Some 80,000 visitors ventured to Barcelona to attend the annual congregation for the mobile-minded, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Long gone are the days when one single theme dominated the show. My main impression of MWC was that compared with last year, there was surprisingly little true news. I see evolution not revolution, which is somewhat odd as the overall business environment is clearly changing faster than ever.

Of course, everybody again claimed that they are active in the obligatory fields of cloud, analytics, and customer experience. However, if anything, I feel this convergence of marketing messages creates too many platitudes and undermines the practical use case scenarios that define the mobile mind shift. I went to MWC with several questions in mind, and my main takeaways of MWC are that:

  • Devices did not make a big splash, and most were uninspiring. None of the device announcements triggered a tectonic shift in the device and OS space. Not even Microsoft's decision to support Android — something Nokia should have done years ago. In fact, to me, most of the MWC devices look similar and provide very similar features. Talk of Web OS by Tizen and Firefox was more muted than last year.
  • Network infrastructure is shifting toward software and virtualization. In their struggle to stay on top of the traffic explosion, telcos clearly need to bring down per-MB cost significantly. And for those telcos with ambitions beyond utility-type service provision — which is not a bad business — a more agile infrastructure, which allows them to bring new services to market faster and in a more ad hoc manner, matters greatly. I also see indoor wireless solutions, like Ericsson’s Radio Dot, as playing an important role in this context. Some vendors tried to ignite 5G discussions, but my sense is that 5G will be more about intelligent network architecture and management than new technology.
  • The telco downhill race is accelerating as WhatsApp provides voice. The announcement by WhatsApp to offer voice is clearly bad news for telcos. But let's also keep in mind that competitors to WhatsApp are already offering voice and video communications. Moreover, the core WhatsApp customer, Gen Z, is not all that keen on voice. Still, I hope WhatsApp's announcement shakes up the last telcos that still do not understand that the telco business model is broken. Those telcos with ambitions to provide solutions beyond utility services must fundamentally restructure their organizational setup and business culture to change their business model.
  • A comprehensive industry approach to privacy and security is missing. With mobile reaching every corner of the economy and society, it is unnerving that security and privacy are still being treated mostly on a business-by-business basis. Given the critical nature of mobile solutions for all industry sectors as well as broader digital propositions, a more comprehensive approach to ensure security and privacy across partner ecosystems and across countries’ solutions looks essential.
  • The first credible solutions for establishing commercial OTT and telco relationships are emerging. For instance, NSN has a solution that allows telcos to provide quality assurance for YouTube on mobile devices. Such solutions will help to transform the relationship between telcos and OTTs toward a more mature level and open up urgently needed growth opportunities.

As I blogged last year, I believe that the GSMA is unwise not to push MWC more for end user CIOs and business leaders. In its current form, MWC resembles too much a talking shop for the industry itself. To truly achieve a mobile mind shift, business leaders must be shown the opportunities that mobility provides for closer customer engagement, more effective sales and marketing, greater employee empowerment, and of course new business areas.