Back in 1999, the first Wi-Fi-enabled laptop was introduced, and it wasn’t long before connectivity became a driving force in how the workplace evolved. Laptop sales began to overtake desktop PCs. As people realized the benefits of portability, open offices became a thing, as did laptops in conference rooms and coffee shops. And a few years later, smart phones made connectivity even more central to modern work and life.
At MWC Barcelona (formerly Mobile World Congress), we’re seeing a similar evolution. Announcements this week from telecoms and eSIM service enablers, demonstrate momentum toward building the infrastructure to provide the connectivity and capacity that LTE-enabled devices have been missing. These services are critical for customers to take advantage of 5G. The result is a wave of product innovation in both the consumer and corporate spaces like we haven’t seen in years.
Next Generation PCs
Over the past few months, we have seen the rise of LTE-enabled PCs that have extended battery life such as the ASUS NovaGo, HP Spectre x360 13, Lenovo Yoga C630 WOS and Samsung Galaxy Book2. These PCs marry the experience of a phone—awakening quickly, instantly connected and ready to go—with improved power availability.
Surface is also adopting this innovation with both the Surface Pro (5th Gen) and Surface GO available in LTE-enabled versions, offering our customers the perfect balance of performance, portability with additional connectivity options.
LTE-enabled PCs offer an always connected experience. You may not realize how frictionless the hunt for connectivity can be until you experience one of these PCs for yourself. No longer will you need to click on anything to connect, or duck into a coffee shop to get a signal, or ask your server what the Wi-Fi password is, or wait for a file to download on your hotel’s painfully slow connection. It’ll just be there, ready to go whenever you are—and more importantly, wherever you are. The beach, a park, or the back of a taxi.
These capabilities have been available as a PC add-on for some time. But with these new PCs it’s native, and while they work well with today’s 4G LTE connections, upcoming 5G connectivity will make for a transformative experience in personal computing.
Enabling constant connectivity with eSIMs
A big part of making that ubiquitous connectivity happen on a broader scale is the move from physical SIM cards in connected devices to embedded SIMs, or eSIMs.
eSIMs come with several advantages. For consumers, they bring the ability to stay connected by purchasing a data subscription on demand, when and where they need it. Since eSIMs can be updated over the internet, there is no need to visit a provider’s store.
Enterprises, meanwhile, get much more security and control with eSIMs in both phones and PCs. They can create multiple profiles for users traveling to different countries, enabling employees to be constantly connected to resources in the cloud. If a device is ever lost or stolen, it can be wiped first and then the connectivity disabled, without having to worry about whether it’s connected to the internet.
Since Microsoft announced Windows 10 support for eSIM back in 2016, we’ve seen much more interest in cellular-enabled devices, not only from PC makers, but also from the hardware vendors who create modems that now support eSIMs. As manufacturers and service providers roll out support for eSIMs in the coming months, expect to see them become a centerpiece for the connected computing movement.
5G: the newest technology disruptor
With so much potential just around the corner, there’s no doubt that 5G has MWC buzzing this week. As 5G capabilities begin to become available around the world, people are working to understand and prepare for the inevitable innovation and disruption it will bring across industries.
The high throughput of 5G enables extraordinary reductions in latency. Besides things like extremely fast downloads, improved clarity and reliability, the ability to deliver so much data, so quickly, opens up a world of possibilities for new technology solutions.
5G can enable and extend the intelligent edge, reaching drones flying remote inspections, allowing them to return high-definition video feeds and data analytics instantly. Autonomous vehicles in factories, warehouses or airports can be controlled and continually tracked to within one centimeter. New types of collaborative experiences can be enabled, putting everyone in the same virtual room. We’re talking untethered AR and VR and real-time gaming from anywhere.
Many are calling this the “year of infrastructure” as providers build out 5G capabilities across industries. On one hand, you have the telecommunications industry deploying the infrastructure and innovating with new services. And on the other, the entire ecosystem of connected computing device makers of all types, working to tap into the possibilities.
The results will be truly transformative. In our homes, in our cars, at our work, in our stadiums, in our entertainment centers, every industry, from precision agriculture to precision medicine, from personalized retail to personalized banking—every walk of life could see real changes in the coming years.
Microsoft partners and network providers jump in
With all of this going on, we’re very excited about some of the big announcements from our partners and device makers here at MWC. Partners are critical to making this a reality—device makers, silicon manufacturers, mobile operators, eSIM enablers, mobile device management providers (MDMs) and ISVs, all need to establish a new “connected computing” approach to business. And we’re hearing that’s just what they’re up to.
Qualcomm Technologies announced a new 5G-enabled Snapdragon X55 modem in the lead up to MWC, their second-generation 5G modem after the X50, which was announced in October, 2016.
This 5G modem will enable connectivity for smartphones, mobile hotspots, fixed wireless access points, extended reality devices, automotive applications, and larger-screen devices like LTE enabled PCs, laptops, tablets, which are critical to the ecosystem. For Microsoft this is foundational technology that underpins the sexier intelligent edge solutions to come, a key part of the full picture: PCs connected to a cloud service via 5G, with all of that computing power served up as if you were right there at the server farm. They also announced Wi-Fi 6, which will play an important role for both consumers and in the enterprise.
Another foundational element will be onboarding service providers and offering up mobile data plans that let users get the most from LTE-enabled PCs and 5G. Mobile Plans is a Windows experience that provides consumers with an easy way to top off a data plan with their existing carrier, or sign up for additional data plans with local MNOs if their carrier is not available based on location. On that front, we’ve been working with Telstra in Australia for more than a year, and in the next few weeks they will launch a marketing push, offering customers who wish to sample the new technology, a 30-day trial that includes 30GB free data to use in Australia. Telstra joins our growing ecosystem of mobile operators including GigSky, KDDI Japan, Swisscom, Tele2 and Ubigi.
With eSIMs coming on in a big way, a new ecosystem has evolved, working together to address the productivity, connectivity and manageability gaps that commercial customers are currently experiencing. This week, several of these players are announcing new releases and partnerships within this category at MWC. As an example, IDEMIA and Mobile Iron will be sharing the offering for their common customers and mobile operators in support of the Windows commercial solution for eSIM. Wandera showcased its Windows connected PC solution, which helps enterprise customers define policies that govern how mobile data can be utilized by both users and mobile apps across a variety of network scenarios (physical SIMs, eSIMs, Wi-Fi, etc.). We are also excited to continue to work with mobile operators, such as C Spire and KDDI, as we get closer to deploying eSIM within the organizations of their customers.
Consumers are also benefitting from two new partnerships that will make it much easier for mobile operators to deliver support for easy connectivity with eSIM through Microsoft’s “Mobile Plans” app. Shown for the first time at MWC this week, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Microsoft demonstrated the expansion of “Digital Identity” with HPE’s Device Entitlement Gateway (DEG), a software product that enables mobile network operators to safely and securely connect to the Windows 10 eSIM platform.
Microsoft is also partnering with Amdocs to take advantage of their “Digital eSIM platform” offering to streamline the Mobile Operator onboarding process into Mobile Plans.
Just like the Wi-Fi revolution at the turn of the century, we expect this transformation to connected computing and 5G to take time. But as we’re seeing this week in Barcelona, the entire ecosystem is working to sort out the challenges and make this a new era of continuous, instantaneous, high-speed connectivity.