MWC’17: The next element? Still not sure what that is…

So how was it for you? Chaotic? Naturally. Insightful? Occasionally. Decisive? Not so much. I said in a previous blog that the show theme ‘The Next Element’ was indicative of the holding pattern the industry finds itself navigating. Everyone seems clear where we’re heading. The ultimate destination is 5G, the major use case for all that lovely bandwidth is IoT and the key enablers will be virtualised network architecture, machine learning and augmented reality.

As a mobile PR person of some 15 years, I couldn't help feel a little guilty as I feasted on numerous call to actions and hopeful predictions from different areas of the global mobile ecosystem:

“5G will be here sooner than you think…” Hmmmm… Most experts I asked off camera are still saying 2020 at the earliest. Some of these people are actually developing the standards now.

“IoT will be a lucrative opportunity…” Yes, I’m sure it will be, but for who? And when? 

From what I saw, MWC was about more ‘potential’, more ‘concepts’ and quite a few demos. The IoT fraternity won the demo league - the virtual reality-based connected car demo from InterDigital was my favourite. Much better than Nokia’s 5G monster trucks.  While it’s great to see the results of so much R&D investment in IoT, the fact remains that the only people currently making money from it today are the consultants and systems integrators working out how anyone else is going to profit from it. 

The PR and marketing war at MWC’17 was emphatically won by Huawei. No question. The Chinese powerhouse even managed to brand me, through the lanyards (the most valuable marketing real-estate of all). I’m told my cheque is in the post. I’ve seen plenty of commentary from our friends in the media about Huawei. It has have built some significant momentum in spite of tremendous competition and market pressure – both in terms of network equipment and devices. It is the undisputed number one in network equipment and now also occupy the number three position in the global device market. They have succeeded here where Sony Ericsson, Nokia and HTC have underwhelmed. And its network equipment business is still growing – all be it modestly. If this continues, it makes you wonder about future MWC branding potential (my forehead is available, albeit for a price).

Huawei’s success is mitigated by the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Ericsson. Its turbulent times for the once great organisation. New CEO, Borje Ekholm has been installed. Many feel he has the vision and the capability to turn things around – though he remains quiet on how he intends to do it. I really hope he does. We have got a little too used to the demise of many of the industry’s former greats, seeing Ericsson fail would be a tough watch for me (and my many friends in Stockholm). The first mobile phone I ever saw was an Ericsson.

Anyone hoping for some major MWC device action will be left disappointed. The build-up was as much about what wouldn’t be launched at the show. Of course, Apple wasn’t there (not that they’re pulling up any trees with iPhone innovation at present). Instead it was left to the re-emergence of the Nokia 3310 to claim the headlines. OEMs, hang your heads in shame.

So what about some of the other vendors? What were they chirping about at MWC? Most network software providers are praying for more and more complexity in migrating from legacy systems. The greater the complexity, the greater the need for ‘flexibility’ and ‘agility’ the two most abused buzzwords used to legitimise NFV and SDN. All OSS and BSS providers are now banging the ‘fail fast’ drum in encouraging the operators to emulate the OTTs in speeding time to market for new services while significant improving the customer experience. The catalyst? Data analytics. Both the ability to leverage valuable and potentially lucrative customer data, and pouring over network data, both broadly and ‘surgically.’ Another buzzword for the telecoms ‘yuck pile.’ All very fine opportunities that will make up ‘the next element’ (when the operators eventually get around to it).

One small gripe for the beloved organisers at GSMA towers… While I appreciate the money spinning potential of giving companies the opportunity to exhibit in hall 4, with yourselves, please think more like town planners and consider traffic flow. Especially when Suzi Perry is giving out the GLOMOs to the right of the walkway, or when numerous tours (there seemed to be millions this year) are rendering passing honours to the IoT companies to the left – or heaven forbid when taking place at the same time. Getting access to the conference felt more like playing rugby. 

May I suggest GSMA-branded lollypop men or women next year? I’m confident Huawei would sponsor them.

So, in summary, from what I saw, the next element will see the vendors continuing to frighten the operators into early 5G deployment, despite the operators being happy with, and still trying to pay for 4G. The vendors will scaremonger by dangling the IoT carrot in front of the operators, knowing full well they won’t get rich on it anytime soon (because the consultants are still deciding who the IoT winners will be). But then that’s OK, because the vendors know that they’re on to a winner with ‘digital transformation’ and helping operators be more like Google and Facebook by better analysing and selling data. While not worrying about Amazon.  

Can’t help but feel the term ‘the next element’ simplifies things a tad too much.  

Rest well everyone. 

Picture of Paul Nolan

Written by Paul Nolan

Paul is COO and co-owner of CCgroup. He has worked at CCgroup since 2004 and has spent most of his time representing B2B technology companies in the mobile and telecoms space. He has worked for global brands, scale ups and start-ups across the telecoms ecosystem. Paul is responsible for the daily operation of CCgroup, working closely with his fellow Board members to drive efficiency, productivity and client satisfaction. Outside of work, Paul spends most of his free time with his young family, trying to stay fit and justifying the ongoing failure of his favourite football and rugby teams.

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