by   |    |  Estimated reading time: 6 minutes  |  in AI, Creativity & Innovation, IFS Cloud, Sustainability, Telco   |  tagged , , , , , , ,

The Mobile World Congress (MWC), held annually in Barcelona, is the largest and most influential event for the mobile technology and connectivity ecosystem. As more than 101,000 telecom industry leaders, analysts, and decision-makers converged this year, the stage was set for groundbreaking announcements, thought-provoking discussions, and technological revelations. But, how disruptive were the innovations?

Cooperation and collaboration were emphasized by the Vodafone CEO in his keynote as he referred to the industrial mobility opportunity and the partner and vendor ecosystems that need to be set in place to realize this next monetization area for telecom. However, this feeling of déjà vu at the event is what has inspired many to call this year’s event “Groundhog Day”.

In my opinion, there’s always a strong sense of déjà vu at the event, as the annual ritual of meeting overload, renewing acquaintances, and inevitable sleep deprivation takes place once more. However, it’s getting increasingly hard to find an angle. I reflected on the void that I thought the industry was in after last year’s MWC and this year it’s really hard, despite the apparent joy of GenAI, to find anything that would have resolved the core issue: “The needed investments in network modernization in order to realize the 5G potential with all new features and use cases is getting harder and harder to carry based on the projected revenues”. From the outside, a simple plus and minus balance sheet issue, but it’s so much more complicated if you open this pandora’s box.

Here are some of the main reflections from this #mwc24:

The telecom networks.

5G (The latest 3GPP cellular specification) remains as always, a central theme at MWC. The good thing about an event of this size is that you can see the entire eco-system of 5G—not only the network, but also the devices and industry applications of 5G, all in the same place.

What stood out this year is that system integrators like Accenture, Capgemini and Wipro are taking the integration role between telecom and other industries (like manufacturing, health care, retail, and automotive) more seriously. All of them showed how they plan to help to realize the industrial mobility revenue opportunity, which leaves the question, “How will telecom operators make more money?” more relevant than ever.

Think about this statistic: By 2025, 60% of enterprises will be using five or more wireless technologies simultaneously (source: Gartner). The most advanced industry by far is manufacturing, and nearly 75% of manufacturers globally will implement 5G within two years of it becoming available (source: Capgemini).

My point here is that everybody who has a phone or needs a phone, already has one. And stealing consumer/B2C subscriptions from each other is costly, but there is a B2B opportunity with verticals like manufacturing, healthcare, automotive, retail and education, that is yet to be fully claimed. This trend of telecom enabling mobility in adjacent industries (think smart assembly lines, automated factories powered by private 5G in manufacturing), will dominate 2024. It was, in fact, my second telecom industry prediction for the year!

Telco ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance)

Telecoms companies are increasingly focusing on sustainability. From securing the AI-powered edge to exploring automation in fixed broadband access, the industry aims to balance openness and resilience. Being used to high levels of regulations, it seems like Communications Service Providers (CSPs) and telecom operators are ideally suited to steward the way to manage ESG requirements and goals for other industries also.

This is an area where IFS can deliver real value to the telecom industry. Most telecom companies, whether operators or infrastructure providers, have made sustainability part of their brand’s mission. Whether it’s improving network performance to reduce energy consumption, or more simple, yet tangible carbon emissions reductions methods like decreasing field engineer travel time, more and more companies are adopting technology solutions and practices to help ensure they reduce environmental impact.

50% of CSPs expect to achieve energy savings of 10% to 20% over the next two years as AI energy solutions are rolled out and optimized (source: Nokia/GSMA research). In fact, AI is a key enabling technology that enterprise software vendors like IFS are leveraging to help telecom companies achieve sustainability goals. For example, our AI-powered workforce planning and scheduling solution optimizes technician schedules so that our customers reduce travel time on average 35% – 50%. And for companies who are starting to introduce electric vehicles into their service fleet, we can also help optimize those along with people and parts. Our sustainability factsheet gives more details on all these capabilities.

The innovation dilemma

The main theme of the event being AI (more specifically GenAI), which is not very telecom specific, I think adds to the feeling that the telecom innovations are not advancing as much we would hope. “RedCap” and other features in 5GA are really advanced and five to eight years ago could have even been the main theme of the event; but telecom, like other industries, has become much more customer-focused. At the moment, there’s no good mapping between the technical innovation happening within telecom and what useful purpose it actually has in real life. This is also why we continue to struggle with 5G monetization.

While AI was everywhere at MWC2024, the general feeling by most of us in attendance was that it wasn’t as disruptive as it should be. Yes, it looked impressive, but when you went beyond surface-level there was little detail about real-world application, let alone proven or realized benefits. Perhaps it’s still too new and AI deployments are not fully mature yet.

Even though 87% of Tier-1 CSPs have started implementing AI into their network operations, either as proof of concepts or into production, few telco companies have successfully deployed AI across their enterprise. Most are still struggling with the basic security and privacy issues surrounding data, not to mention that data is stored in multiple systems (some outdated, many legacy) in very silo-ed environments (network, customer care, field service, billing, etc.).

I recently published an eBook on this very topic of helping telecom companies achieve successful AI deployments. Check it out to learn how to master foundational data management (i.e., harmonization, governance, etc.) so you can evolve to more advanced AI use cases for things like predictive maintenance for telecom assets.

In summary: tying innovation to real-world benefits

I think this is the main issue at the moment in the telecom industry. It has a history of being very “tech-y” and the mapping between the technology and what customers want has just come naturally. However, these days that conversion is not happening automatically, and it turns out it’s not so easy to do.

We recently held a live expert roundtable on not only our biggest telecom industry predictions for 2024, but also on our key takeaways from Mobile World Congress Barcelona. I was joined by guest speakers Dan Hallengren, Head of IT Strategy & Enablement at Telenor Sweden, and Belinda Finch, our new IFS CIO who was previously the CIO at Three UK and also Transformation & Digital Director at Vodafone. Watch the replay now to discover more of what the year has in store for our industry.

And to learn more about my three biggest predictions for the telecommunications industry this year, check out this new eBook:

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