Understanding the impact they will have for the enterprise is not always a straightforward exercise; it typically requires looking beyond the headlines and reading between the lines. In this report, we provide an overview of vendor announcements from MWC 2018 that illustrate four key trends that we expect will impact the enterprise in the near term.
The 451 Take
A recurring theme in the announcements compiled in this report is the role that mobile operators will play. The question comes up every year at MWC. This time it was interesting to see the unequivocal – and somewhat undiplomatic – urgency that was presented to mobile operators during the keynote sessions. Unlike other years, the challenge this time is not about whether operators will get in the game before it's too late. Examples that come to mind include over-the-top messaging apps like WhatsApp and LINE, and digital assistants from Amazon, Apple and Google. For the technologies outlined in this report to move forward, mobile operators are an essential part of the equation.
Mobile-native is emerging as a distinct category within the unified communications and collaboration space
Given the announcements and product demos shown by emerging startups and established providers of mobile technology, we can consider MWC 2018 the unofficial debut for mobile-native unified communications and collaboration (UCC). Mobile-native UCC aims to provide the same services as conventional unified communications-as-a-service, leveraging the mobile network with features such as high-quality voice and RCS (rich communication services)-based messaging. We believe it is emerging as a distinct category within UCC, and will be one of the key trends to watch this year.
- Mavenir showed its mobile-native unified communications and collaboration product, a UCC enterprise offering with enterprise voice and video, a full set of cloud PBX features, online audio and video conferencing, file sharing, screen sharing and white boarding, and converged business messaging. The offering leverages the company's expertise in mobile networks with voice-over LTE and RCS, enabling mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide mobile-native unified communications for SMBs.
- Metaswitch announced MaX, a new product family that enables MNOs to provide multi-persona team-collaboration products. MaX combines carrier-grade voice, network intelligence, smartphone native-dialer capabilities, and a 'business feed' application to provide contextual communications services.
- Quobis showed its Sippo Web Collaborator, a fully featured, WebRTC-enabled unified communication suite with advanced features like video conferencing, call recording and screen sharing.
- Tango Networks showed its recently launched Kinetic Cloud, a cloud-based communications control middleware that helps organizations turn employees' mobile devices into extensions of corporate systems, enabling enforcement of corporate policies and synchronization of corporate applications with mobile communications. It provides integration to unified communications platforms from Avaya, Microsoft, BroadSoft, Mitel, Cisco and Unify, and to enterprise applications from NICE Systems, BlackBerry, Salesforce, Verint and ASC.
As the largest mobile event of the industry, MWC has been the launch pad for many of the top smartphones, tablets and connected devices over the years. While the announcements tend to be consumer-focused (like gaming devices such as the Sony Xperia), the new devices launched at MWC 2018 provide a glimpse of the capabilities we can expect to permeate the enterprise. The emphasis this year was on cameras and voice-enabled assistants. These capabilities point to an immersive, multisensory experience that will be relevant for industrial and enterprise use cases for collaborative communications, on-the-job training and field support.
- Alcatel revamped its smartphone lineup with the launch of its 1, 3 and 5 series devices. The devices all cost less than €300 ($372), and feature enhanced cameras, 18:9 ratio display and biometric identification, including fingerprint shortcuts and facial recognition technology for unlocking the device. They run the latest Android Oreo operating system with Google Assistant.
- Asus launched three AI-enabled mid-tier handsets with features comparable to those on high-end handsets including AI photo capabilities that change the properties of an image based on software identification of the subject. Priced at $690 – about half the price of the iPhone X – the Asus Zenfone 5Z is the top-end model. It features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (the same chip used by the Samsung Galaxy S9), 8GB of RAM, and 128 or 256GB of storage, depending on the region.
- HMD Global, the company using the Nokia brand, showed updated Nokia models such as the 8110, a phone priced at less than $100. It features Nokia's classic slider styling and advanced functionalities like Google Assistant and Google Maps, Twitter and Facebook apps, and a standby time of 25 days.
