Summarizing Globecom 2015

This shouldn’t come as a surprise but Globecom 2015 was all about three intertwined topics: 5G, IoT and mmWave. Most of the panels and presentations I attended on each topic ended up discussing in terms of the other two. For instance, at the panel on “​5G mmWave Communications: Myth or Reality” it was discussed if mmWave could solve the challenges for ultra-reliable communications and massive MTC; the common conclusions were simple, in terms of penetration and coverage, non-mmWave could be more economical for these cases and the scenarios would finally determine their usability. In any case, what stroked me was the need to constantly bring all topics into the same pot.

At the executive forum on “When will 5G be real?” an answer was hardly given to the question, but Satish Dhanasekaran from Keysight Technologies made a comment that has been implicit in the 2015 conferences I attended, “never before has there been so much consideration for scenarios and business models as we see now in 5G”. It’s true, and it is partly due to the recent trend in to engage with industrial customers, talking to stakeholders to figure out want they need for the next communication systems (as discussed here).

An afternoon panel on “5G Cellular-IoT Challenges and Opportunities” exceeded the organizer’s attendance estimation, with an overloaded room where, rather than revealing new proposals, many of the known statements on the area were reiterated. This clearly shows a year of convergence on the position of key players regarding IoT and its implications for 5G. Nokia’s Amitava Ghosh made a distinction between “Cellular-IoT” and “IoT in 5G”. The former being a solution currently under development to address issues in the area of massive MTC and the latter considered to be a complementing set of technologies to target the challenges of  low latency and ultra-reliability. On the same panel, Anthony Soong from Huawei made a clear point in the need to be able to increase service agility, by transforming core network; highlighting the need to speed up the service rollout which is currently taking around 18 months compared to 6 months it takes to rollout IT services. Interestingly, his presentation covered the challenges previously explained by Jens Zander regarding critical MTC and their vision to move towards mobile edge cloud computing.

IMHO, the best panel I attended last year was at Globecom, Wearables: Our Experiences and Thoughts for the Future. The panel was simultaneously moderated by Nikhil Jain from Qualcomm and Upkar Dhaliwal from Future Wireless, with the usual 10 minutes presentations and following discussion.

Ryan Barnett from Google opened the presentations to talk about Android Wear, their iOS for wearable devices; Google decided to start with a wrist device to be able to create an ecosystem, but their vision remains open to target other form-factors in the near future. Ryan made emphasis on the fact that current wearables need to be paired with smartphones or computers in order to transfer their data and they are not yet stand-alone (in terms of communication), which would be an interesting solution to have available in the future for certain devices. What might seem obvious but caught my attention was a comment on the physical limitations, the fact that absolutely every single part of a wearable device is constrained in terms of the battery requirements, even the modules and sensors that are added must be carefully considered because they end up taking precious space that could be used for battery room; every physical component added means less space for battery. From Google’s standpoint, what is important to consider is that users want more personalized experienced with wearables, this will result in having many brands and styles available in the market if they want to have the necessary user adoption. But this is somehow contradictory to the fact that users don’t want smartwatches to be single-purpose devices, they want a bit more capabilities in them.

Nikhil Jain, VP, Technology at Qualcomm presented the Toq Program, which emerged from the idea that a watch is a device in direct touch with the user’s body and they wanted to leverage on that; to be able to say something interesting from sensing the body signals.

Joseph Paradiso from MIT Media Lab presented so many interesting projects on wearable technologies that there was hardly any time to take notes, but most of them can be found under the Responsive Environments Group, he many times insisted that the future of interaction lies on wrist gestures like this one or this other.

For Intel, Patricia Robb talked about the differences when entering the wearables market, which was truly different in the way to interact in the new ecosystem, with totally new partners that expected different timelines, IP rights, opinions, relationships, ecosystems and business models. But more importantly, Patricia emphasized the distance between tech gear and fashion; if wearable elements could consider the relevance of fashion as part of their development, they would stand on their own, regardless of the technology underneath them. For her, it was important to highlight that as long as you try to go after each case with a single device, you will end up with a big device closer to a smartphone. Based on experiences, they have decided to go for single-purpose, or what she referred to as purpose-build, devices to address different services.

Mohit Bhushan from Mediatek had a different agenda, he discussed Fitbit as a good example in the wearable market but the next frontier is to enter the health industry. Fitbit uses basic sensors that are actually present in every large device (smartphone). The reason to focus on the health sector is because the potential is at large; with reliable biosensor becoming available which can give more extractive value.

On a similar note, Klaus Doppler from Nokia targeted the medical devices but in terms of the radio challenges, which majorly use BLE; they stream the sensed data to the smartphone and from there is goes up to the cloud. They have run experiments to see the performance of BLE in the presence of many devices in proximity and they show that BLE works great even when many active devices are used, but as soon as you turn on that single WiFi AP in the vicinity, only a small number of those BLE devices could be supported. Connectivity and reliability is important to be ensured and the technology is not mature yet in this regard.

Yet another perspective was given by Peter Atwal from, Incode Consulting. For him, the current open questions that cannot be overlooked are: 1) who is the service provider 2) how many dollars I can make from every product I carry and display? That’s the question from retailers, but how do you engage them to sell wearables? these questions remain open and will certainly dominate the debates to come.

Summing up, the insights given at the wearable’s panel were tremendous. I’m closing with 5 comments heard at the panel, some food for thoughts:

  • Every Christmas I get a new [wearable] one but I never engage, I lose interest or think is too intrusive. This is a gimmick right now.
  • People that buy Fitbit don’t need them. It’s just a fancy accessory. Looking for specific medical cases is more important.
  • I don’t need a thing to tell me how much I move, I already know that. But as soon as I need assistance, they play out.
  • There is a difference between information and entertainment sides. For entertainment, the connectivity is just not enough yet.
  • Use case innovation to solve problems. Form interdisciplinary teams to really understand and improve lives by actually solving an existing problem.
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