MWC 2021 Highlights (Part 1)

It’s July, Mobile World Congress has just ended, and I haven’t left my desk. Welcome to the future? Perhaps.

From a strictly personal perspective, I enjoyed the virtual event. The online conference platform was user-friendly, sessions were easy to identify and attend, there was no carbon to offset, and coffee came without the usual, lengthy queues (never mind the outrageous expense).

From a sales perspective, I suppose there will always be an argument for face-to-face meetings but this year raised the question (for me at least) of whether gargantuan, in-person conferences are really the future. They seem inconsistent with the world’s evolving priorities, not least of which is protecting the environment. The apparent effectiveness of MWC 2021 as a mainly virtual event may yet prove to contribute to the undoing of the traditional event format in the years ahead.

Anyway, last week Mobile World Congress 2021 did take place, almost 30 months after its predecessor, in 2019 in Barcelona.  The purpose of this blog is first and foremost to simply provide a general update on what we learned attending various sessions at the event. In another blog later this week, we’ll share our own thoughts and observations on the topics raised.

Mats Granryd (Director General of the GSMA and a member of its board) kicked things off for us by noting that, in his view, the mobile Industry is now characterized by the three “C”s. These are:

  • Challenging the present

The mobile industry must continuously challenge the norm

  • Championing the Future

We need continuous innovations in the mobile space

Investment of over $900 billion into next-gen technologies

  • Caring about our world

Reducing emissions is key, making our world clean

Next up (for us), Stéphane Richard (Orange Group CEO, Chairman of GSMA) talked about major challenges facing the mobile industry. Richard started by noting the fact that close to 4 billion people (50% of world’s population) do NOT have access to the Internet and hence are not part of the ongoing digital transformation driving all (or most) of our businesses.

Furthermore, 3.3 billion people are under a so-called “Usage Gap” i.e. they are in a coverage area but cannot use Internet due to illiteracy, extreme poverty or lack of electricity to use mobile devices. According to Richard, Orange Group is trying to address this challenge in emerging markets in their area of operations. How? Using AI / ML to help increase literacy levels and using solar energy to enable charging mobile devices in the remote areas are two examples. Richard also pointed out that 500 million people are under so called “Coverage Gap” i.e. there is no Internet coverage in their area.

The 2nd major challenge Richard highlighted is the lack of trust by customers due to cyber-attacks, fake news etc. He noted that Internet vulnerability is the #1 risk in the world today, possibly even higher than war and terrorism.  Multiple hospitals during the COVID period have been under heavy cyber-security attacks, and there have been multiple information security issues in supply chains.

Richard also noted the challenge of poor Data Governance Models in the industry. Consumers are getting unlimited service usage in exchange for sharing persona data but in most of the cases they are not compensated properly for sharing their data and do not know how much their personal data is worth.

Timotheus Höttges (CEO of Deutsche Telekom) followed, presenting Deutsche Telekom’s 2030 Vision. The Tier-1 giant says connectivity will be a central issue, in the B2C area, focusing on a shift from connectivity only to customer experience and, in the B2B area, the trend will be moving from a dedicated infrastructure towards Software Defined Networks (SDN). He predicts that the winners in the telco space will be those who control Data Streams and Customer-specific Data.

Höttges also predicted that the future Telco infrastructure will be “Network of Networks”. The winners of this game will be those telcos who successfully orchestrate the complex network architecture, living in a Cloud-Native API-enabled World. Watch, he added for Super Apps, very popular in Asia, which will make their way to European Region shortly.