments. Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri kicked off the event, highlighting that Nokia is the only vendor with a presence in all geographies across the world. Nokia currently has more than 20 5G contracts and nearly 100 5G customer engagements globally. He stated that Nokia has more than 3.8 million 5G radio products in the market, including AT&T, KT, NTT DoCoMo, Optus, Rain, SK Telecom, T-Mobile, Telia, TIM San Marino and Vodafone. Suri made five predictions about 5G, including historic productivity gains and new monetization opportunities for operators launching enterprise services.

Huawei CEO Ken Hu stated that the pace of commercialization for 5G is accelerating and that the company already has 30 commercial agreements globally, including 18 in Europe, nine in the Middle East and three in Asia-Pacific. Hu said that Huawei is conducting pre-commercial 5G trials in some of the world's largest cities including Seoul, Tokyo, London, Milan and Vancouver.

In a session with journalists and industry analysts, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm emphasized the relevance of 5G as a critical national infrastructure and the benefits for early adopters. He said that Ericsson has announced 10 commercial 5G deals, as well as 42 memorandums of understanding with operators around the world. According to Ericsson, one-third of smartphone users globally will change to a 5G service provider within the next six months, with the US and Asia leading in 5G deployments.

Foldable Phones and HoloLens 2 Steal the Spotlight

Samsung and Huawei – the two largest phone manufacturers in the world – dominated the headlines with their newest devices. Front and center were the new foldable phones, which stole the spotlight this year at MWC. Other device manufacturers working on foldable phones include Oppo and Xiaomi, both of which have previously shown prototypes of their own concepts for a foldable phone.

Just before the event, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Fold at its own Unpacked event. The device features a single 4.6 HD+ Super AMOLED display that works as a double-screen phone when folded and as a 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity Flex Display tablet when unfolded. The Galaxy Fold will be sold for $1,980 and will be available on April 26 in the US and the beginning of May in Europe.

Another device unveiled at Unpacked and featured prominently at this year's MWC was the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. It features a 6.7-inch Quad HD+ Curved Dynamic AMOLED screen, a fourth rear camera and 5G connectivity. The device will be available in the second quarter of the year on all major US carriers; Samsung did not announce pricing for this device.

The Galaxy Tab Active 2 was also on display at the Samsung booth. It is a rugged MIL-STD-840G-certified (military standard for ruggedness) device that features enhanced touch, replaceable battery, rugged S Pen (IP68) and biometric authentication. The tablet targets mobile workers in sectors such as defense, law enforcement, and transportation and logistics.

A showstopper at MWC this year was Huawei's Mate X, a 5G foldable phone with a 6.6-inch front display and a 6.38-inch display on the rear that turn into an eight-inch screen when unfolded. Priced at $2,600, it is scheduled to launch in June.

Other noteworthy 5G device announcements included the LG V50 ThinQ, which will be available from major US carriers later this year; Xiaomi's Mi Mix 3 5G, which was developed in collaboration with several networks including Three, Orange, TIM and Vodafone and set for release in May; and the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G, scheduled for release later this year in China and Europe.

Another showstopper at the event was Microsoft's HoloLens 2, a new mixed-reality headset targeting the enterprise. The HoloLens 2 is lighter, more powerful and has a wider viewable area than the first-generation model. Microsoft highlighted some of the apps being developed by partners such as Spatial, which provides real-time collaboration tools for AR devices. Its HoloLens 2 app uses hand tracking and eye tracking to interact with product holograms and sticky notes during virtual meetings.

Mobile-native Continues to Gain Traction

This year's MWC gave us the opportunity to follow up on key trends we've identified in previous years such as mobile-native business communications. Mobile-native is an emerging category within the business communications space that aims to provide the same services as conventional business communications with additional distinctive features enabled by the mobile network.

While there were no major announcements, product and business updates from vendors such as Metaswitch, Quobis, Tango Networks and Tata Communications indicate this category continues to steadily advance. Tango Networks showcased an expanded portfolio of mobile-native services including what it gained from its acquisition last year of Simetric Telecom, which effectively positions it as a global private mobile network. Metaswitch showed its recently launched MaX UC, an in-network, mobile-native unified communications and collaboration offering that features one-touch in-call via native dialer, network-powered multiple persona support and business-quality voice features. The offering extends the company's MaX by Metaswitch collaboration platform, which includes products for individuals (MaX One) and small businesses (MaX Micro) launched last year. While some of the information discussed is under NDA, these vendors shared recent wins that validate their approaches to workforce productivity and show them steadily gaining market traction.

