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1 March 2016

Mobile World Congress 2016: The Third Age of Mobile

Written by: Satyen Dayal, Senior Director at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

Lyndon Baty is a high school student in Knox City, Texas with a medical condition that pretty much keeps him housebound. However, thanks to robotics technology by VGo, Lyndon is able to attend school from the safety of his home, moving from class-to-class, and even chatting with friends over lunch. He is one of a number of students in the country who are benefiting from this telepresence robot, which takes mobile learning to an entirely new level.

For me, this story is where tech plays at its best: inclusivity. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, I met with a number of people discussing how to be more inclusive with technical acronyms ranging from 5G to IoT (Internet of Things) and SON (Self-Organizing Network). One such conversation took place at IoT Stars where startups in this space pitched inventions that might literally change the world. Over an Estrella, philosopher Humberto Shwab talked to me about the challenges with 16th Century philosophy that currently guides 21st Century technologies such as self-driving cars (definitely a post for another day).

Mobile is Eating the World

It has been three decades since this mobile community have been meeting. Their work has led the gurus of Silicon Valley to proclaim that “Mobile is Eating the World”.

Big changes during this period can be broken down into three ages: Firstly, mobile was very much about ‘connectivity’ and this remains a big part of the ongoing conversation at the show. It’s a word that can also be found across nearly all the exhibitor stands across the show floor.

In the second age we started to see the Internet take centre stage. The ‘Internet’ may not seem as hot a topic as say Virtual Reality (VR) or Artificial Intelligence (AI), but it is definitely fundamental to its rapid emergence, as well as other tech phenomena in recent years.

Third Age

The third age of mobile is something we have perhaps only started to see in recent years. It includes those IoT devices (Yes ‘Internet’ is in there too), wearables, connected cars (there’s that word again) and other incredible objects that adorned the halls this year.

I’m currently debating what this recent period can be described as with Edelman’s very own Tim Weber (@tim_weber). I’ve pitched a few ideas to him but, as with the days when I pitched Tim the BBC journalist, our conversation might as well end with him using his standard line “send me an email!”

Tim’s right of course. This latest mobile age is way too complicated to boil down to a simplistic observation about change or even disruption. I’d like to think it has something to do with the idea of inclusivity.

Social Conscience!

I’m not suggesting that this next generation of mobile should be classed as ‘The Age of Inclusivity’ (Tim would definitely shoot me down here). But, as mobile hits its thirties, a time where things start to get a little more serious, I do wonder what words of advice I can offer it.

I put this question to a number of people I met at the show. In addition to the fun responses (“Stay fit and healthy” was one), there were a lot more profound and philosophical perspectives. For example, “Caring about people’s privacy” came across strongly. “Get a social conscience!” exclaimed one ‘Gen Yer’ at the show. “Don’t forget your roots,” said another person referring to the core B2B work of telecoms firms.

In this age of VR, AI and self-driving connected cars, there was one reminder that rang true from a local Barcelona entrepreneur:  “Now that you’ve hit your 30s, remember you are here to make people smarter, not dumber!”

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