THE growing importance of 5G, artificial intelligence, voice recognition and connectivity may be a double-edged sword for South Korean tech companies—it allows them to maintain the upper hand in the sector but also provides room for a growing number of competitors, according to organizers of IFA Berlin, Europe’s largest consumer electronics show.
In an advance press meeting ahead of IFA Berlin 2019, officials acknowledged the competitive edge Asia’s fourth-largest economy holds in the European and global markets, but also cited the fast pace of innovation among Chinese major players and Japanese startups.
“In this world of connectivity, the concept of innovation has changed over the years as there can no longer be an industry that is isolated on its own,” Dirk Koslowski, director of IFA Berlin, told reporters on Saturday.
“Even for big technology companies such as Samsung, it has become essential to integrate information from outside, exchange ideas with startups, researchers and other innovators.”
Established in 1924, the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, meaning the Berlin Radio Show, has grown into one of the oldest industrial exhibitions in Germany and the biggest incumbent consumer electronics show in Europe.
Last year, 244,055 attendees from 129 countries and 1,814 exhibitors from 49 countries were present during its six-day run, and a record $7.9 billion worth of deals were struck.
This year, the event will allocate more resources for small consumer goods such as smart speakers, which are expected to mark 41 percent on-year sales growth.
With the upcoming yearly event slated for September 6-10 in Berlin, organisers held the IFA Global Press Conference—an advance pre-reporting event—in Andalusia, Spain. In attendance were more than 300 journalists from over 55 countries, as well as IFA exhibitors and partners such as Philips, TCL and Haier.
“It is no accident that Korea is still the leader in Germany’s television market, as well as a forerunner in telecommunications, refrigerators and washing machines,” said Jens Heithecker, executive vice president of Messe Berlin Group and executive director of IFA.
“(Korean companies) are safe for the time being, but have to be aware that the competitive environment has dramatically changed with the appearance of Chinese competitors, who are watching out closely on the moves of Samsung and LG.”
Speaking on behalf of China’s tech industry is Huawei—whose CEO, Richard Yu, will be delivering a keynote speech at IFA in September, along with Qualcomm President Christiano Amon.
This year’s IFA was also noteworthy for its enhanced ties with Japan, the exhibition’s first-ever partner state.
“In addition to being a main driver in the global consumer electronics sector, Japan has also become a hub for industry research and startup innovation,” said Dr. Christian Goke, CEO of Messe Berlin Group.
What will determine the winner in the home appliance market—besides innovative technology and retail access—is trust, according to IFA officials.
“Because Korean companies have already positioned themselves in the European (home appliance) market, the rest comes down to trust,” said Koslowski.
“In the field of technology, (trust) means solving problems for consumers and fulfilling their expectations, not just for a short given period but in a long-term perspective.”
With regard to 5G network technology, officials agreed on its revolutionary significance but also said the sector would require more time for commercialisation to get underway, especially outside Korea.
“I agree that 5G will be the new essential technology application for various sectors, including home appliances and autonomous vehicles, but the question is speed,” Heithecker said.
“In the case of Korea, (commercialisation) is relatively easy because a majority of the population resides in big cities. In other countries, infrastructure building may be more expensive and time-consuming.”
To lay the groundwork for the commercialisation of 5G services, IFA Berlin 2019 will display 5G applications on the exhibition side, offering a test field for exhibition partners, Koslowski added.