MWC versus CES

This was maybe the most exciting Mobile World Congress (MWC) I have ever witnessed. And if my predictions hold true, it is only to get better. It wasn’t anymore about boring boxes of cellular tower hardware. It was all about software, startups and innovation, new handsets with sexy features, and over-the-top applications for both consumers and industries. We are clearly seeing a fundamental shift on how the telco industry ticks – and that is very timely! The first disruption is internal to the industry: 2015 is the year where we are truly going software. The implications are that we are now able to reconfigure the telco operations of an entire country from a single software script, e.g. over a cup of coffee in the morning. This means, capacity requirements can be addressed on the fly without needing to send in engineering staff. You guessed it, today’s large operational costs are thus minimized. The second disruption is external to the industry: Having softwarized the telco operations makes it much easier to address the (often capricious) needs of industries; this MWC thus featured a huge amount of industrial applications, ranging from a connected car to tactile excavator (yes, I am talking about a mobile congress here!). The softwarization, however, also ensured that innovation becomes so much more affordable; the congress was swamped with startups and young industries – innovators and investors alike suddenly started to feel that the huge telecom opportunity is actually addressable, no matter the size. All that buzz leaves me wondering when the MWC will be the same as CES – 2020? But it gets event better! Ericsson’s CEO Hans Vestberg stated in his VIP keynote: “Telecom in the 90s was manufacturer driven, in the 2000s operator driven, and now vertical industry driven.” With 3G, we figured out that selling hardware boxes is maybe not all we can do with the cellular opportunity; with 4G, we thus focused on offering services to optimize the cellular experience. I am happy, however, that we have finally realized what every decent Internet entrepreneur could have told us some years back: The true value is in offering a compelling solution which addresses a real problem in industries. As Scania’s CEO Martin Lundstedt has said, “this suddenly transforms the expensive telecoms equipment from being costly to being valuable.” The projected transition towards the digital data value chain will take a while, however. Until then, Mark Zuckerberg will continue flying into Barcelona every year, drink his champaign on the keynote stage, and fly back … without having left a paycheck to improve the underlying infrastructure which actually enables his business.

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