The Mobile World Conference held in Barcelona this week attracted more than 93,000 attendees from nearly every country on Earth. Nathan Hamilton has the rundown on two of the hottest topics at the event; the Internet of Things and the development of 5G networks -- including the role Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) intends to play.
Tune in also for a new viewpoint in the debate over artificial intelligence and whether it represents a threat to humankind, and the surprising answer to a trivia question about the origins of Silicon Valley's famously laid-back, innovation-focused tech culture.
A full transcript follows the video.
Sean O'Reilly: Finally get 4G coverage for your cell phone? Well, 5G is now the next big thing! All that and more on this tech edition of Industry Focus.
Greetings Fools, and thank you for joining us. Today we're talking about the Mobile World Congress, held this past week in Barcelona, Spain. I am Sean O'Reilly, and today I'm joined with the one and only Nathan Hamilton. How are you today, sir?
Nathan Hamilton: I'm good. How's it going?
O'Reilly: Not too bad. We had a little bit of a snow day yesterday, but I worked from home so it was fine.
Hamilton: Yes, I worked from home, a little bit of a late start today. But we're talking tech today, so I'm happy.
O'Reilly: I made it in specifically for this.
Hamilton: Me too. For our listeners!
O'Reilly: Yes! Before we dive into the Mobile World Congress, we wanted to make a quick mention of some Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Watch rumblings. What's going on?
Hamilton: Yes, it's a little bit of a segue into what we can discuss with the Mobile World Congress.
O'Reilly: Have you ordered yours yet?
Hamilton: I have not. I've been debating whether I want to get it or not, but I think ... we'll see.
O'Reilly: Maybe you prefer (unclear), I don't know.
Hamilton: I did buy the first iPhone, and I regretted it because I found out ...
O'Reilly: You've got to work out the bugs.
Hamilton: Yes, you've got to work out the bugs. We'll see what happens with the Apple Watch. But Jony Ive, the mastermind behind all the design at Apple, which is really what they're known for, spoke at the Financial Times recently.
There are really some interesting quotes that he had, or things he discussed, that really stood out to me. For investors, I think this is something really important, just to give an idea of how to look at Apple as an investment.
When asked about how many Apple Watches they may sell, his reply was, "I don't really care how much they sell." He's just focused on design. That is what he cares about. When you put this in ...
O'Reilly: It's kind of an "If you build it, they will come" philosophy.
Hamilton: Yes, but here's the thing. Design is really the key to Apple's success, and if you look at it, Jony Ive -- and Tim Cook has mentioned this before -- if there's any person with as much control over the company as Tim Cook, it's Jony Ive, and he's saying, "I just want to focus on design. That's what I care about."
O'Reilly: That's a big deal.
Hamilton: Yes, it really is.
O'Reilly: Because Cook's obviously a supply chain guy. That's why he does what he does, so the design guy is Ive.
Hamilton: I know he wants to see some big sales, but I think it comes down to the culture of the company as a whole, which is, "Design is what matters. It's the product."
O'Reilly: Awesome. Very cool.
Moving on to the Mobile World Congress. For our listeners that don't know what this is, there were over 93,000 attendees from over 200 countries, so this is not a small event. All these people converged in Barcelona, Spain.
Just tell us a little bit about it, Nathan, and possibly when can I switch my cell phone carrier to Google?
Hamilton: Well, we'll see when it'll happen in the future!
O'Reilly: Fingers crossed.
Hamilton: Yes. Just building off of what you had mentioned there about Mobile World Congress, I almost look at it as the annual CES event for mobile devices.
Hamilton: Tablets, watches, wireless; all this.
O'Reilly: It was interesting to me that it was held in Barcelona, because that's of course one of the 80 cities, globally, that have partnered with Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) to become a smart city.
Hamilton: Oh, is it?
O'Reilly: Yes. It's very interesting that they got to host it.
