MWC 2024, Tuesday 27 February

Welcome back to CCS Insight’s third day of coverage for MWC 2024. In today’s round-up, our analysts highlight their views on announcements about sustainability and the circular economy, transparent and flexible displays, legislation of big tech, network slicing, new wearables and more. You can find our analysis of the past two days’ announcements here and here, and stay tuned for full event reports after the show closes.

A Circular Market for Network Hardware

Service providers are seeking to improve their sustainability position and manage their net carbon emissions, but technical capability and cost have driven equipment purchases. Alongside improving their sustainability position by lengthening hardware’s working life, service providers have an opportunity to further reduce costs by deploying pre-owned equipment.

The GSMA has paired up with Shields on the GSMA Equipment Marketplace, aiming to promote the reuse of network equipment. Shields has an existing relationship with Vodafone, providing a proven platform and testing process. This will increase the liquidity of the market for used equipment as the number of sellers of equipment will increase, boosting inventory volumes and the number of potential purchases.

CCS Insight expects the circular economy to become a fundamental part of the network infrastructure business, as it has in the consumer hardware market (see Pulse Dashboard: Second-Hand Devices, Worldwide). As a third party, Shields has no clashing priorities, unlike network suppliers that have a core business of selling new equipment. Such third parties will be important evangelists for the circular model because of their clear focus.

CODE Sets Out Vision and Calls for New Members

The Coalition for Open Digital Ecosystems (CODE) was launched in December 2023, but MWC was the forum for its first broader industry gathering. CODE aims to promote openness for consumers in accessing and moving between digital ecosystems. Its formation aligns with the enforcement of the European Commission’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), which will begin on 7 March.

The DMA stands to deliver transformative legislation that regulates large “gatekeepers” by ensuring greater accountability, a level playing field for competition and a catalyst for greater consumer choice in the digital sector (read our analysis of the legislation here). The emphasis is on large digital platforms defined as gatekeepers — companies with revenue over €7.5 billion, market capitalization above €75 billion, more than 45 million monthly active users and 10,000 yearly business users located or established in the EU.

The DMA represents the legislative tool to deliver change; CODE is an industry consortium founded by leading industry participants including Google, Honor, Lenovo, Meta, Motorola, Nothing, Opera and Qualcomm. Although industry consortiums can often lack consensus and a clear commitment to coordinated action, the intention is for CODE to speak as a single voice for the industry to help drive change. CCS Insight believes this will be essential as the impact of any legislation always comes down to how it’s implemented.

Considering the DMA’s complexity and significance as the first effort to regulate big tech, industry coordination and cooperation will be crucial. The DMA will inevitably face challenges and the hope will be that CODE can help alleviate concerns of members before they balloon and threaten the promise of a level playing field. In this spirit of collaboration, CODE is appealing for more industry participants to join the consortium.

CCS Insight will be chairing a panel session at MWC on Wednesday morning with CODE members Meta, Opera and the deputy director-general for communications networks, content and technology at the European Commission.

Orange Showcases Its Role as Sole Connectivity Provider at Olympics Games

As well as providing fixed-line and mobile connectivity for this year’s Olympics and Paralympics, Orange will also support TV broadcast and production, ticketing and security. It marks the first time the organizing committee has trusted one company with such a huge responsibility.

At its MWC stand, Orange has a strong focus on the games: it’s showing off all-IP infrastructure with 100 Gbps Ethernet links, high-density mobile public networks, and advanced video broadcasting using private 5G. Bertrand Rojat, chief marketing and innovation officer for Orange Events, gave further details on the operator’s role during a briefing this afternoon.

He spoke about TeamConnect, a secure push-to-talk solution that will run over Orange’s 4G mobile network to offer prioritized communication, for example, to support crowd control; and ParaLive, a partnership with a company called BodyCap to help Paralympians monitor their body temperature by ingesting a connected capsule that transmits data, which is then processed in real time on Orange’s Live Objects platform.

