This might be my last post from Opensky Consulting for a while (more info to follow), however, as usual I attended MWC 22 in Barcelona also this year – so I will make a summary of my impressions from the event. It should be noted, however, that it is impossible for a single person to get a full picture of an event like MWC and that these are my personal observations and impressions and not a comprehensive report from everything that happened at or around MWC. In addition to the official reports from GSMA, there is a lot of professional reporters from various tech media that may provide or have already provided more comprehensive reports from the event. I have, however, attended every (but one) Mobile World Congress in Barcelona since it moved there from Cannes in 2006 – so you may regard this as a summary from someone who has seen it a few times before.
While last year’s event (refer also last year’s summary here) was very limited in terms of numbers and attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s event was (almost) back to normal. With more than 61.000 attendees and an exhibition space using 7 out of 8 possible halls, I am happy to say that the event felt quite as it used to feel. According to the GSMA, there were also 500.000 unique daily viewers virtually. While the event previously has peaked at around 110.000 attendees, there is still a little way to go to be fully back to normal, however, there is still some impact from COVID-19 not only in Barcelona but across the world. The health & safety measures around the event were strong, although slightly relaxed from last year’s event. All in all, I believe the GSMA and the main mobile industry players have managed to do a great job in coming back. Praise to Mats Granryd, John Hoffmann and their teams for making it all happen.
While last year’s event had a number of large players cancelling their attendance, like Ericsson, Deutsche Telekom, some American operators etc, this year most of the large industry players were back at MWC – meaning that the event is again being useful for networking and business meetings. In addition to getting a general update on the industry development and important industry news, this is obviously one of the main reasons for attending MWC in Barcelona.
From the side of the GSMA and the mobile operator industry, another important aspect of MWC is the Ministerial Programme, which they have organized for a number of years now. The MP is a closed programme with national delegations of ministers, regulators and various policy makers – and it took place also this year with more than 160 delegations attending. The MP is focused on industry policy and the mobile industry uses this as a good arena for advocacy. As a closed event, however, I have nothing specific to report from it.
Last year, the 4YFN event was held at the Fira Gran Via for the first time (moved from the previous location at Fira Montjuïc). This was a good idea, as I previously never took the time to move between the sites, however it might also have been to make the event meaningful in terms of size as well. In any case, 4YFN was also at the Fira Gran Via this year, occupying a full hall with more than 500 international startups.
Industry city: In the past years, the GSMA has had an “Innovation city” at the entrance to Hall 4 – which this year had been transformed into an “Industry city”. I could not see much of a difference – except maybe that it might have been more B2B focused. In any case, the GSMA also used this arena for showing off its own GSMA Foundry projects. One thing that I liked this year, however, was that there was an open area stage viewable for anyone passing in the Industry city area.
Enough about numbers and statistics, what are my observations and impressions otherwise?
When I am at MWC, I always try to get into some of the conference sessions – like also this year. The opening keynotes were as usual offered to a few of the large operator groups, obviously including Telefonica – which is not only the host country’s incumbent operator but also the new chairman of the GSMA. In addition, this year we had Vodafone and Telia – plus all the three Chinese operators speaking Chinese in pre-recorded speeches from China. Except for the statement from China Mobile that they plan to have 1 million 5G base stations in service by end-2022 and that their 5G penetration currently is at 21%, I did not catch any of the Chinese stuff due to very busy slides and the Chinese language, but from the Europeans there was the usual stuff about policies and level playing field and that Europe is behind on 5G – but also a focus on sustainability and climate change. The usual request for more consolidation in Europe was also re-iterated throughout the conference. Finally, everyone also seemed to support Ukraine.
