Considerations on Mobile World Congress 2022

March 3, 2022 / Carolina Milanesi

Mobile World Congress 2022 came to an end today, and it seemed like a big success, mainly for people’s spirit and morale. The GSMA released preliminary attendance numbers at around 60,000, roughly half of what was recorded in 2019, the last time the industry came together before Covid. The combination of people’s strong desire to return to normalcy as well as the need, especially for smaller companies, to have the opportunity to showcase their capabilities will continue to make shows like Mobile World Congress a success.

Talking to some of my colleagues on the ground, it seems that what was already a show that thrived on closed-doors meetings doubled down on personal connections, which is what I expect most events to be doing post-Covid. Personally, I think the GSMA missed the opportunity to make the show even bigger by keeping the online portion of the show as strong as possible. Unfortunately, when it came to the conference sessions, the majority were offered as in-person only and did not cater to an online audience. I understand the desire to bring people together. Still, if there’s something that we’ve learned during the pandemic about democratizing access through technology, it is that you can expand your audience through online experiences that add to the in-person ones.

Let’s switch to the announcements that took place at the show.

The show that has always been more focused on telcos and business felt even more so this year. The combination of some consumer products like PCs and smartphones been announced before the show, to make sure that they got the most attention resulted in most announcements at the show being focused on network optimization, future technologies such as 6G and Wi-Fi7 and enabling businesses to harness what is here today from 5G to Cloud.

We are also at a time when what has been the star of the show for quite a few years, 5G (in fairness, way earlier than it needed to be), has finally moved on from smartphones to connecting devices and experiences that drive a much bigger vision. From connected cities to cars to the cloud. While 5G is well established, most consumers have yet to experience it, which makes talks about 6G a tad premature. Fortunately, it did not feel that brands were hyping that, and more time was spent talking about 5G network optimization for both consumers and enterprises, public and private.

And while we might smile or roll our eyes at the mention of 6G, there are a couple of things worth bearing in mind.

First, the world is headed to be more and more digital. The Metaverse, which has been mentioned several times throughout the week, will require connectivity no matter how you think of it. While that connectivity is Wi-Fi7, 5G or 6G will depend on location, network coverage and cost. But there is no question that the world will need more connectivity, not less. In the meantime, we talk about optimizing networks and infrastructure, of devices working more together to deliver a better user experience.

Second, the transition from 5G to 6G will be more evolutionary in nature than that from 4G to 5G, which might result in a shorter time to market as business models are being worked out now.

It also felt that the show was also relatively light on American participants, still due to some of the travel complexities. This meant we didn’t have many consumer brands that we have recognized in the past, such as Meta and Netflix or that brands like Google had a smaller presence. Interestingly cloud vendors such as AWS had a considerable presence at the show, possibly pointing to the fact that it mainly was consumer brands that stayed away possibly because of the more challenging European regulatory environment. Of course, the economy and the recovery from Covid-19 also require a bigger focus on business, both from how companies have evolved during the pandemic and new opportunities that digital transformation has opened up for businesses.

The show was clearly also a bridge between two realities: the pandemic and the promise of crypto, Metaverse and NFTs. Especially from a devices perspective, we saw PCs in the limelight following the resurgence experienced in the pandemic and the desire for OEMs to keep the momentum with the introduction of devices that fit hybrid work and a higher volume of digital workflows. It was interesting that Huawei had a dedicated e-ink device that was e-reader and notepad, the MatePad Paper and TCL had the NXTPAPER MAX10 offer a paper-like canvas to accommodate drawing and note-taking.

What we did not see much of, at least from a news perspective, were VR and AR glasses raising the question of whether we will have another chicken and egg phase for the Metaverse like what we initially had with VR. Then we asked whether we needed more apps to drive hardware sales or better hardware to drive content creation. Now we might wonder if we need to build the Metaverse before major hardware investments are made or if we need to start with hardware to open the door to the Metaverse. Or maybe the market is waiting for Apple at the end of this year and reset from there?

If I had to pick winners and losers of the show, I would certainly say the people and the industry won, but there was not a clear brand or theme that won. It was clear to me that the current geopolitical environment and the great suffering from the pandemic have put some sense of sobriety on what many companies have been focusing on. This meant that we saw a greater emphasis on big societal issues and how technology can help address them. Top of the list was sustainability, connecting the unconnected and driving digital equity.

I look forward to MWC23 in person!

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