New Smartwatches Pair Wear OS 4 with Snapdragon W5 Chips

OnePlus and Xiaomi unveiled their latest smartwatches in briefings ahead of MWC. Xiaomi released three new wearables, with the most expensive, the Xiaomi Watch 2, powered by a combination of Google’s Wear OS and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 chip. OnePlus had a slightly quieter show on the wearables front, only announcing the OnePlus Watch 2, but with more innovative features.

The OnePlus Watch 2 boasts a 100-hour battery life, powered by a dual-chip architecture. One efficiency chip manages low-intensity tasks like background health tracking and the always-on display, and a Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 chip powers Wear OS apps and more-advanced features. It also brings dual-channel GPS into a price category that it’s rarely seen in. However, it’s incredibly difficult for manufacturers to compete with the gravity of Apple and Samsung’s smartwatches. Despite the impressive innovation and a strong value play, OnePlus is likely to see sales limited to its smartphone users.

These releases continue a trend of wearables powered by a combination of Google’s Wear OS and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon W5 and W5+ chips. Having struggled for momentum, both platforms are beginning to enjoy more success, with design wins for Qualcomm in Google’s Pixel Watch 2 and Wear OS 4 becoming commonplace on most Android phone-makers’ flagship watches. However, there are still challenges. The wearables market is less buoyant than it once was, and many companies are struggling to maintain growth, leading companies like Fossil to reconsider the scale of their investments.

Transparent and Flexible Displays Offer Hardware Innovation

Transparent displays were one of the headline technologies at CES 2024, with LG’s see-through OLED TV a star of the show. At MWC, Lenovo has tried to repeat the trick — this time with a ThinkBook laptop. The design offers a 17.3-inch micro-LED screen with up to 55% transparency depending on the device’s settings. It also has a flat base to replace the traditional keyboard, functioning as one huge touch pad. This can offer a touch-sensitive keyboard to users, but without any key travel or haptic feedback. Lenovo also billed this as a canvas for creative users.

Lenovo ThinkBook concept with transparent display

Much like with the transparent TVs at CES, we struggle to see any real justification for this technology. Lenovo itself seems to have few ideas about specific applications, and we argue that the technology would create far more problems than it would solve, such as difficulty viewing content and privacy concerns.

Elsewhere, foldable and flexible displays have also gathered some attention. Motorola displayed a concept smartphone that can be folded and wrapped around a user’s wrist, turning it into a rather large “smartwatch”.

Samsung’s Display team offered a similar design, although, crucially, not on a live device. Samsung also showed off an array of other flexible set-ups including multifold and rollable screens on its stand, but these remain roped off from visitors. These concepts aren’t new, and if anything, they point to the stasis in the foldable category. The only viable offerings remain devices with a single fold, and even these remain niche.

However, reflecting the growing availability of flexible displays, MWC also sees foldable smartphones sliding down the price curve as a range of smaller brands showcase flip phones. These designs are similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip. Companies with phones on display included Blackview, Energizer, Tecno and ZTE, with prices as low as €500.

Top left: Blackview Hero10; top right: Energizer Ultimate U660S; bottom left: Tecno Phantom V Flip 5G; bottom right: ZTE nubia Flip 5G

Without using the phones, it’s hard to judge the quality of the hinge and display. Also, as lower-tier devices, we caution that the experience could be significantly poorer than on more-premium products. There’s a risk that these products flood the market and a high-profile failure or poor user experience damages the overall reputation of the category.

Nokia Raises Sustainability Target

Nokia moved the date for its net zero target a decade earlier to 2040. This is 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement goal for net greenhouse emissions.

To do this, Nokia must look across its entire business from manufacturing to shipping. Biofuels, solar and wind energy will all need to be part of the mix. The company should also consider the full life cycle of its equipment, including the time after it has been installed in a service provider customer.

We expect service providers to increasingly add sustainability requirements to requests for quotes to help hit green targets. Nokia hopes to gain a competitive advantage by achieving its goals ahead of its rivals. However, technical excellence and price remain more important for supplier selection than sustainability.

