Mobile World Congress has returned to its pre-pandemic heights, with mobile vendors, their partners, and other stakeholders sharing their vision for the future. Comms Business reflects on this year’s event.

MWC Barcelona is officially back to its best, with this year’s event attracting 88,500 attendees and 2,400 exhibitors, sponsors and partners. The event theme “Velocity” was brought to life in key themes including 5G, AI, the fair share debate and public policy, as well as cross-sector collaborations.

GSMA, the organisers of the event, reflected on the week in Barcelona. John Hoffman, CEO, GSMA, said, “I am continuously awed and humbled by the sense of community, innovation, excitement and business generation at MWC Barcelona. Anecdotally, exhibitors and partners are reporting that their expectations have been surpassed and, in some cases, have beaten 2019.

“On behalf of the GSMA, I would like to express our sincerest thanks to all new and returning attendees, exhibitors, speakers, partners and sponsors, without whom this gathering would not be possible.”

Standout keynotes

During MWC Barcelona 2023, Ericsson’s president and CEO, Börje Ekholm, discussed the potential of the digital decade to create a new era of innovation and progress, where technology can make our lives better, more efficient, and ever more connected.

In his keynote speech, he said, “In order to capture this value, we must embrace new ways of working and new ways to monetise the platform. We see that through network APIs. Innovation in the mobile network continues to provide higher performance, flexibility and further openness.

“We’re just at the beginning of this very exciting journey to redefine our industry and I’m very optimistic about creating the future together with our CSP customers and partners.”

Margherita Della Valle, CFO and interim group CEO, Vodafone Group, discussed the impact of the ongoing energy crisis on the mobile market.

Speaking as part of MWC Barcelona’s ‘Fuelling Sustainable Connectivity’ keynote, Della Valle said, “Before this crisis, I’m not sure how many people were aware of the fact that telcos are a truly energy intensive industry. We cannot switch the lights off. We cannot relocate our factories. We need to work 24:7. Therefore we really felt the weight of the crisis.

“To give you a [sense of the] scale, for Vodafone, I used to spend €600 million per year in Europe on energy bills; now this number has become €1.3 billion. So, clearly an impact.

“What are we doing about it? Two things. We immediately reviewed our supply chain, but also we have been working hard on energy efficiency which we see as key for our long-term sustainability.

“Managing energy consumption is not a new objective within Vodafone. As you would expect, it has always been embedded in our purpose which is why, since 2021, we are on 100 per cent renewable energy on all our European networks, and we have a net zero target for our own emissions by 2030.

“I would say the thing I am most proud of is that our energy consumption has remained flat over the last few years, despite the very big increase in traffic. If I just go back five years, we are now carrying 10 times the traffic as in 2017, with the same energy consumption.

“This means that every gigabit on our networks is now 90 per cent more efficient. Given we are in a crisis, that is still not enough, so what we have done is accelerate all our projects.”

Della Valle said Vodafone has a range of initiatives underway to deliver a reduction in energy consumption. These include new algorithms to manage the cooling in data centres and base stations, dynamically turning on and off capacity across base stations based on traffic, and a new open RAN solution which could consume 35 per cent less energy than other 5G equipment in the market.

José María Álvarez-Pallete, chairman of the GSMA Board, and chairman and CEO of Telefónica, added, “We are living in extraordinary times, in which digital technology is the foundation that underpins the economy and our society. For more than 30 years, the mobile industry has been at the forefront of innovation.

“[These] announcements and world-class innovations… demonstrate how we will continue this journey and prove a catalyst for immersive technologies like the metaverse and Web 3.0 to fulfil their potential.”

Notable announcements

Nokia announced an updated company and technology strategy that is designed to spotlight the vendor’s portfolio across fixed, mobile and cloud networking technologies. Nokia’s underlying three-phased strategy to deliver sustainable, profitable growth remains the same. The vendor has marked its “reset phase” as completed, and is looking to “accelerate while laying the foundation for the scale phase”.

The refreshed company strategy is focused on further acceleration across six pillars: growing market share with service providers, expanding the share of enterprises within its customer mix, continuing to manage its portfolio across all segments, seizing opportunities from sectors beyond mobile devices, implementing new business models, and developing ESG into a competitive advantage.

