Four Highlights from MWC2018

For anyone involved with mobile phones, networks or the IoT, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the place to be in February.  Over four days, the industry reveals its latest and fanciest ideas in the ongoing evolution of mobile telephony.  It is vast.  This year around 2,300 companies were exhibiting, several with stands large enough to fit a passenger jet in; over 100,000 visitors were wandering around it, including senior politicians and royalty and the organising industry body – the GSMA (God Save Mobile Analysts) probably raked in around $100 million in revenue.  Which is more than some of the sectors it is promoting will make this year.

It’s not a show famed for radical new technology.  Unlike CES, which gives us technical wonders like the selfie stick, MWC is about gradual evolution.  But that is gradual evolution of a very, very successful industry – one that likes to take the annual opportunity to convene in Barcelona and flaunt its success.

So what was new?  For me, there were four things which stood out.  That might feel minor, but when you’re trying to predict the future, it’s difficult to judge.  These are the ripples and butterflies that could bring massive change.  No-one in the industry thought SMS and messaging would take off.  But they were happy to bet on WAP as the mobile internet, which only goes to prove you should never believe an analyst or futurologist.  So here’s my choice of four things which took my fancy.

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MWC – Men Want Connections

Don’t worry – it’s not a blog about Tindr or Grindr.  The connections we’re talking about here are mobile subscriptions and the men are those at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  It is still mostly men.  Despite the best efforts of the GSMA with sub-events like the Connected Women’s Summit and France’s promotion of its exhibiting companies as “La France Tech” (which must have had the members of the Académie Française heading to their graves for some early turning), MWC remained defiantly male.  In the opening keynotes around 85% of the audience were men.  Telecoms, for all of its populist marketing, is still largely a suited profession.

What was exercising the males of the species this year was numbers.  Back in 2009, Ericsson predicted that there would be 50 billion mobile connections by 2020.  At the time it seemed possible; phone usage was growing and everyone expected that the things around us would follow suit by getting their own mobile connections, leading us to that kind of number.  It’s now beginning to strike the CEOs within the industry that five and a half years have passed and we’re half-way there.  Yet we’ve still only connected a few tens of millions of machines.  That’s why they’re getting so excited about wearables and the Internet of Things as the only way to make those predictions come true.

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