Insights From The Telecommunications Industry’s Biggest Connectivity Event Of The Year—In Person

Global CEO of Telecoms at umlaut SE, part of Accenture, offering consulting and engineering end-to-end services to clients worldwide.

For years, the telecommunications industry’s largest and most influential connectivity event has been the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Gatherings of over 100,000 were not uncommon. In 2019, for example, over 109,000 attended. That changed in the past few years due to Covid-19.

After being canceled in 2020, MWC 2021 saw roughly 20,000 in-person attendees with only 117 countries represented by overall participation, which is why I was truly inspired by the Mobile World Congress 2022 event that wrapped up on March 7. Over 61,000 people from roughly 200 countries converged on Barcelona. Even though these numbers are still lower than 2019 attendance levels, they signal a positive step toward returning to semi-normalcy during these pandemic times.

It was energizing to experience interest from several senior executives, including industry leaders and ecosystem partners, in discussing business development opportunities with my company. In fact, there were more C-suite executive meetings than ever before at this event, which is significant given the attendance this year compared to previous events pre-pandemic.

There were a handful of key themes discussed at the event, including 5G connectivity and interoperability, Open RAN, cloud and edge computing, private networks, security, network optimization and the metaverse. One trending topic that appeared to be on everyone’s minds was 5G private network solutions and use cases.

There were numerous announcements and conversations on private networks at the Mobile World Congress, detailing solutions for both enterprises and partner programs. Examples include Cisco, HPE, Qualcomm and Dell, just to name a few.

Why is the interest in private networks so prevalent? A few reasons. First, 5G technology provides solutions not possible before.

Second, the availability of wireless spectrum provided by governments for free or very low cost for the first time—especially in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan—is new, and enterprises realize the possibilities to develop solutions and use cases to drive productivity. Private networks provide clients with a great opportunity to test out a series of 5G and Open RAN solutions and multiple industry use cases (including Industry 4.0, as well as autonomous and network-supported mobility concepts).

Key Industry Trends

Some key trends emerged from the event, including:

1. An explosion of discussions on the impact of the metaverse and how various companies are planning for it.

2. The evolution of Industry 4.0 enabled and advanced by 5G and edge compute.

3. Solutions for achieving end-to-end security for IoT.

4. The development of Open RAN, moving from concept to commercialization and deployment.

The conversation around Open RAN deployment is a fascinating and deeply competitive situation. It has been suggested that Open RAN is one of several options mobile operators have to drive down costs and improve performance as the adoption of cloud and virtualized RAN technologies accelerate.

Open RAN clearly provides the potential for significant innovation in the telecom industry. We are seeing a fierce contest between smaller vendors, like Altiostar, Airspan Networks, JMA and Mavenir, to bring Open RAN to scale.

Legacy infrastructure providers Ericsson and Nokia continue to strategize on how to gain market share while navigating their course in the developing Open RAN virtualized architecture model—and competing with Samsung Networks, which has made significant inroads into their infrastructure territory.

Lessons Learned From MWC

• According to The Mobile Economy Report 2022 by GSMA, which organized the MWC event, 5G connections are expected to surpass 1 billion this year, and 2 billion by 2025. GSMA reports there are nearly 200 live 5G networks today, including 68 operators providing 5G fixed wireless access services and 23 delivering 5G stand-alone network services.

• There was 3G mobile internet and 4G video streaming, but 5G is still looking for that silver bullet in the consumer smartphones space. The potential of 5G technology is a game changer for new services. However, before we stride toward the metaverse, we need to capitalize on the benefits of 5G that can be realized today.

As a technology industry, we need to work closely with government policymakers and business groups to identify and overcome barriers to entry. Wireless spectrum, 5G private networks and Open RAN are all positive steps in this direction, but it is clear we need to do more to truly unlock the potential of 5G.

• Adding 5G hardware to broadcast more spectrum drives up power consumption requirements on an existing mobile network. As an industry, with a focus on the environment and climate change, we must drive vendor hardware to be more energy-efficient and use 5G to develop smart energy-saving applications for both the consumer and business communities alike. The energy sector needs to unlock the full potential of 5G, not just to increase profits, but to drive efficiencies, reduce overheads and make our planet a greener place.

Industry Outlook

The 24/7 focus on innovation will continue to drive the industry and produce new ways to leverage 5G technology. It continues to be clear that the best way to monetize 5G investment is through enterprise applications and use cases, with consumer apps a distant second at this point.

The foundation for Open RAN deployment has been laid. At the Mobile World Congress, there were 46 demos of Open RAN by several industry players, with another two dozen available online. This significant level of demos and use cases suggests Open RAN is gaining traction.

Given the competitive landscape and the large investments being made in 5G deployments, mobile providers continue to look to uncover ways to reduce costs and enhance performance as cloud, virtualized hardware and software and mobile edge computing technologies continue to evolve and shape industry growth.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?

You may also like...