5G was obviously a key topic at the event. Operators as well as suppliers have been showing off their offerings on 5G for several years already, however, at this event 5G was not really the buzzword as such. My feeling was more that 5G was hidden under other headlines, some of which highlighted below. In my view, 5G is an operational issue now - but it has not yet delivered on its many promises. 5G is being rolled out across the world today, be it as NSA or SA technology, at mmWave or lower bands, and operators have focused on FWA and/or consumer 5G, however, the real promise of 5G is in the B2B area – which is still immature and needs some more years to materialize. Thus, probably the change in focus. Refer also several of my earlier articles on 5G (here, here and more). During the opening keynote, however, Mats Granryd did his usual reference to 5G numbers, stating that “5G connections will surpass 1 billion in 2022 and 2 billion by 2025”.
On the 5G prospects in the B2C area and the importance of smartphones going forward, some perspectives on this are provided from Nokia here. According to Nokia’s European CTO, “the smartphone is dead in terms of driving new traffic”. 5G (and potentially 6G) might see the smartphone turning into a plethora of new and different specialized devices.
“Private networks” were a hot topic at the conference as well as at the exhibition. In my view, there was some confusion around whether it was about “private” networks or “enterprise” networks, however. My take is that it was really mostly about enterprise solutions. At a conference session, Verizon did the same as last year showing off their dog robot – and talked about a security use case for an enterprise. Other operators and also vertical industry players talked about selected industrial use cases.
OpenRAN was a key topic as well. At a conference session, it became clear that OpenRAN is there to stay but that it is not yet ready or delivering the benefits it is expected eventually to do. Statements like “it is a journey” and that “savings will come in the mid-term” were made. Telefonica showed their rollout plan for OpenRAN with commercial rollout during 2022 and 2023. Vodafone’s CTO, on his side, stated that 30% of all sites in Europe will be OpenRAN by 2030.
Cloudification was also a topic in several areas. Vodafone’s CTO stated that 70% of his core network today is on on-premise cloud today and that 100% will be by 2025. In a session on public cloud, Danielle Royston also made an opening push for public cloud, not as loudly as last year though (refer my last year’s summary) – but with the same kind of enthusiasm. TelcoDR otherwise only had a virtual presence this year. Following DR, Mavenir and Amazon talked about the more concrete benefits of going from a private to a public cloud in areas like network management, scaling and capacity planning, security etc. American operator Dish talked about how they have already successfully launched 5G SA on AWS. Also, Telenor’s and Deutsche Telekom’s CTOs commented in a panel on their journeys on cloudification – which have lasted for some years already (long before 5G). Telenor commented that they have 62% of their telco networks across the world in the hybrid cloud by now. Several speakers also commented on the need for people transformation and the need for data scientists. The need for AI, zero-touch and network automation was also generally mentioned.
5G security and supply chain security were discussed around the conference, however, only at a high level. Having been involved in both areas to some extent in my previous company and in working with the GSMA, I did not get much out of it. To summarize my perspectives in these areas, however, security in the 5G standard has been improved from previous “G”s, however, the ecosystem is opened up much more, so potential threat actors have a much wider space to operate in. Operators thus need to consider threats more widely but can benefit somewhat from IT security learnings. Supply chain security is to a great extent a political and geo-political matter, however, at the conference several speakers, specifically from the UK’s NCSC, highlighted that only two global telco suppliers (considering that the Chinese are out) do not provide sufficient supplier diversity.
GSMA summits: GSMA organized several dedicated topic oriented “summits” during the event, including a 5G IoT summit, a security summit, a manufacturing summit, a smart mobility summit, a fintech summit, an eSIM summit, an OpenRAN summit, an aviation summit etc. I did not fully attend any of these. I have, however, covered a few highlights elsewhere in the article.
