The operators demanded in the initial presentation of the MWC a “new social contract” that allows facing, with the help of telecommunications and digital technology, the numerous and urgent current challenges. “Mobile operators are critical to all sectors,” said Matts Granryd, CEO of the GSMA, the association that brings together the majority of operators and organizes the MWC. For his part, José María Álvarez-Pallete, president of Telefónica and this year also of the GSMA, insisted that we live in a new era and was happy to be in an industry that can be part of the solution to serious world problems and promote greater social inclusion, with opportunities for all.
The MWC is being held this week in Barcelona with renewed optimism, after a rather disappointing edition last June and the cancellation of the 2020 edition. This year’s edition is not like the 2019 or 2018 edition, nor in number of visitors or exhibitors, but also the circumstances and technology have evolved significantly in these three years. Many of the presentations and announcements are being made in the traditional face-to-face format, some only in streaming and the majority in a hybrid format, which can be followed in person or through the Internet, live or recorded, in a more agile way.
The greater possibilities of monitoring allow registered visitors to be more selective and make the most of the time spent at the fair, or to shorten the visit more than on previous occasions or even follow it only from a distance. Of course, with the latter, human contact is lost, but something of the fair experience can be achieved, apart from recovering some presentations to which there has been no time to attend. It also happens with some speakers who have not been able to attend physically, who connect to the presentation in streaming or send a video. It is not the same but its absence is less.
Private networks and their applications, the metaverse as the future to come and the technologies that will allow the full potential of 5G to be deployed were the main topics at MWC Barcelona 2022
One of the main trends seen at this MWC has been the demonstrations of the so-called metaverse, an advanced form of virtual and extended reality. At the moment, these virtual experiences have nothing to do with the real ones, although it is glimpsed that they will improve by leaps and bounds in the coming years until they are a complement or an alternative to reality. And in hostile environments or with very complicated access, it will be much more feasible and safer. For professional and specific applications, great advances are already taking place, which will later be available for consumer applications and extend the metaverse to a wider audience.
It is also foreseeable that the traditional format of fairs will evolve with the metaverse, with a greater number of virtual experiences in physical stands. Many exhibitors have already used their own resources from the metaverse in this edition of the MWC to publicize their novelties and concepts in their demonstrations. After all, many of the exhibitors at MWC are the ones with metaverse technology and it’s only fitting that they take advantage of this event to showcase its many possibilities.
Private networks and industrial applications
Outside of the metaverse, private networks and their industrial applications have been one of the main focuses of attention at MWC 2022, because the technology and associated software are already available and it is the way to take advantage of 5G networks more quickly, as they can be deployed in a controlled environment. These 5G private networks allow the development of cutting-edge applications, such as the Digital Twin, which is very useful in production environments, because changes can be introduced that have been previously verified digitally and more quickly.
Applications of the cloud and edge process, Cloud and Edge Computing, were also ubiquitous, supported by artificial intelligence techniques in communications as well as IoT devices. They are technologies that are not new but are becoming more refined and easier to incorporate and use in communications networks. It has been a long time since they are talked about as concepts but about their practical use and their incorporation in more production and management processes.
The evolution of 5G networks, with the introduction of Network Slicing or à la carte networks, has been another of the star technological topics of the fair. It is another of the issues announced years ago, with the promotion of 5G, but so far it has not been implemented because 5G networks need to be fully autonomous (5G SA) without the need to be linked to 4G as is happening now in Europe. In this edition, many of the European operators have announced the launch of 5G SA networks in a few months and their generalization as of next year. This will allow many of the 5G applications, both professional and consumer, to be unwound.
The telecommunications sector is considered key to solving the current challenges facing society, including climate change, but European operators are concerned about the financial health of the sector
The other topic that has given much to talk about in this MWC has been open networks, or Open RAN. It is a concept under development and has multiple operating experiences in practice, although each supplier understands it in its own way and, as Maite Aparicio, head of Open RAN at Telefónica, said in one of the presentations, its introduction will not be quick or easy. Telefónica, for example, foresees a relatively important deployment of Open RAN networks from 2024.
In the remainder of five years, until 2025, many of the announcements seen in this edition of MWC Barcelona 2022 will be generalized in European networks, which are quite late compared to those of China or South Korea, even Japan. In the second half of this decade, updated 5G networks, known as 5G Advanced, will gradually come into operation, as happened in the second half of the last decade with 4G networks. Naturally, there was also a lot of talk about 5G Advanced, as well as 6G, because it is not a fair that announces the products of this season but deals with what will be two, five or ten years from now.