Hamilton: Yes, and there was a lot of IoT talk going on at Mobile World Congress as well.
O'Reilly: I was doing some reading. It looked like it was, I don't know, a third of the content or something?
O'Reilly: It was a lot.
Hamilton: Yes. Mark Zuckerberg gave the keynote address, and really some of the takeaways for tech followers which I think was important ...
O'Reilly: Sorry to interrupt. Did he thank the mobile world for all that mobile ad revenue that he's been getting?
Hamilton: I know! I'm sure that's why he was there.
O'Reilly: I would be like, "Thank you all, so much!"
Hamilton: Yes. "We appreciate the revenue growth that you've provided for us."
One of the biggest takeaways is the development of 5G networks.
O'Reilly: I just got 4G. I literally just got going on it.
Hamilton: I did as well, but you have to look at it. The cycle of network improvements, it's not necessarily anything not normal.
When you look at it, essentially an industry alliance gets together, sets the standards for what the speed will be, what sort of infrastructure is needed, what can officially be called "5G." These alliances set the standards, and then 10 years in the future or 5 years in the future, that's when the network starts to be built, and so forth.
At Mobile World Congress, a white paper was delivered on some of the standards that infrastructure providers and wireless carriers will have to implement. Essentially, they're looking at the timeframe of 2020.
O'Reilly: This is very much just laying the groundwork.
Hamilton: It is, and this is how it goes every single time. It's not anything out of the ordinary at all.
O'Reilly: Tell me about this acquisition that Google recently made.
Hamilton: Yes, this is really telling. I didn't necessarily know at the time exactly what it was for, but it really does make sense.
In, I believe it was June of 2014, Google quietly, unless you paid really close attention, Google acquired a company called Alpental Technologies.
O'Reilly: Do you remember the price tag or anything?
Hamilton: There was no announcement of the price tag at all.
O'Reilly: Ah, interesting.
Hamilton: Yes. Like I said, if you didn't follow Google closely, you easily would have overlooked it. What Alpental Technologies does, and how it relates to Mobile World Congress, is they provide technologies in the wireless industry that potentially could be used for 5G networks.
O'Reilly: They see the writing on the wall, and they're slowly sneaking into the development of the 5G.
Hamilton: Yes, and here's the key to it. They're a low-cost provider of these technologies, and Google came out at the Congress event and confirmed what had already been reported, that they are going to get into the wireless space.
Initially at this point, I don't think the main telecom players are too concerned because Google said, "We're not doing anything at scale," but who knows what their real intentions are?
O'Reilly: It's so interesting. Can you imagine, 10 or 15 years ago, if a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) or something started getting in and providing cell phone service and everything? It would be unheard of. We'd be laughing about it.
Hamilton: Yes. But Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) started out as e-books, and now they're selling Kindle devices and everything retail, so technology moves quickly and things evolve.
O'Reilly: Very cool. Real quick, give us an overview of what they talked about at the Mobile Congress, with the Internet of Things. The word "trillion" gets thrown around a lot, with the potential of the Internet of Things.
One of the open questions is, will all of these devices -- when your fridge can talk to your thermostat in the house, and all that stuff -- will the use Wi-Fi? Will they use cell towers? Will the driverless cars we all have use cell towers? How's that going to work?
Hamilton: I don't know specifically on that, but I can tell you in terms of what was discussed at the event. IoT always has a huge presence. All the main players were there, and so forth.
That is a question that many people look at, but if you look at the actual devices that will be underlying the IoT, one was announced from Samsung, and most people knew it was coming along. It's the Samsung Galaxy S6.
They also introduced their curved version, which is really just an iteration of what they had before, with the curved glass.
O'Reilly: Have you ever played with that?
Hamilton: No. The first time I heard about it I was like, "This is a little bit gimmicky," but I actually did play with a device when they originally came out and it was like, "Oh, no. It does make sense."
O'Reilly: Pretty slick, yes.
