Mobile World Congress is over for another year. The eCS teams’ journey through the halls of FIRA once again gave us an interesting overview of the state of the telecoms nation. Here are our thoughts.
MWC23: another year passes, another show closes, and the telecoms industry continues to evolve. On the event front, housekeeping notes first. From the first day all the way through to Thursday evening, traffic was heavy. Hall 8 has followed in the footsteps of Lionel Messi and disappeared from the Barcelona landscape (albeit without a World-Cup winners medal) meaning one less (very long) walk. Meanwhile, the GSMA’s start-up event, 4YFN, has moved into FIRA, creating an added sense of busyness to the usual MWC maelstrom. And talking of maelstrom’s, we couldn’t help but notice the extra-large Ava Cataluna stand this year, accommodating extra-large traffic flows into the bargain.
A criticism: the event’s networking app. For an show representing leadership in technology innovation, it’s about as engaging and helpful as an ice cube maker would be in the arctic circle. Note to the GSMA: must do better! But the big question as always takes us back to the evolution of the telecoms industry. It is, evolution “towards what?” And maybe “are things changing quickly enough?”
For our money, there was perhaps a sense of stasis, if not exactly the calm, before the storm. The pace of change in network technology, the arrival of 5G, the proliferation of IoT devices, the mountains of data, and so on have prospectively opened a Pandora’s box of new opportunities in the telco market. But it’s not clear which of this will be leveraged, when, and what will happen next.
The Open RAN domain is one example. Yes, O-RAN will potentially transform the Radio Access Network, disaggregating hardware and software and there was much talk around the subject in Barcelona. But it’s unclear whether there were any great leaps forward in O-RAN compliant technologies. For the operator, O-RAN throws up a raft of challenges such as getting to grips with the management and monitoring of the multi-vendor infrastructures that are driving a rapidly changing fronthaul landscape. This is a space ripe with opportunity for solution vendors. But investment is needed.
Telcos as solutions vendors?
Elsewhere, leading global consultancy firm McKinsey noted that MWC demonstrates an opportunity for telcos to position themselves as providers of end-to-end solutions for their customers. We’re not sure that’s a new idea, but it’s certainly one that has yet to come to fruition. This will require partnerships (not least with solutions vendors – another opportunity) but progress towards this goal seems slow. One way to do it would be for telcos to create their own ecosystems of channel partnerships and technologies. As with Open RAN, for now this appears to be an opportunity in need of impetus and hard solutions.
A good example of a sub-domain in which this sort of approach may play out and around which we heard some chatter in Barcelona is monetizing APIs. Driving revenue via API channels, API monetization seeks to provide commercial API access (via API gateways) to parties that build new applications using network capabilities. This is a potentially lucrative concept, but development of such gateways (and products) has to date been limited. As in many areas, investment is required but the opportunity appears to be there. We’d expect to see advances in this area in 2023.
Unsurprisingly, discussion around the enterprise segment of the telecommunications market was again to the fore. It’s a lucrative segment so it’ll probably always receive attention as enterprises have unique operational needs with their diverse communications requirements often requiring dedicated services that can be challenging to support. The services provided over ‘enterprise networks’ deliver physical, virtual, or logical connectivity infrastructures comprised of multiple hardware and software systems, and the communication protocols used to support them. The enablement of all this provides vendors with various lucrative opportunities in multiple BSS and OSS domains.
Oh dear, 6G!
Of course, with all the opportunities and conversations like those listed above, wouldn’t you know it there was also (or perhaps already is a better word) talk of what happens next; 6G with, according to some commentators, the business and services potential of 5G already failing to live up to its promises. You read it here first!
Given that one expert noted that we don’t yet know what 6G is, how much it’s going to cost, or what problems it will be able to solve, that all sounds a bit rich to us. While no doubt 6G concepts need to be (and will be) explored, it seems to us that investment in reaping the potential benefits of 5G (such as those outlined above) might be a more sensible immediate priority for the industry. There is much hay to be reaped from doing so.