Tomorrow Transformed

Mobile World Congress 2015: Five glimpses of the future

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow Transformed explores innovative approaches and opportunities available in business and society through technology.

CNN  — 

Mobile World Congress 2015 brought together 2,000 exhibitors and tens of thousands of delegates under one roof in Barcelona. But as well as the myriad cell phone launches that are the show’s trademark, this year’s event also pointed to a brave new world of mobile technology, featuring speakers and exhibitors that had everyone asking questions from: What if cars could talk to each other? When will we outgrow 4G? And why isn’t my vending machine smart yet?

So here are five forward-thinking pieces of tech that could shape our tomorrows, as showcased at Mobile World Congress.

1. Connected cars

Cars are no longer simply vehicles – they are fast becoming high-speed internet hotspots. Audi and GM already have 4G LTE capability in some of their vehicles, but it’s a technology that is becoming increasingly mainstream. AT&T and Audi announced at MWC that they planned to work together to have 4G LTE in every Audi 2016 model that is equipped with Audi Connect – a navigation system, internet database and in-car wi-fi.

But what’s the advantage of all that connectivity? Apparently, it means “better voice activation, better voice diagnostics – all the things you want so your hands stay on the wheel and your eyes stay on the road,” AT&T’s chief executive Glenn Lurie told CNN’s Richard Quest.

And ultimately, it means connected vehicles could communicate with other smart devices.

“It’s about vehicles talking to vehicles and vehicles talking to infrastructure. It’s about moving closer to self-driving vehicles,” said Lurie. “It’s about this working with your home, it’s about inanimate objects taking care of you versus you taking care of them.

“[You tell your vehicle], when I’m 20 yards from the house, I want my garage door to open, I want my doors to unlock, I want my security system to go off, I want my thermostats to be turned up. It’s about making people’s lives better.”

2. 4G is so 2015 … the future is 5G

Anne Bouverot, director general of GSMA, the mobile trade organization that runs Mobile World Congress, can see into the future of mobile technology, and it’s even more connected then we could have imagined.

“We’re starting to talk about the transition to 5G which does not exist today,” explained Bouverot. But what exactly will 5G let us do that 4G can’t?

“The really difficult thing to do with 4G today is to transmit a huge amount of 3D data in real time and to be able to act on it,” Bouverot told Quest. “You can’t do it today but that’s something we’d want to try and be able to do with 5G.”

Still not sure what 5G is? You may have to wait a while to find out. “By 2020 we will know what it is,” said Bouverot. “We will have defined it.”

3. Vending machines that don’t eat your coins

The mobile payment pavilion at MWC is one place where money doesn’t talk. Mobile payment systems and digital payments are all anyone cares about, even when it comes to simplest of transactions – like buying a drink from a vending machine

It’s where SAP showed off its smart vending machines – snack dispensers with a difference. “You can personalize whatever you want to buy, you use your phone (to pay), you don’t need to use any cash or any other payment system,” SAP President Franck Cohen told Quest.

SAP says its smart vending machines are able to transfer money from your bank accounts, give you a purchase history, and even allow you to purchase a product for your friends through Facebook.

4. Smart city lighting

In the Green pavilion, Sierra wireless and Philips CityTouch demonstrated their cutting-edge lighting system designed to save cities energy – and money.

The system connects each individual street light in a city to the Internet via 2G, 3G and 4G networks. It gives city authorities the power to monitor and manage individual street lamps, adjusting them for certain weather conditions, and setting custom lighting patterns – dimming lights in the business district at the weekend, for example.

“Now it’s connected, it allows the government to fully control the lighting in their city,” Sierra Wireless VP Olivier Beaujard told Quest. “Not only can you switch them on and off but also program them manually according to your schedule. You can put lights where you need them during accidents and bad weather conditions.

“In the future, the city will be able to know, in real time, how much energy they consume. They can really control their consumption and plan for future usage.”

5. Virtual reality goes beyond gaming

Opting to step out of this world and into another, virtual reality headsets were being showcased up and down the arena. Oculus Rift has already shown the potential for VR gaming – but the technology doesn’t stop there.

“[Virtual reality headsets] were designed to show people what you can’t see,” explained Andrew Parker of GSMA’s Connected Living Program. “It’s about immersing people in an experience … you can show inside a vehicle, inside a car. This has got huge potential and you can see great applications for this, especially in online retail – you can walk down a shop, see the products, walk around things.

“It’s got fantastic uses. It allows you to go visit, walk around things, experience things you just couldn’t possibly do with any other media.”

Read: The hottest gadgets at Mobile World Congress 2015