IFA executive director Jens Heithecker gives his outlook for this year’s show

With IFA just around the corner, we spoke to IFA executive director Jens Heithecker about what the future holds for consumer electronics, beginning with how he sees the market progressing at the moment.

We are expecting an extraordinary year, with new products and innovative ideas arriving on the market in the next few months. Behind these innovations, we have of course artificial intelligence, which is conquering all the new devices, along with IoT and, as we have already mentioned last year, and are repeating this year, what we have termed coinnovation. Evolving market pressures across the globe mean that to survive, manufacturers have to find even more ways to innovate.

One of the results of this market evolution and coinnovation is that the coming season will see the introduction of a huge range of new products. I am quite optimistic for IFA itself, with exhibitors bringing all these new products and innovations into the market, I believe retailers and consumers will be convinced that it is the right time to buy.


What would you say are the key themes at IFA this year?

5G will certainly be one of the key trends. As one of the largest 5G manufacturers for both backbone and consumer devices, the opening keynote by Huawei is indicative of the importance of this. With a number of speakers and exhibitors centered on 5G at IFA this year, we will understand where technology and products will move in the near future.

A recent report from the European Commission says 5G will be challenging. How important does that make IFA as a gathering point to bring it all together more rapidly?

The talk about 5G is similar to what we experienced in the past with the implementation of LTE or 3G. The difference is that we will see two kinds of networks: public networks for general consumers, and privately- owned networks, which will be faster to roll-out. We will soon have 5G mobile phones, but they will be quite expensive. These will be picked-up by early adopters, who want the newest, most advanced devices they can get, but on average this will not be the case. In the short term, we will see privately owned and run networks, such as the one at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona. Big companies are looking to establish their own 5G networks in order to have very fast data transfer, to run autonomous cars on their grounds and so on. So, I believe 5G will arrive quite quickly in the private sector, but probably a bit slower for the consumers.
Overall, there are two main megatrends, “always connected” and “giants of data”. Indeed, the influence of big data on the economy, politics and society has been growing for years. The resulting opportunities and risks are the subject of discussion among renowned speakers within the cluster “Society” at the IFA+ Summit. We are celebrating the connected world because this is what the consumer can feel, see and experience. When I get into my car it tells me automatically, “If you’re going home, it will take 20 minutes”. That is “always connected”: you don’t think about it you just see it. For the manufacturing companies and network operators, it is a different challenge. Through the growing influence of algorithms, big data, AI and robotics on our lives, a host of ethical questions arise. How can we handle these technologies? Which moral principles do we equip Artificial Intelligence with? The “giants of data” are going beyond building networks; they have to play out the data in the most efficient, ethical way. That is the current challenge.