Technology to face today’s challenges
MWC is an eminently meeting of telecommunications network technology and its associated equipment, but also a forum to highlight its great importance in dealing with the many social challenges that humanity faces, increasingly serious and urgent. . On this occasion, José María Álvarez-Pallete, Chairman and CEO of Telefónica and current Chairman of the GSMA Board; Matts Granryd, CEO of the GSMA; Nick Read, President and CEO of Vodafone and Allison Kirkby, President and CEO of Telia, agreed to state, at the opening conference, that telecommunications are part of the solution to solve current problems.
The head of Telefónica assured that the telecommunications sector “is the only one capable of transforming the industry as a whole” but also that it is a sector that deserves respect and that it is impossible to face the new times with the old rules. “Our sector does not ask for privileges but justice”, he claimed, and was optimistic about the future, although worried about the present. “If we do it right, the digital revolution will bring about social progress, because the digital world must be a better world, with people and values at the center.”
Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone, recalled his first MWC, in February 2019, when he had only been in office for five months, and that he already spoke of the need for a new social contract and that the industry and governments work together in a more collaborative way for telcos to support the whole of society and its digital needs and ambitions. Then came the pandemic “and our joint efforts really captured the spirit of the new social contract.” Now, he said, “a new technological order” is again necessary.
Europe, he added, needs to be digital to remain globally competitive and maintain its leadership in sectors such as automotive, aerospace, defense and agriculture. “The regions that have 5G first will be the ones that innovate the fastest” and Europe, at the current rate, will not be able to achieve a full transformative 5G experience at least until the end of the decade, when China has already achieved it this year, he added. “We need to face this challenge and solve it quickly and together”, he launched as the first message.
He summarized the necessary collaboration in which the industry, together with governments, develop a clear and comprehensive digital plan; that there be an honest assessment of the financial health of the telecommunications sector and that the digital plan be accompanied by a strong executive program so that it is truly transformative. Vodafone, he added, has already collaborated with the opening of a pan-European R&D center in Malaga last January with the creation of 700 skilled jobs and a service to help digitize small and medium-sized businesses.
The head of Vodafone also echoed the need to resolve the fragmentation of the sector in Europe, in line with the open letter, and explicitly cited Spain, along with other European countries, of the need for operators, the Government and the European Commission find the right solution.
Allison Kirkby, head of Telia, also valued the importance of the telecommunications sector for society as a whole and Matts Granryd, director of the GSMA, stressed the need for public and private initiatives to resolve the technological gap that there are in many parts of society. “There is no other industry that is better prepared than ours to meet the challenges of the future,” he said. The session continued with the recorded presentation of the heads of the three mobile operators, in which they highlighted the progress made in the infrastructure and applications of the 5G mobile networks.
MWC in Shanghai, Las Vegas and Kigali, apart from Barcelona
The GSMA has decided to promote and expand the MWC number in different regions of the world. An MWC was already organized in China and another in the United States, but now it seems that they want to give them a greater boost, in addition to holding a fourth MWC in Africa (specifically in the capital of Rwanda from October 25 to 27). The United States edition will now be held in Las Vegas, from September 28 to 30, and the Chinese edition will continue to be held in Shanghai, on June 29 and until July 1. It is foreseeable that the MWC in Barcelona will continue to be the most important event, between the last days of February or the first days of March (as from March 1 to 4 in 2023, already confirmed).
If the regional editions of the MWC are promoted, it is likely that visitors will prefer the edition that is closest to their place of residence, although the MWC Barcelona continues to be the main and largest. Among other reasons, because it focuses on the European market, which is of interest to both Asian and American suppliers. There will be far fewer US suppliers at MWC Shanghai than there will be at MWC Barcelona, and the same will be true for Asian suppliers (especially from Chinese telcos) in Las Vegas.
As for visitors, many from the United States and Asia will continue to come to the Barcelona edition, because the offer will be much more global, although clearly the majority will continue to be from Europe. This edition has already seen a much smaller presence of American visitors, and of Asian visitors who are not suppliers. If the regional editions of the MWC are reinforced, the dispersion of visitors will probably increase, although the increase in virtual and hybrid stands and presentations could also cause an increase in non-face-to-face visitors to the MWCs from other regions, to be more aware of the latest news every three months, instead of one a year.
In this MWC Barcelona 2022, the number of exhibitors and visitors has been clearly much lower than in the 2019 edition. You have to think that the huge hall 8, with two floors, has not been used, and that the other seven were less busy , apart from the fact that the part dedicated to emerging start-ups, the 4YFN, used to be held in a separate venue in Barcelona and this year it was in hall 6 inside the MWC Barcelona. This is expected to continue in the coming years, although the number of exhibitors increases.
In any case, the presence of exhibitors and visitors at this MWC has already been very high, perhaps as in the middle of the last decade, and allows us to speculate that levels similar to those of the last two years of the last decade will soon be reached, although they will be somewhat different due to the emergence of hybrid and virtual formats and the largest regional editions, as has been pointed out. The pace of evolution and technological acceleration in a sector as transversal and global as telecommunications seems to demand it.