IBM Reinforces Telecom Operator Services

In January, IBM announced its collaboration with the GSMA to accelerate artificial intelligence (AI) adoption and skills in the telecom sector with the launch of a generative AI training programme and industry challenge. The company expanded its narrative at MWC with stand demonstrations representing targeted services that it believes will offer differentiating capabilities to the telecom sector served by watsonx, IBM’s cloud-based generative AI and data platform.

Recognizing the common challenges facing communication service providers — revenue growth opportunities, appropriate use of AI and delivering customer experiences securely — IBM is leaning on its technology, consulting services and platform heritage to support these customers with end-to-end governance.

This is a holistic approach to managing the mix of technology stacks, operating models and data strategies that sit in many communication service providers. IBM calls out many of the same guardrails for AI as its peers, especially concerning ethical and responsible deployment. And like others — notably Cisco — IBM offers a set of solutions that make good use of acquisitions and enhance its ability to deliver integrated visibility and observability. That said, its application-centric networking facilities offer a different perspective that speaks more to development and deployment teams, helping to set it apart.

TCL Maintains Focus on Affordable Phones, Shows Off Nxtpaper Devices

TCL had an extensive product showcase at MWC, spanning phones, tablets, mobile broadband devices, smart glasses and more. Some of them, most notably the RayNeo X2 Lite smart glasses, had been unveiled at CES (see Insight Report: CES 2024: Major Themes), but there were also new devices in the mix.

The most eye-catching was the new range of low-price smartphones. At the entry level, the company added the TCL 501, a 4G Android phone with an expected retail price of about €60. As TCL makes its final transition away from the Alcatel brand, which has been the vehicle for its lower-cost phones, this product will be crucial to maintaining its presence in that price segment.

Another notable device was the TCL 50 5G with its extremely low price of just €149. We expect it will prove attractive to mobile network operators wanting to offer a 5G phone on pay-as-you-go tariffs and to retailers selling SIM-free devices.

TCL also expanded its range of products using its Nxtpaper display technology, which has a matt finish to aid readability and minimize eye strain. The most impressive product was the new Nxtpaper 14.3-inch tablet, which has a button that allows users to easily switch between full-colour and an e-ink-like display.

TCL continues to carve out a successful niche with its low-price, attractive devices at a time when many channels are keen to cater for cost-conscious consumers who don’t want an expensive smartphone.

Telstra Announces Proof-of-Value Analysis for 5G Network Slicing

The solution is being demonstrated by Ericsson, one of Telstra’s main partners, at its MWC stand. By analysing slicing traffic every second, a customer can check whether a committed level of performance has been achieved. This ensures transparency and accountability in important metrics such as speed and latency that can be matched against a service-level agreement.

Among the first customers to trial the service is Australian construction company, Hindmarsh. The demonstration showed how it can continually monitor the performance of its 5G fixed wireless access slice at one of its heaviest sites, which has over 30 staff, with many using multiple devices. In our view, this tool could play an important role in overcoming the challenge of proving the value of 5G to enterprise customers and giving reassurance about service quality.

ServiceNow Extends Nvidia Partnership

ServiceNow announced an extension of its partnership with Nvidia to introduce a suite of generative AI tools tailored for telecom providers. Now Assist for Telecommunications Service Management harnesses the firm’s Now Platform and Nvidia’s AI software and hardware to modernize customer service experiences in the telecom industry. It assists customer service agents and provides them with advanced chat summarization, enabling them to provide faster and more-accurate support.

The new tool uses generative AI capabilities and is tuned specifically to support ServiceNow-designed workflows and processes, providing greater levels of contextual insight and content output for all roles interacting with the platform.

Many organizations are seeing the value of engagements supported by generative AI, as our survey data shows, and this collaboration could see the beginning of a significant transformation in the telecom industry. Now Assist for Telecommunications Service Management is just the first of several operator-specific generative AI applications ServiceNow is planning to roll out in 2024 as part of a concerted effort to drive cost savings, improve productivity and elevate customer experiences.

We’d love to discuss these and other developments from Barcelona with you! Get in touch to learn more about what all this means for you and your business. We’ll also be publishing event reports for our clients after the show wraps.