MWC not an auto show, but gaining importance

March 14, 2016  - By
Mercedes autonomous car on display at Mobile World Congress 2016.

Mercedes autonomous car on display at Mobile World Congress 2016. (Photo: Kevin Dennehy)

BARCELONA, Spain — Most attendees at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) wouldn’t mistake the huge mobile phone show to be a gathering of auto manufacturers and their suppliers. However, the show, which broke 100,000 participants this year, has seen a rise in auto companies who are outlining connected and autonomous vehicle strategies.

MWC was held Feb. 27 to March 2 in Barcelona.

At MWC, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the company is tripling its investment in new technologies over the next five years with the ultimate goal of fully autonomous vehicles.

Ford also rolled out the new Kuga SUV, which features the company’s new SYNC 3, which Fields says should be in 43 million vehicles by 2023 (SYNC 3 is upgraded to include improved voice commands and easier to get to applications on a driver’s smartphone).

Fields said Ford, which attended its fourth straight Mobile World Congress, was transitioning from an auto company to one that is a dual auto-mobility entity. In addition, just as with GM’s decision to invest $500 million in Lyft, Ford is getting into the sharing economy with its own car-sharing, ride-sharing and other mobility services.

This new mobility strategy includes GoPark, an app that directs drivers to parking spaces; FordPass, a platform that connects services and partners; and FordGuides, a problem-solving app. According to published reports, another Ford app is MyBoxMan, which allows drivers in Europe to make money delivering boxes.

At least one industry expert believes that car sharing and autonomy is the future for auto companies. “Full autonomy is coming. We will see fleets of driverless public transport vehicles on the roads due to their low overheads,” said Kevin Curran, senior member of IEEE and senior lecturer at the University of Ulster. “Regarding non-autonomy, we will see that cars ownership will change in a number of ways. We will start to see more ride sharing. Uber and other ride sharing models will rise to supersede existing traditional models. That is quite obvious even now, and a proper ride sharing model should also emerge, too.”

Ford displayed the Kuga in its main booth, and also had a booth featuring its Developer Program. One of its development partners, Magellan, showed off its SmartGPS in-vehicle technology.

The Magellan unit delivers local information to the car that is equipped with SmartGPS, including speed trap alerts, weather, traffic and lowest gas prices, said Matt Erstling, Magellan product manager, connected platform.

Magellan’s connected auto strategy was outlined, in part, by its new CEO, Pierre Parent, at CES in January. Parent said that the company will continue to put location capability in connected devices.

Large industry players make MWC auto announcements

At its press conference, Hans Vestberg, Ericsson president and CEO, said 5G will provide the latency needed for autonomous cars. The company is jointly developing a connected car with Geeley Automobile Holdings, the Chinese owners of Volvo. Besides Ericsson, Nokia, SK Telecom and others believe that 5G, which is expected to rollout in 2020, will be critical for mobile Internet applications — and, therefore, for better safety in connected vehicles.

Qualcomm announced its partnership with Audi to integrate the Snapdragon 602A into the automaker’s 2017 vehicles. The company showed off connected car technologies with Formula One Team Mercedes AMG Petronias.

One of the cooler pieces of equipment at MWC was the folding steering wheel developed by Harman and Rinspeed. The companies are also co-developing an autonomous car.

Harman showcased its new folding steering wheel at Mobile World Congress 2016.

Harman showcased its new folding steering wheel at Mobile World Congress 2016. (Photo: Kevin Dennehy)

Besides rolling out Galaxy S7 phones, Samsung announced its Connect Auto dongle that adds LTE connectivity for older vehicles. The dongle plugs into a diagnostic port to let drivers monitor a vehicle’s performance. It also makes the vehicle a Wi-Fi hotspot. It should be available in the second quarter, with AT&T as the U.S. wireless partner.

Saying the partnership is a giant step toward driverless vehicles, Panasonic and Ficosa announced at MWC that they were developing a Smart Connectivity Module that enables passengers to be securely connected through a vehicle’s own internal connection. The system provides both inside and outside connections and works in V2V and V2X environments.

“A lot of people don’t know that 33 percent of our business is in auto and industrial systems. Consumer is only 14 percent,” said Tony O’Brien, deputy managing director, Panasonic Systems Solutions, Europe.

Inside the Mercedes autonomous vehicle. (Photo: Kevin Dennehy)

Inside the Mercedes autonomous vehicle. (Photo: Kevin Dennehy)

In other MWC news:

  • The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which automakers and their suppliers are heading to in droves, now has 115 exhibiting companies. While far fewer in numbers, and with so many large wireless and device manufacturers involved, auto execs realize that MWC is an important stop before the Geneva Auto Show.
  • At MWC, I could actually talk to people, even see folks again at events and sometimes passing by in the huge exhibit halls at the Fira Grand Via. You can’t say that about CES. Unfortunately, MWC is getting huge…more than 100,000 people with the requisite traffic congestion, public transit strikes, expensive housing and airfares.
  • Join Lyft, BMW Group, HERE and 25 other speakers at Driverless, The Business of Autonomous Vehicles, which is March 22-23 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, San Francisco Airport. Panels feature new technology, executive insights on the future, investments, legal and cyber security and mapping. For more information, go to or

About the Author: Kevin Dennehy

Kevin Dennehy is GPS World’s editor for location-based services, writing a monthly column for the LBS Insider newsletter. Dennehy has been writing about the location industry for more than 20 years. He covered GPS and location technology for Global Positioning & Navigation News for seven years. His articles on the wireless industry have been published in both consumer and trade magazines and newspapers.