Mobile World Congress Has Mutated from Consumer into Enterprise Show

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By Malik Saadi | 1Q 2022 | IN-6478

The first in-person Mobile World Congress show since 2019 showed an interesting shift in market trends.

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Mobile World Congress is taking a new format due to COVID-19 Restrictions

NEWS


Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 is probably the first large-scale physical event in the tech world since 2019, marking the end of COVID-19 era. The experience was unique in the exhibition floors, keynote auditoriums, and in the meeting rooms. Most attendees ABI Research spoke with preferred the new format based on less exhibitors, wider stands, and less marketing distractions (unnecessary stand shows, digital amusements/playgrounds, etc.), quoting convenience and greater value compared to previous events. This new format was not necessarily intentional but a result of the social distancing restrictions and logistics constraints induced by the pandemic, which prevented some exhibitors from bringing their demo kits, products, and prototypes to the show. Also, this year, the MWC show mutated from its original strain, which traditionally focused on the consumer market, into more enterprise-oriented show.

Key Highlights from the Show

IMPACT


Highlights from the exhibition floor

Stands of mobile phones, wearables, and accessories have traditionally dominated the show floor of the event, but this year was an exception. Indeed, a very moderate presence of smartphone Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) was noticeable, except the distinction of some Chinese brands like ZTE, Oppo, and Xiaomi, which were aggressive in showing their latest flagship products and innovation. Automotive, smart-home, and to certain extent Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) players were not as visible in this year exhibition floor as they were in previous years. 

In contrast, the show was dominated by solution providers targeting the enterprise market, with products spanning across the entire Information Technology (IT) and Communication Technology (CT) supply chains. Most of enterprise solutions and proof of concepts exhibited at the show were based on computer simulations and pre-recorded demos presented on screens rather than face-to-face physical demos displayed at the show floor. This is an interesting development, probably giving a hint into how large-scale physical events could evolve into hybrid format enabling attendees to meet in-person while also enjoying virtual experiences at the show floor when evaluating new products and solutions.

Highlights from the meeting rooms

Private networks, 5G standalone, green telecom, radio resources management and automation, distributed computing, and 5G for enterprise applications dominated most of the discussions in the meeting rooms. Most of these discussions were more pragmatic, focusing on the players’ agendas and roadmaps for the next eighteen months rather than on strategic long-term outlook. Although early 5G private networks and 5G standalone infrastructure are now commercially available, industry players are far more realistic about their long-term future. For 5G standalone, most of players see the technology as key step for enhancing the network efficiency, performance, and reliability in the short-term. However, they are less certain about the future of the technology as a foundation for enabling quality-of-service or subscription-based  dynamic slicing, for example. The industry has come to realize that 5G private networks will not be able to address all enterprise pain-points and alternative technologies could be far more cost efficient in addressing certain use-cases and enterprise verticals.

Radio resources management and automation was a big theme at the show with virtually all infrastructure suppliers revealing their plans for enabling more automated networks to help in simplifying the management and the operation of mobile networks and enhancing the network efficiency, while also cutting unnecessary network energy consumption. While major players, including Ericsson and Nokia, as well as Tier One operators, are investigating Open-Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance’s Radio Intelligence Control (RIC) and Service Mobile Orchestration (SMO) frameworks as foundation for their solutions, Huawei is adopting a proprietary approach to Intelligent RAN based on their Mobile Intelligent Engine (MIE).  

Green telecom was present in every conversation at MWC. Virtually all major players have set their target for net-zero emission around the 2040 to 2050 timeframe, with some sharing milestones to indicate the progress they made to achieve their objectives.

6G, Metaverse, 5G Advanced, or even O-RAN were not as popular in the show as initially expected. Qualcomm was one of the rare players to share Proof of Concepts (POC), demoing the capabilities of 5G Advanced, including 5G precise positioning, Sidelink Relays, Reduced Capability (RedCap) solutions, and Coordinated multi-Point (CoMP) transmission and reception. O-RAN was not widely discussed during the show except from the usual suspects including Mavenir, Rakuten Symphony, Dish, and Fujitsu. Although these players promote O-RAN as key enabler for disaggregating the RAN infrastructure, they also recognize the value of end-to-end system integration and position themselves as leading Open RAN system integrators.

Key Takeaways

RECOMMENDATIONS


In summary, the show was overwhelmingly dominated by enterprise opportunities, showcases, and product announcements. This is rather surprising as the mobile community and the mobile telecom club, particularly at MWC, have traditionally been focusing on the consumer opportunities first. The mobile industry is now waking up to the reality that the consumer market is saturating and 5G will not necessarily help them in boosting revenue growth from this market, at least not in line with 5G early promises. For this reason, they are desperately exploring new opportunities, notably in the enterprise market. However, questions remain the be answered on the value proposition of 5G technologies within the enterprise market. The competitiveness of these technologies compared with alternative technologies such as Wi-Fi, the high cost of related infrastructure, and the complexity of implementing and maintaining these technologies within the enterprise environment—which requires a deep level of customization, almost on a case-by-case basis—are only few challenges the 5G supply chain need to address if they want to succeed in the enterprise market.

Throughout the show, it becomes clear the mobile industry is now more focused on executing their immediate to eighteen month agendas rather than strategizing for the long-term industrial digital transformation. However, the mobile industry, notably mobile operators and their incumbent infrastructure suppliers, should be careful in adopting this rather short-term approach in a time where the enterprise market is in the verge of huge industrial transformation. Today is the time for these players to show their muscles and bring new technology innovations, new network features, and novel business models to be able to shape the forthcoming industrial revolution and help the enterprise market to secure business continuity throughout this industrial transformation.

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