Other providers of mobility solutions present at MWC 2019 included Infinite Convergence, provider of a secure enterprise-grade messaging application called NetSfere; NetMotion Software, which aims to address the challenge of mobile worker productivity with products focused on mobile performance management and mobile analytics; and Orion Labs, provider of a real-time team communications platform and push-to-talk devices for the mobile workforce. While these do not fall strictly within the category of mobile-native vendors, they overlap – as in the case of NetSfere – or fall within adjacent or complementary categories. Similar to their mobile-native counterparts, these vendors are steadily advancing with mobile-first solutions focusing on workforce productivity. The common thread is the flexibility that mobile-first provides, allowing them to address several use cases that have been out of the scope of traditional business communications (i.e., email and unified communications) including frontline workers, field workers and mobile/remote employees.

Microsoft, SAP and VMware Focus on AI, Enterprise Productivity

Other major MWC announcements included SAP's announcement of SAP Leonardo Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities to help drive digital transformation for the industrial IoT. The company also announced an extension of its partnership with Microsoft for IoT interoperability that aims to deliver a solution that simplifies the collection and ingestion of data and streams it into business applications such as SAP S/4HANA.

SAP also showcased demos from its partnership with Apple, announced three years ago, as part of an effort to open iOS to a wider audience of developers and enterprises. They included the SAP Digital Supply Chain with iOS, an end-to-end scenario featuring SAP Leonardo and Apple on-device technologies for managing business processes from design to manufacturing, sourcing, maintenance and delivery.

VMware announced new communication service provider partnerships for Workspace ONE, its digital workspace and unified endpoint management platform. They include Samsung SDS, which will offer Workspace ONE to its enterprise customers as a VMware global systems integrator and systems outsourcer partner, providing them with a single platform for unified endpoint management, digital workspace security and end-user experience; the companies also announced future collaboration in verticals – including government, public sector, finance, healthcare and retail – and emerging technology categories – including blockchain, IoT and 5G. Another new partner is Deutsche Telekom, which will offer a new service for large customers based on the Workspace ONE platform through its subsidiary T-Systems.

Reality Check: 5G is Finally Here, but Still in Early Stages

Key announcements at MWC 2019 signaled the imminent arrival of 5G, with network equipment vendors rolling out their first deployments and device manufacturers bringing to market the first 5G devices later this year. Central to their message is the potential that 5G holds for the enterprise and the opportunity this represents for network operators. Vendors contend that 5G will have a significant impact on workforce productivity. Because of its faster download speeds and lower latency, they claim it will transform 5G handsets into productivity platforms with processing power previously only available on PCs.

Carriers are investing to build out 5G networks and expect initial coverage will be available by the end of this year, but it will take a few years for 5G coverage to be nearly as ubiquitous as LTE. Another limitation for wide adoption is pricing, which is significantly higher for 5G devices than 4G. Furthermore, the first 5G devices will use first-generation chips and antennas, which cannot access all the bands and, therefore, will be tied to a specific carrier. Although foldable phones open up interesting possibilities, we have yet to see how mobile applications will take advantage of innovations in the form factor. Even though 5G and foldable phones will be available later this year, 5G is still in the early stages. It will take a few years for these technologies to gain wider adoption and, consequently, have a noticeable impact on the enterprise.
Raul Castanon-Martinez
Senior Analyst, Workforce Collaboration and Communications

Raúl Castañón-Martínez is a senior analyst based in Boston focusing on business communications and collaboration technologies such as enterprise messaging, voice, bots, speech recognition and unified communications.

Brenon Daly
Research Vice President

Brenon Daly oversees the financial analysis of 451 Research's Market Insight and KnowledgeBase products, having covered more than a quarter-trillion dollars' worth of deal flow for both national publications and research firms.

Partick Daly
Analyst, Information Security

As an Analyst in 451 Research’s Information Security Channel, Patrick Daly covers emerging technologies in Internet of Things (IoT) security. His research focuses on different industrial disciplines of IoT security, including the protection of critical infrastructure, transportation and medical devices.

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