Operator Trends at Mobile World Congress 2018

Artificial Intelligence, IoT and 5G to Dominate Announcements

With the countdown to Mobile World Congress 2018 now in full swing, here I share some thoughts about what to expect from the event in the area of network operators and connectivity. To view CCS Insight’s broader predictions for the show, click here.

Firstly, don’t anticipate many major new themes to emerge in Barcelona. The leading areas of discussion will mostly be the same as in 2017, dominated by 5G, the Internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence. Despite this, there should be plenty of news about progress in these areas.

In 5G, there will be more noise than ever before. After the completion of the first formal standard in December 2017, it will seem as if everyone wants to put out a message about 5G. Cutting through the hype will prove an onerous task and I wonder if any CEO will be brave enough this year to speak out negatively about the technology.

But I’d like to look on the positive side. The Winter Olympics in South Korea — which finish the day before Mobile World Congress officially begins — may offer a much-needed glimpse into early consumer applications of 5G, as companies are using the games to showcase some of the potential that the technology holds. I’m also eager to hear more about plans for 5G as a fixed wireless solution, a path being trodden by US carriers Verizon and AT&T. Mobile World Congress also represents a great forum for engagement of mobile connectivity within vertical market sectors. This is a crucial opportunity for 5G, so hopefully we’ll hear some announcements.

Last year, artificial intelligence was the only new leading topic of conversation among network operators. I expect that this time we’ll see more developments in this area, with voice assistants and chat bots prevalent on many stands. Of particular interest will be an update from Telefonica on Aura, its cognitive platform and the operator’s leading announcement at the show in 2017.

Few people would consider mobile operators as pioneers in artificial intelligence, so it’ll be interesting to see how these companies position themselves. It could be that predicting faults to optimise network performance emerges as the main benefit in the long run.

Low-power wide area technologies such as NB-IoT and LTE-M will again feature strongly on exhibition stands. This year, early deployments should bring a dose of commercial reality to demonstrations at the show. But with connectivity still representing only a minority of the total value of an IoT project, it’s time that debate focussed on how operators can better monetise their investment.

Among other topics, we could see fierce debate over Net neutrality. The Monday evening keynote session featuring the chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, will be a hot ticket in the wake of his controversial policy to overturn previous regulation in the US. There’s also a conference track on customer care. This is a theme that has been shamefully neglected in the past, but could offer huge rewards if operators get it right.

If I were to make one plea, it would be that European CEOs refrain from using the show as a platform to lambast authorities over burdensome regulation. This has become a tedious and repetitive message in recent years. With the eyes of the world on Barcelona, operators should be seizing the opportunity to advocate the potential of upgraded LTE technology and imminent 5G networks that will be central to reinventing our personal and working lives in the future.

Lastly, how network operators position themselves in the future could be an underlying theme. At the event in 2017, VimpelCom made a surprise move by launching an entirely new business model (see Veon Seeks New Template for Operator Business Models). It remains to be seen whether any of its rivals will be bold enough to present something equally disruptive this time around. One thing’s for certain, the future relevance of a service provider is under scrutiny like never before.

See you soon, Barcelona!

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