The road to 6G: There was a separate session organized on the road to 6G – and the European Commission outlined their programme to support 6G development in Europe – with their “Smart Networks and Services (SNS)” programme offering 600 million euros in funding over 6 years. The NGMN also provided an overview of the 6G use cases they have identified. The NGMN have identified 14 generic 6G use cases across four classes. These can be found in their latest publication; however, the four main classes are “Enhanced Human Communication”, “Enhanced Machine Communication”, “Enabling Services” and “Network Evolution”. I will not go into any more detail on 6G at this stage, and I believe nobody really knows what 6G will be, however, I can only refer to my (quite cynical) earlier article on the topic from one year ago. It is probably quite clear that I will no longer be working whenever 6G may come to market. At this stage, I believe the most important focus should be on making 5G fulfill some of its promises. See also this article with similar perspectives from Light Reading, stating “6G threatens to be mobile's lost generation”, partly due to complexity, diverse business interests and geo-politics.
The Metaverse was somewhat present around the conference – and there was a session on it which I did not attend (I was planning to – but did not make it). Otherwise, I did not catch anything concrete around it either. I will need to refer to those that actually did get some insight on it, if any. Personally, I struggle to see anything concrete around it for now. At this stage, the metaverse is only a buzzword for me - and relates to a possible future of mixed reality and digital assets. To be cynical again, I would ask if we are all likely to be wearing goggles in the future.
On the more serious side, having worked in the mobile operator industry most of my life and seeing this article from Light Reading, stating that “5G is ill-equipped to support the metaverse”, it is clear to me that the ecosystem battle for the future is still going strong, whether it is between Meta, Google or Apple – or between operators and the various OTTs / hyperscalers. When this is said, although Zuckerberg launched the Metaverse, it is already a widely used term – and it seems everyone wants to own it. At MWC 22, however, there was a session on FinTech and the metaverse which I attended – which was mostly about blockchain and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).
Although I did not personally walk too much around at the exhibition, I understand that many companies had various AR / VR demos on their stands – but not so much focused on the metaverse as was the case at CES in January. According to CCS Insight, “engagement with the concept was fairly limited in Barcelona, with few of the leading names in attendance trying to force their way into the metaverse narrative”. VR headsets mostly stayed away from the metaverse discussions.
Consumer devices: I have not focused on consumer devices around MWC this time, simply because the main brands generally arrange their product launches ahead of or after MWC – and simply because MWC is generally more enterprise focused than consumer focused. I would rather refer to specialized tech media which report extensively on consumer product launches. When this said, Huawei and Samsung of course have had something to show, along with some of the smaller brands, while Apple had a separate launch of products just following MWC.
Sustainability, climate change and energy efficiency: The GSMA has for some years had a focus on sustainability and climate change – and the mobile industry was the first industry to commit to reducing carbon emissions. Several mobile operators and suppliers repeated their ambitions for Net Zero (refer opening keynote above) and there was also a separate session on energy efficiency in 5G. Huawei, as an example, showed off several solutions they have implemented for energy efficiency, with separate solutions for TDD and FDD, use of massive MIMO, ultra-wideband antennas, use of AI etc. A specific and interesting point I noted from Africa, however, was that African consumers often prefer using 2G rather than 4G – simply because charging a 2G phone is cheaper than charging a 4G phone.
To summarize my MWC impressions:
5G is now an operational matter for the industry – but is far from delivering on its promises yet. It will probably take another few years before the industrial use cases deliver value – and the consumer use cases are so far mostly about yet some more speed (which is not yet needed). Gaming might have some promise, however.
Private networks / enterprise solutions are being heavily promoted – but are in their infancy.
The ecosystem battle is still going strong – and has grown by every G. We will continue to see a lot of this around 5G over the next years – and for 6G (if it will ever happen), there might be another dimension added to this as well. Geo-politics may also risk the world getting fragmented again.
Cloudification in the core and in the RAN is happening – but it will still take some time to mature.
Sustainability, climate change and energy efficiency are priority areas for everyone.
The Metaverse is the new buzzword and may become a new battleground, but it will surprise me if everyone will be walking around with goggles in the future (not me).
All in all, I am quite happy to see that MWC was (almost) back to normal this year – and I am looking forward to MWC 23.