After four days, 107,000 visitors and a host of new reveals – from the latest flagship Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphone to a new Mercedes A-Class – the Mobile World Congress may be over, but its ideas will continue to resonate with businesses for some time to come.
For businesses – and more than 7,600 leading CEOs in attendance – the biggest talking point will be talking itself. Voice as a business channel and voice as an interface is almost ready for the mainstream. And, it will be the key ingredient in establishing the Internet of Things (IoT).
Smart speaker devices with voice-activated assistants may be a new product category, but after less than two years on the market, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are already being integrated into other companies’ products. For example, Alexa is in new Ford car dashboards, and Google Assistant is the artificially intelligent brain behind Aura – a range of smart devices to be marketed by Telefonica, one of the world’s largest network operators.
“A year ago we said we wanted artificial intelligence to be the basis of our clients’ relationship with us and we are delivering on our promise,” said Telefonica CEO, José María Alvárez-Pallete.
The devices will be sold in the UK, Spain, Latin America and Germany under a variety of different brand names in line with their specific markets.
As for Google itself, the search giant also revealed new features for the platform, the most notable of which is that it will soon support 30 languages.
“With this new feature, the Assistant will be able to understand you in multiple languages fluently,” explained Nick Fox, Google’s VP of Product. “If you prefer to speak German at work, but French at home, your Assistant is right there with you.”
“The figures speak for themselves,” explains Geoffrey Boulakia, TSC General Manager EMEA, Sitel Group’s Digital CX agency. “Half of all web searches will be via voice by 2020, and one-in-three browsing sessions will be without a screen. Consumer appetite for smart speakers and other such devices is driven by the fact that voice is such a simple, fast and natural interface.”
But before businesses start scrambling to join the voice revolution, they must take stock. Just like launching a chatbot, adopting voice as a channel or interface will need a very clear use case and a set of measurable outcomes.
“Simplicity will be key,” said Geoffrey Boulakia. “It has to be effective, easy to use and explicitly meet a genuine consumer need. As an interface and a technology, it is still very new. Its potential is vast, but the only way to explore that potential is to start slowly and then start building. If you want to think big, you have to start small and on your own path – the intimacy of voice means that your use of the technology has to be original and distinct.”
According to the GSMA, the global telecoms body that hosts the MWC, by 2025, over 70 percent of the world’s population will have a smartphone – that’s 5.9 billion devices. And most importantly, for 5 billion of those people, the smartphone will be their route to accessing the web and other connected devices.
This extensive move to mobile will mean businesses will have to ensure all of their channels are optimized for smartphones – from dynamic websites to their choice of digital touchpoints.
More importantly, this growth in mobile subscribers will come as the IoT finally moves into the mainstream. The GSMA forecasts 25 billion connected devices will access the web by 2025, and the resulting swells of data will be huge.
All of this points to why so much about this year’s MWC focused on 5G – even though there are no real-world networks up and running. It has been designed from the ground up to be able to cope with the density of the IoT. By the end of this decade, there will be 1 million connected devices per square kilometer, and only 5G can cope with this number of new simultaneous connections.
Likewise, 5G has the lowest latency of any network standard ever created. The current 4G standard has a latency of just 50 milliseconds – impressive but far too slow for transferring information between time-sensitive and operation critical devices. However, because 5G’s latency is just 1 millisecond, it is fast enough to guide a self-driving car and, most importantly, tell it when to apply the brakes.
The GSMA aims to take advantage of this new network capability and the upcoming IoT information flow by partnering with the World Bank on a global humanitarian project. The two organizations believe using anonymous data from the IoT and smartphones they can help reduce poverty, boost health and create new business.
“The mobile network industry provides the connectivity is essential for countries to unlock new drivers of economic growth, help make the global market system work for everyone and meet the world’s rising aspirations,” said Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group. “Through this initiative, we will partner with the mobile industry to harness IoT, big data and other new technologies to solve the world’s largest challenges.”
While Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, added, “With IoT and big data, we have the ability to provide insights that can be used across a wide range of applications, from agriculture to environmental protection and beyond.”
These new sources of data may be revolutionary for business, but in order to take advantage they must have the correct, suitably robust IT systems in place and be ready to abide by tightening data protection regulation.
“With AI, 5G networks and the growing popularity of the IoT, the way we conduct business is heading for a rapid transformation,” said Arnaud de Lacoste, Sitel Group’s Chief Marketing Officer, Partnerships & Innovation and co-founder. “With new technology and new forms of data assisting operation and informing strategic decisions, the future has never been more exciting. The companies that can harness and leverage the power of these innovations and implement to their customers at the core of their business, will elevate their customer experience to a whole new level.”