We’ve reached the digital crossroad – but what’s the next turn?

Written by on March 10, 2015 in Opinion with 3 Comments

CrossroadsThis year’s Mobile World Congress attracted in excess of 93,000 visitors, topping last year’s record attendance – but why?

Quite simply, the mobile telecoms world is finally reaching the digital crossroad that the GSMA has been driving towards for years. Despite constant attempts at playing in the innovative digital services space using their own resources, telcos are at last seeing they can’t do it alone.

Having to convince stakeholders of the need to change business models after constantly investing in faster networks, transforming the back-office and battling with decreasing traditional voice and messaging revenues is no mean feat for today’s telco C-suite. But they must, and they are!

We are finally seeing the breakdown of the ‘we must do it all ourselves’ mentality because there are just too many new avenues they can go down. Should they concentrate on providing cloud services, IoT, healthcare, connected cars, wearables, home management systems and smartphones – or should they simply partner with companies that do those things very well and provide them with the key component – connectedness?

This is no ‘dumb pipe’ approach, these networks will have all the smarts on the edge making it dead easy for any enterprise or digital service provider to connect and utilize a limited range of clever business support systems like online charging and customer self-care. This may be a lucrative market doing nothing more than running great networks and providing connectivity – at a purely wholesale level.

Just think of the cost savings of splitting off all those retail consumer hassles as an MVNO or to third-party partner that would still use the network. Dumb pipe dream? Maybe not.

In the meantime, all those digital service providers, and there are thousands popping up every day, are making a beeline to the telcos with open doors, and open minds. This is what drove people, and companies, to Barcelona and whilst it is being run by the GSMA it is taking on a far broader CES-type perspective.

Even the conference sessions are becoming less centered on network technology (except for the inevitable discussions on 5G, NFV and SDN) moving to the IoT, connected lifestyle, privacy, innovative products, partnering, M&A, content, online retailing, context, digital transactions, etc. The list is endless as are the number of players vying for attention – all in one location – Barcelona.

Despite stretching the city’s transport system to the limit, and having to negotiate the hordes in every corner of the crowded venue, MWC organizers may have to consider limits on the numbers of attendees in future. Sure, the city’s promised Metro extension that will operate direct to the site next year will alleviate much of the transport problem, the issue of health and safety at the much expanded venue may come into play.

It should not be hard to believe that this event has become so popular but it’s growth has more to do with the growing number of external players – digital service providers, app producers, device makers, etc. – wanting to be part of the mobile ecosystem. As many exhibitors and attendees stated, if you are not seen at MWC you are simply not in business.

More importantly, the GSMA may well have positioned itself, through this mighty event, as the default body to bring all the disparate players, that need each other, together.

But like the mighty SuperComm held in the USA, and the ITU Geneva events of the past there is no guarantee that MWC won’t become extinct in time. However, the GSMA, in partnership with Barcelona, has proved it can put on a great show and if the numbers this year are any indication, it won’t be going south any time in the near future. Whether attendees can survive a bigger, more crowded show, is another matter.

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About the Author

About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .


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  1. Martin Morgan says:

    Tony, you’ve pretty much nailed it with this article. The car companies, the IoT companies and even the connected toothbrush company were all at MWC last week as they want to work with the mobile operators. Ok so, maybe the connected toothbrush is taking it a bit far – but OralB did have a stand. Mobile operators have a lot to offer providers of digital content and services and this was backed up by the record attendance at MWC – despite consolidation in the operator and vendor space.

  2. Bob Machin says:

    Connected toothbrushes were everywhere, Martin, and I noted two separate shout-outs on the conference stage for our old friend the connected fridge – one by Ericsson which has plans to make photographs of the inside of your fridge available to you any place, any time, so that you can always check whether the gin and cocktail olives need topping up, one by Will.I.Am who saw the humble fridge evolving (word of the conference) into a supercooled personal data centre, the hub of the home if you will (i.am).
    More seriously, the size and logistics of the show are getting crazy – is there a sensible way to segment it – between hard goods (network, handsets, peripherals) and software (IT, apps, content) maybe, split between the two firas or even at different times of the year?

  3. Mohammed Sha says:

    My feet have finally recovered from ‘MWC syndrome’ (all you MWC goers will know what this is), and a couple of things occurred to me.
    As a vendor, I was obviously keen to find out what the operators had brought to showcase at this global platform. Every time I managed to get a break from the duties of our stand in Hall 7, I went out looking for them. Day after day (and boy the 4 days are a long period for a trade show), I just saw vendors, vendors and more vendors, of all sorts. There were network manufacturers, device makers, semi-conductor producers, consulting firms, software companies (ours included), and even apparel and bag retailers (I know, baffling indeed!). But where were the operators?!
    There were only a handful of operators like Orange, Verizon, Zain, Etisalat, Telenor, Vimplecom and Ooredoo who could overcome the noise of the hundreds of vendors at the show. I wonder why that was?!
    Are the operators finding MWC too expensive? Well it sure is, but if small and medium sized vendors can afford it, why not the operators! Or is it that the operators don’t have the confidence of showing innovation that will prove impressive against what the vendors have? Or is it a reflection of the transformation shaping up in the industry; operators losing lustre as well as the lead role; device manufacturers and others taking the lead (and revenue share)?
    In a webinar yesterday, a leading analyst of the industry – Dario Talmesio from Ovum, resonated a similar observation. Well, when the host or star of the party takes a back seat, guests do observe!

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