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MWC 2018: Day Three: AI, AR & 5G

by Ken Hyers | Feb 26, 2018

Mobile World Congress (MWC 2018), the biggest show on Mobile and Smart Connected Ecosystem is taking place in Barcelona, from Feb 26 to Mar 1, 2018.

Strategy Analytics has a large team of analysts across Smartphones, Drones, Robots, Tablets, Wearables, Components, Smart home and Connected cars in attendance.

Please click here, to meet our DEVICES analysts at the show

Although the event officially kicked off Monday (Feb 26), vendors were eager to showcase their new devices in advance.

Our Day 1 coverage, on key smartphone launches is available here.

Our Day 2 coverage, on additional smartphone launches is available here.

While smartphone launches capture the limelight at MWC, the technology powering these devices is also of critical importance. Below are some of the key new technologies making their debut at MWC 2018 in the areas of 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) and other innovative areas, from Day 3 of the Mobile World Congress (MWC 2018):

Samsung Bixby Artificial Intelligence-powered Voice Assistant:

Last night Samsung revealed its widely anticipated new flagships, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. A key feature of the new devices was the unveiling of the second generation of Samsung’s smartphone AI, Bixby. Upon its debut in March 2017, Bixby was promising, but not fully ready for prime-time, lacking support for most of the world’s commonly used languages and not compatible with many 3rd party applications.

Samsung Bixby

The 2Nd generation Bixby adds new functionalities to the AI powered virtual assistant and includes live image translation, enhanced place recognition, Bixby camera makeup function and a food calorie calculator. These additions do take Bixby beyond voice and allow it to better compete with Google Assistant.  However, given that Google Assistant is available with all modern Android smartphones, including the new Galaxy S9 series, Bixby will face an uphill battle to gain significant market share versus the dominant smartphone AIs.

Samsung AR Emoji:

With the launch of its new flagship Galaxy S9 series smartphones, Samsung revealed its take on Augmented Reality (AR).  The application takes a picture of a person, such as a selfie, and customizes it into a 3D cartoon image, not unlike the kind of caricature drawings made by a sidewalk artist. The application lets the user customize the image with different accessories, clothing and hairstyles and can be saved as a GIF or PNG.

Samsung AR Emoji

Samsung's AR Emoji is clearly a response to Apple’s Animoji app in the iPhone X which uses face scanning technology. Samsung’s AR Emoji application is more of a gimmick than anything else, but it does demonstrate the technical capabilities of its scanning technology. And happily, unlike Apple, Samsung did not use poop animations to demonstrate its new AR application.

 

Sony adds 3D scanning with its Xperia XZ2

Sony unveiled its new XZ2 smartphone at Mobile World Congress,  loaded with a host of hardware and software features. Among them was a new 3D scanning capability added to the front screen of the phone. Selfies taken with the camera can be scanned and used to create –three dimensional images that can be uploaded to social media. The scans can be used to create avatars, hinting that Sony could tie the 3D scanning feature to future games from Sony.

 

Google ARCore Launches

Google at Mobile World Congress 2018 launched version 1.0 of its ARCore Augmented Reality framework. Like Apple’s ARKit, ARCore from Google lets Android smartphones run AR applications. Version 1.0 of the ARCore framework lets AR apps overlay 3D objects on top of the image from the phone’s camera, so that when a user holds up the smartphone and views the screen, 3D objects can be rendered on top of the images seen through the smartphone camera.

Given the complexity associated with supporting AR on smartphones, ARCore has to be customized per each smartphone model. This means that not all Android smartphones will support ARCore’s AR; currently the first phones compatible with it include Google’s Pixel smartphones, Samsung’s Galaxy S7, S8 (and presumably S9), and Note 8 series smartphones, LG’s V30 series smartphones and select devices from ASUS and OnePlus. According to Google the majority of top-10 Android smartphone vendors will be releasing ARCore compatible smartphones in 2018.

 

The Road to 5G

5G is of course another major area of interest at Mobile World Congress 2018. From smartphone OEMs to chip-makers to network operators and equipment vendors, the entire industry is focused on preparing for 5G. At least one smartphone vendor is promising to have the first commercial 5G phone ready by the end of the year, and in 2019 multiple OEMs will offer 5G smartphones.

On the chip-maker side, Huawei, Qualcomm and Intel have taken the opportunity to announce their latest initiatives for 5G smartphones.

 

Qualcomm announces 4.5 Gbps for its Snapdragon X50 modem

In the days leading up to Mobile World Congress 2018 chip-maker Qualcomm announced that it had achieved speeds of up to 4.5 Gbps for its Snapdragon X50 5G modem. The speed is higher than that announced by any other smartphone chip-maker to date, putting Qualcomm firmly in the lead in the nascent 5G chipset speed race.  Qualcomm had previously announced speeds of up to 1.24 Gbps for the modem, just a few months ago.

Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G modem chip (left); 28GHz mmWave antenna module (right)

x50-data-connection

The new speeds were achieved by adding support for more carriers to the chipset, moving from 2x to 8x carrier aggregation to achieve nearly 4X in speed improvement. Qualcomm’s achievement is a new benchmark for other chip-makers. That said, as Qualcomm has been quick to say, the speeds demonstrated so far, for their MWC 5G demo, are best case scenarios in optimal conditions – in the real world speeds of 1 to 2 Gbps are more likely when the first smartphones come to market in 2019.

 

Huawei Challenges Qualcomm with 5G chip

Huawei introduced its first 5G chipset at Mobile World Congress 2018. The company claims the Balong 5G01 is the world’s first 5G commercial chipset, and says it can download data at speeds of up to 2.3 gigabits per second. That’s slower than speeds promised by Qualcomm for its X50 modem (4.5 Gbps) but significantly faster than what 4G phones are capable of.  

Huawei Balong 5G01

Huawei says it will launch a 5G phone using the Balong 5G01 before the end of 2018, putting it on track to challenge ZTE, which has said it intends to launch a 5G smartphone possibly by the end of this year.

 

ZTE Says it Could Launch a 5G Smartphone as Early as this Year

Chinese smartphone maker ZTE said at Mobile World Congress 2018 that it would launch 5G devices, including a smartphone, by the end of 2018, or possibly early in 2019. The company confirmed that it would have 5G devices available as soon as commercial 5G networks are launched. ZTE backed up its promise by showcasing a prototype 5G phone that would support speeds of up to 1.2 Gbps.

zte-5g


Intel to collaborate with Spreadtrum

Intel at MWC 2018 announced a multi-year collaboration with Spreadtrum to produce a 5G phone platform by the 2nd half of 2019. The platform will use Intel’s XMM 8000-series modem in conjunction with an application processor from Spreadtrum. The initiative is part of Intel’s efforts to move beyond PCs by repurposing existing form factors for mobile device applications and to develop new products for smartphones.

 

This wraps up today’s overview of Mobile World Congress 2018 Day 3. Tomorrow we will look at the newest and most groundbreaking device technologies on display at MWC ’18.
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