Mobile World Congress 2019: a telecoms show once more, and digital transformation ousts IoT

I put together a set of predictions for MWC 2019 a couple of weeks ago. Broadly speaking I was pretty close but I thought I ought to round things out with a post about my take-aways from the show.  IoT also had a muted year, with the honorable exception of indus. AI was a popular topic

  1. More telecoms! Overall the most noticeable thing was how much it was focused on core telecoms topics, unlike previous years. There were noticeably fewer drones, AR/VR goggles, and connected cars (although BMW and Daimler did announce this). Also less blockchain. What there was was phones and 5G along with more discussion on network elements and other telecoms-related topics. Over the years MWC has looked for a new audience by pursuing other technology topics. This year there was more than enough mobile to keep everyone interested. We had some news such as Ericsson buying Kathrein's antenna business for instance, and I had quite a lot of chats about pragmatic stuff like eUICC,  but mostly it was thanks to...
  2. Lashings of 5G. 5G was ubiquitous this year. Many of the use cases are questionable, a lot of MNO marketing departments are being over-liberal with their application of the moniker and lots of vendors are slapping 5G on anything that moves and which decidedly has nothing to do with 5G. All that said, there is finally something "mobile" to get MWC excited. And the esoteric use cases with which its capabilities were illustrated were breath-taking. Table tennis over 5G, two halves of a band performing over 5G, mechanical spider with half the legs controlled locally and half over 5G etc. Personally I think there's a substantial risk of early under-delivery causing perception problems further down the line, at least as far as the consumer-facing NR stuff goes. Plus the use cases for ultra-low latency have not materialised yet, and may not do before 6G comes along. Of course the high bandwidth will always find applications and the efficiency savings will help carriers. But they're not game-changers. Ultra-low latency might be, but not for years to come. There were some stunning rent-a-gob quotes from execs about how 5G would change the world, which I won't repeat.
  3. Folding phones. Blimey didn't the black oblong companies go to town on the fact that they're now the black square companies. Samsung, Huawei and one or two others had proper working models of folding devices. Although typically no-one but their own employees were allowed to handle them. It's nice to see the innovation, but I think this a perfect example of a first iteration product that's not really of any commercial value. I made the point on twitter that most existing smartphones have dimensions perfect for video viewing, i.e. between 16:9 (widescreen TV) and 2.35:1 (about as widescreen as you get at cinemas). For instance the iPhone 8 is 2.03:1 and the Samsung Galaxy S9 is 2.15:1. So, there is virtually zero benefit for video consumption from expanding that oblong into a square. It just means more letter-boxing. Unless, of course you want to watch multiple screens at the same time.
  4. AI. There was a fair amount of discussion on AI, but often in a highly pragmatic way and more related to its use in networks. I'll skate over the fact that it's actually Machine Learning rather than AI, but generally I found the discussion on this topic more grown up than I've found most places.
  5. Digital Transformation. This little beauty was prevalent in a lot of marketing. It's a lousy umbrella term for using new technology to improve company processes. Best I can come up with as an alternative is technomorphing and I'm not particularly happy with that. Essentially "Digital Transformation" is used as short-hand by companies for the particular bit of TMT Consulting/SI that they happen to do. But there's a lot of difference between what Deloitte or McKinsey do versus what a T-Systems does. This is a universe that is badly defined and needs some categorisation and ordering.
  6. Peak IoT. If Digital Transformation was in, then IoT as a term was decidedly out. Don't get me wrong, there were still plenty of references, but it's not the universal topic that it was a year or two ago. The terminology has diversified, with panels on healthcare and industry 4.0 and even my own on monetising industrial data. These all used to be categorised under the IoT umbrella, and no they aren't. That's good. It's illustrative of a greater maturity. I will await a similar process for Digital Transformation in 2021 or 2022.
  7. Satellite. Bit of a surprise this. I had more conversations about satellite than expected and it featured on more stands than expected. Lots of new LEO systems look interesting for IoT.  
  8. Working with start-ups. There's always a leftfield topic that crops up. This year it related to how large organisations best work with start-ups. I had numerous conversations about this, from both sides and from those who are interested in facilitating the discussion between the two. Big tech companies still have a thing or two to learn about adapting their processes to make them more appropriate for tiny partners. Demanding lengthy POCs for instance, won't sit well with a three person company.
  9. Huawei came out fighting. Demands for evidence of wrong-doing and statements that they do not and will never put back doors into their systems demonstrated a surprisingly aggressive approach from Huawei. I think they've done just about enough to take control of events.
  10. The MWC effect. Despite having not many organised meetings (certainly fewer than usual!) and the opportunity to take things at a slightly more relaxed pace, it was still exhausting. Could have been all the late night walking. 


Antonio Perales said…
Thanks for your summary!
I read it with some surprise about the IoT, and fully agree on the Digital Transformation (nevertheless, many many companies still are far from starting this trip, and not because of the technology, but because of their vision, organization chart and responsibilities split, people mind, internal change management, etc.)