Is There Still Something to Look Forward to at MWC19?

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1Q 2019 | IN-5405

Mobile World Congress (MWC), the largest mobile- and telco-focused event that had 107,000 attendees in 2017, is approaching.

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Is Mobile World Congress Changing?


Mobile World Congress (MWC), the largest mobile- and telco-focused event that had 107,000 attendees in 2017, is approaching.

For the 2019 edition, MWC is rebranding to MWC19, a move that highlights the changing dynamics, opportunities, and priorities of the entire industry. This rebranding drops the connotation of “mobile,” as innovation is not confined to the mobile world and is often effectively driven by other technologies and companies. Dropping the reference to mobile may also better reflect the changing ambitions of Mobile Service Providers (MSPs) that do not want to be identified as mobile connectivity providers anymore, even though they are yet to transition into something else.

Now, MWC19 includes a theme of intelligent connectivity, suggesting that 5G and IoT will enable the evolution of MSPs from SIM selling companies (e.g., dumb pipes) to value-added services companies. Questions remain, though, about whether MSPs will be the companies delivering that intelligence and additional value, how that delivery will be achieved, and if MSPs or third parties will be able to monetize it.

What We Expect at MWC19


During MWC19 there will be many announcements from small and large companies; however, it is unlikely that MSPs or vendors will provide any major announcements that will revolutionize the market. 5G-enabled smartphones and foldable smartphones are expected to be presented, but none of these devices will address the structural problems of the MSP market.

5G arrived to market in 2018, yet, the first 5G launches are not what the market is interested in at present. As in previous years, 5G will be showcased on the exhibition floor with multiple companies providing demos of their connected cities, connected factories, connected transport hubs, etc. While these demos will provide further validation of the feasibility of a 5G-enabled world, the real challenge markets will face is not a technological one, but rather a business one. The technology works, but what is missing is MSPs presenting far reaching strategies on how to make business sense of these connected environments while addressing the key market challenges and deploying solutions at scale.

5G on its own has been well discussed and is slowly becoming a mundane topic. What matters now is how other transformative technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), can enhance 5G, which is why the conference’s focus is on intelligent connectivity. This shift opens opportunities for a wider set of companies beyond the MSPs traditional inner circle of partners. However, the industry should perhaps think how 5G will benefit other technologies, rather than the other way around. For example, how can 5G and edge computing create a distributed intelligence environment to facilitate more federated and personalized learning (AI) use cases?

MWC is slowly changing and this is shown in enterprise companies exhibiting at the show. Large car manufacturers, i.e., Daimler, SEAT, and Volkswagen are a testament to the car industry and are at the forefront of new connectivity technologies. Their potential is a driving factor for digitization. We are still at an early stage of this trend, but the future of MWC in 2020 and beyond will need to rely on the presence of many more companies from outside the telco world.

What to Look for during and after MWC19


A few areas to look out for at the 2019 show include competition between MSPs, network vendors, and cloud providers as partnerships, announcements, and new products could sign the start of new dynamics and the balance of power. This is especially true for the enterprise and vertical markets where all these companies look to compete and expand their revenues. This is a trend that has already started with the recent announcement of a Vodafone and IBM joint venture aimed at targeting the enterprise space. Alibaba and Microsoft are key players to follow closely at the conference for updates on this trend and to see whether their cloud and edge capabilities will collaborate or compete with MSPs.

A must-see company at MWC19 is Rakuten. The company is set to deploy an end-to-end, fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network in Japan, and will move from being a webscale with an Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) business, to a webscale with its own network and the ability to provide mobile communications in a cloud-native and more efficient way compared to its competitors. The network will be fully virtualized from the Radio Access Network (RAN) to the core. End-to-end automation and programmable infrastructure will deliver agility, stability, and the ability to easily scale and deliver services. Rakuten is on track to launch in October 2019, and if it is successful, its stride into the mobile space will serve as inspiration for other leading webscale players.

MWC19 is a particularly important event for Huawei, which is facing serious challenges for its carrier business as multiple countries are following the U.S.’s lead in banning Chinese vendors from building 5G networks. Furthermore, GSMA is reported to be hosting a meeting at MWC19 to discuss the issue and implications arising from Huawei’s current and, possibly, future bans. MWC19 is one of the key platforms in the industry in which Huawei can showcase its leadership in 5G and in intelligent connectivity given the company’s strong push into AI. While showcasing its strength in 5G will not change what has happened so far, it could strengthen GSMA, MSPs, and the wider ecosystem support around Huawei. This could in turn result in more companies lobbying for a fair point-to-point assessment of Huawei similarly to what was voiced by Vodafone CEO, Nick Read. It will also result in the fact that companies that are free to choose their own suppliers are likely to continue to engage with Huawei to gain competitive advantages despite the challenging international situation for Chinese vendors. If this platform of dialogue and exposure will not succeed, there will likely be implications for the wider market. An escalation in market polarization and the exclusion of Chinese vendor companies will result in ecosystem challenges pushing ahead for product development and services and possibly even global standards.

Besides, large company challenges, opportunities, and interesting developments are also coming from startups driving innovation in the rural market. This is a market where expanding coverage and services is still an unfinished business due to many challenges, such as total cost of network ownership, network coverage, and recurring costs. These challenges are increasingly addressed with innovative solutions by companies such as Sky and Space Global and GenCell (both exhibiting at MWC19). Sky and Space Global plans to use a constellation of nanosatellites to provide global coverage, while GenCell aims to change the energy landscape replacing diesel generators with its ammonia-based fuel cell energy solution.


Companies Mentioned