Pekka Lundmark, president and CEO of Nokia, explained, “We see the potential of digital to transform business, industry and society with an opportunity for significant gains in productivity, sustainability and accessibility.

“Our updated company and technology strategy [has] a focus on unleashing the exponential potential of networks – pioneering a future where networks meet cloud. To signal this ambition we are refreshing our brand to reflect who we are today. This is Nokia, but not as the world has seen us before.”

In line with its updated company strategy, Nokia unveiled a new logo that it says is “emblematic of an energised, dynamic, and modern Nokia”.

Qualcomm looked to lead the charge on Wi-Fi 7, with the company building on the 2022 launch of its Wi-Fi 7 portfolio.

That product set included Qualcomm FastConnect 7800, a Wi-Fi system for smartphones, PCs, and VR/AR/XR devices; the Qualcomm Networking Pro Series Wi-Fi 7 platforms, premium-tier networking for stadium, large enterprise, and premium home mesh systems; and Qualcomm Multi-Link Mesh, dynamically managed client-facing and mesh-backhaul wireless links for home networking.

Device manufacturers are now delivering products based on Qualcomm systems and platforms, with several announcements featuring FastConnect 7800 leading up to and during MWC23. These include the Xiaomi 13 and 13 Pro, vivo X90 Pro+ and iQOO 11 Pro, Motorola Moto X40, Nubia RedMagic 8 Pro, OnePlus 11 Pro, Nubia Z50, and Honor Magic 5.

New possibilities

On the exhibition floor, Enreach debuted the benefits of its partnership with Netaxis. The two vendors’ combined solution gives service providers and their customers a single one-stop and fully integrated ecosystem for multiple APIs, including existing ones as well as Enreach’s cloud-based UC platform Enreach UP.

Enreach said that benefits include: minimal effort (since the technical heavy-lifting is covered by Enreach and Netaxis), minimal risk (with no need to transition away from existing APIs), more customisation and differentiation (through more choice of apps).

Furthermore, a stand-out benefit to service providers is Enreach’s full white-label approach, meaning that they retain the customer relationship, ensuring visibility and credit for the technology.

Elsewhere, NTT Data showcased a range of new applications. These included: automated parking, 3D simulators, and augmented reality applications. The “Automated Valet Parking” project was designed to show how connectivity and intelligent infrastructures can make mobility and manufacturing more efficient and sustainable.

In addition, the company’s 5G connectivity services were also demonstrated. These services, such as 5G campus, provide secure private networks to enterprise customers, using all the capabilities of enhanced mobile broadband, capable of being deployed on any hyperscale cloud platform.

The analyst view

GlobalData sent a contingent of analysts to MWC 2023 and many conversations with vendors and telecom service providers centred on one key question. How can telcos make money from investment in next-generation technologies such as 5G?

Gary Barton, research director, enterprise technology and services, GlobalData, said, “Telecom service providers have largely been excluded from the revenue benefits of investment in 4G and fibre broadband by the rise of over-the-top services such as public cloud and software-as-a-service.

“APIs offer the opportunity for telcos to directly monetise access to their networks by making users pay at the point of contact.”

Despite 5G emerging as an alternative to wireline connectivity and in enabling advanced industry-specific solutions through the deployment of private networks, telcos are at risk of missing out on high margin sales.

Barton explained, “At the moment, telcos are often overlooked in favour of systems integrators when it comes to solutions addressing advanced industrial use cases. Opening up APIs to developers will allow providers to incubate new propositions for their 5G networks and offer innovative solutions to enterprises.”

Another key element is improving the customer experience for enterprises when consuming network services. Barton added, “Enterprises have become accustomed to the on-demand nature of cloud services. Network and access solutions need to catch up.

“Enabling Network-as-a-service methodologies will also enhance the mission criticality of telcos for enterprises by better supporting key applications and services.”

Excitement in the air

Mats Granryd, director general, GSMA, said attendees have the energy and ambition to tackle industry-wide challenges. He commented, “I am delighted to see so much positive momentum, with halls bustling with energy for four full days. As digital technologies continue to develop, there is new excitement in the air that MWC captured so well.

“The transition to Web 3.0 will trigger a new explosion in network traffic and it is critical that we work together to prepare. Consumers living in a data-driven world need increasing amounts of capacity at the edge of the network to extend the capabilities of cloud computing and our industry is well placed to do it.”

This article appeared in our April 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.

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