- Samsung stole the spotlight this year with the launch of its new flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, which picked up the award for Best New Connected Mobile Device. They feature a fingerprint reader positioned in the back, and a new dual-aperture camera.
- Sony unveiled the redesigned Xperia XZ2 and the Xperia XZ2 Compact, positioned as 'immersive entertainment' devices. The XZ2 features a 5.7-inch HDR display, stereo speakers and a new dynamic vibration system designed to deliver haptic feedback when viewing movies, music videos or playing games. It also features the Xperia Ear Duo earbuds, which enable users to hear what is going around them while listening to music.
Digital assistants in the workplace are ready for mainstream
AI has been one of the hot topics at MWC in recent years, and digital assistants are one of the most visible applications. Consumer digital assistants have been around for a while, but when it comes to the enterprise, the past two years have been mostly about proof of concept demos. This year, the focus was on commercially available products and real-life use cases.
- AISense announced Otter, a mobile and web app that enables users to store, search and share voice conversations. Features include automatic speech recognition, speaker separation and identification, content search, and playback. The company recently announced a partnership with Zoom to enable a feature that allows users to get automatic transcriptions of their meetings.
- Kika Tech showed its AI Communications App, the software behind its KikaGo driving assistant. KikaGo provides hands-free communications via speech recognition and a noise cancellation smart mic that is built into a charging cable. It enables hands-free navigation, event scheduling, music listening and supports multiple messaging apps including Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and SMS.
- SAP announced an enhanced version of its SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS, expanding developers' access to SAP digital platforms and services, including real-time analytics and data visualizations with SAP HANA and SAP Cloud Platform Big Data Services, AI capabilities such as image recognition through Leonardo, and in-app translation through the SAP Translation Hub.
Voice commerce is emerging as a distinct category for customer engagement
The adoption of voice-enabled digital assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant are defining voice commerce as a distinct category for customer engagement. Voice will become more than just another channel in an omni-channel world; we believe it will become a curator of services for intelligent personalization of the consumer experience.
- Jumptuit unveiled its AI Hyper-Personalized Data Insight, Voice Search and Data Exchange across 50 cloud services and IoT devices including iPhone X, iPad, Apple Watch Series 3, Apple TV, Samsung S9, Sony Xperia XZ2, Nokia 8 Sirocco, LG V30S ThinQ, Android Tablets, Android Wear, Android TV, Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod.
- Neura showed its AI-enabled technology that enables mobile apps and IoT product companies to personalize and adapt to their customers' preferences and needs by reaching them at precise, meaningful moments throughout their day.
- Nuance Communications showed AI-enabled solutions for enhancing user engagement for MNOs, supporting their transformation to digital service providers. In January, the company announced its cognitive arbitrator, an AI-powered capability that connects disparate virtual assistants, third-party services and content via a single interface that spans the automotive, smart home, and IoT ecosystem to complete complex tasks and enhance the user experience.
- Telefonica announced the launch of Aura, its cognitive intelligence customer relationship platform, in six countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Spain and the UK. Aura is the result of internal development efforts in conjunction with third parties, including AI heavyweights Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
In contrast to previous years, MWC 2018 showed how technologies such as enterprise digital assistants, voice commerce and immersive collaboration have evolved from futuristic concepts – i.e., not yet ready for prime time – into real-life use cases for commercially available products.
MWC 2018 also showed a revival in terms of enterprise-related technology and product launches. There were no groundbreaking announcements stealing the spotlight when it comes to the enterprise. We believe, however, that the announcements outlined in this report illustrate key trends that will have a near-term impact for mobile operators, enterprises and end users.
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.
As a Senior Research Associate 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. In addition, Patrick’s coverage spans technological domains, including security for IoT devices, applications, platforms and networks.
Keith Dawson is a principal analyst in 451 Research's Customer Experience & Commerce practice, primarily covering marketing technology. Keith has been covering the intersection of communications and enterprise software for 25 years, mainly looking at how to influence and optimize the customer experience.