Hamilton: Yes, Samsung has definitely added some design improvements. Going back to what I said earlier about Apple, Samsung is concerned about selling units. They have to.
It's funny, the dichotomy between the two companies. You've got Jony Ive saying, "I don't care how many units I sell of this watch."
O'Reilly: He has that luxury right now.
Hamilton: Yes. It's really a good place to be.
O'Reilly: Samsung kind of reminds me of that old joke about, "We lose $5 per unit." "We'll make it up on volume!"
Hamilton: Sure! Well, their profits haven't been doing too well recently, so I don't know if that's working out for them.
O'Reilly: Yes. Well, moving on. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that. Before we leave, we will of course do the trivia. But first though, you wanted to do a little bit of a follow-up on a recent show we did about artificial intelligence and how mankind is probably doomed!
O'Reilly: Peter Thiel, former business partner of Elon Musk back in the PayPal days, he's not so sure that the world's going to end.
Hamilton: Yes. It's interesting when you look at the different commentary between the two, and you just look at tech history as a whole.
There have been plenty of speculators, any time a new technology comes around, like "It's the end of mankind. It's going to steal our jobs. It's going to do this. It's evil. This is not going to be positive for society, or the economy as a whole."
If you look at the history of computers, that's always been the belief. With AI, there's always been, "AI's going to take over. It's going to do this ..."
But the actual relationship between humans and computers has been extremely beneficial. The human race is better because of computers, and computers are better because of humans. It's really been an interaction between the two of them, to work together for benefit of everyone.
I maybe agree a little bit more with Thiel's comments than some of the speculators out there that say AI may be evil, but I think I'll be irrelevant by the time that happens, so who knows.
O'Reilly: Crossing my fingers that we are all not irrelevant!
All right. I saw this trivia. I noticed that you did not give me multiple choice, so hit me!
Hamilton: Yes, you've got to guess a company. If you can do it ... it's a company we know well. I'll give you that hint.
Hamilton: Silicon Valley is known for tech company culture, of course, and that has evolved into what we see with the Facebooks of the world, which is very relaxed; the decentralized approach where innovation really is what thrives. What company was the first to employ this cultural approach originally?
O'Reilly: I'm probably wrong, and I'm just basing this off of what I remember about them in the super-early days when they had 12 employees, but my answer is going to be Microsoft.
Hamilton: It is not.
Hamilton: No, but the company is related to Microsoft. It's Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).
O'Reilly: Oh, wow. Really?
Hamilton: Yes. If you look at it, Intel was the first major silicon company in Silicon Valley.
Hamilton: It was founded by a couple of guys, including Gordon Moore, famous for Moore's Law, and Bob Noyce. They really believed in setting up this culture where the CEO has a cubicle in the middle of the desk with all the engineers, and he works together. These guys have ideas, they run with it. It's innovative. The company culture is set up to foster that innovation.
O'Reilly: That's awesome, and obviously Elon Musk does that at Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA). His desk is on the factory floor. I could not work like that!
Hamilton: Yes, it's really an interesting culture, and you see it more frequently in the last decade or so, within tech, so it seems to be picking up. That all happened, I think '60s, '70s, around there.
O'Reilly: Very good. You stumped me, good job!
Hamilton: That's a hard one. I have to admit it is.
O'Reilly: Yes. When you asked the question, I was picturing that first company photo of Microsoft. It's got Bill Gates in that awful sweater and the huge collar, and there's like 10 of them. Anyway.
Hamilton: It would be interesting to see, though, Intel being a much bigger company now than it was back then, if they've been able to maintain that culture.
O'Reilly: Yes, we should visit the headquarters.
O'Reilly: Very good. Thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts, Nathan.
O'Reilly: Thanks for listening, Fools. Just so everybody knows, we are also running a promotion for our listeners; just head over to focus.fool.com to check that out.
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Nathan Hamilton owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Google (A shares). Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Intel, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.