We found subtle but significant shifts at the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress 2023 that show how the market’s need is changing to ‘connecting technologies’ rather than ‘connectivity’. This has deep implications for the industry and telcos in particular.
The birth of a new sector: “Connected Technologies”
Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the world’s biggest showcase for the mobile telecoms industry. MWC 2023 marked the second year back to full scale after COVID disruptions. With 88k visitors, 2,400 exhibitors and 1,000 speakers it did not quite reach pre-COVID heights, but remained an enormous scale event. Notably, 56% of visitors came from industries adjacent to the core mobile ecosystem, reflecting STL’s view that we are now in a new industry with a diverse range of players delivering connected technologies.
With such scale It can be difficult to find the significant messages through the noise. STL’s research team attended the event in full force, and we each focused on a specific topic. In this report we distil what we saw at MWC 2023 and what we think it means for telecoms operators, technology companies and new players entering the industry.
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STL Partners research team at MWC 2023
The diversity of companies attending and of applications demonstrated at MWC23 illustrated that the business being conducted is no longer the delivery of mobile communications. It is addressing a broader goal that we’ve described as the Coordination Age. This is the use of connected technologies to help a wide range of customers make better use of their resources.
The centrality of the GSMA Open Gateway announcement in discussions was one harbinger of the new model. The point of the APIs is to enable other players to access and use telecoms resources more automatically and rapidly, rather than through lengthy and complex bespoke processes. It starts to open many new business model opportunities across the economy. To steal the words of John Antanaitis, VP Global Portfolio Marketing at Vonage, APIs are “a small key to a big door”.
Other examples from MWC 2023 underlining the transition of “telecommunications” to a sector with new boundaries and new functions include:
- The centrality of ecosystems and partnerships, which fundamentally serve to connect different parts of the technology value chain.
- The importance of sustainability to the industry’s agenda. This is about careful and efficient use of resources within the industry and enabling customers to connect their own technologies to optimise energy consumption and their uses of other scarce resources such as land, water and carbon.
- An increasing interest and experimentation with the metaverse, which uses connected technologies (AR/VR, high speed data, sometimes edge resources) to deliver a newly visceral experience to its users, in turn delivering other benefits, such as more engaging entertainment (better use of leisure time and attention), and more compelling training experiences (e.g. delivering more realistic and lifelike emergency training scenarios).
- A primary purpose of telco cloud is to break out the functions and technologies within the operators and network domains. It makes individual processes, assets and functions programmable – again, linking them with signals from other parts of the ecosystem – whether an external customer or partner or internal users.
- The growing dialogues around edge computing and private networks –evolving ways for enterprise customers to take control of all or part of their connected technologies.
- The importance of AI and automation, both within operators and across the market. The nature of automation is to connect one technology or data source to another. An action in one place is triggered by a signal from another.
Many of these connecting technologies are still relatively nascent and incomplete at this stage. They do not yet deliver the experiences or economics that will ultimately make them successful. However, what they collectively reveal is that the underlying drive to connect technologies to make better use of resources is like a form of economic gravity. In the same way that water will always run downhill, so will the market evolve towards optimising the use of resources through connecting technologies.
Table of contents
- Executive Summary
- The birth of a new sector: ‘Connected technologies’
- Old gripes remain
- So what if you are in a new industry?
- You might like it
- How to go from telco to connected techco
- Next steps
- Strategy: Does the industry know where it’s going?
- Where will the money come from?
- Telcos still demanding their “fair share”, but what’s fair, or constructive?
- Hope for the future
- Transformation leadership: Ecosystem practices
- Current drivers for ecosystem thinking
- Barriers to wider and less linear ecosystem practices
- Energy crisis sparks efficiency drive
- Innovation is happening around energy
- Orange looks to change consumer behaviour
- Moves on measuring enablement effects
- Key takeaways
- Telco Cloud: Open RAN is important
- Brownfield open RAN deployments at scale in 2024-25
- Acceleration is key for vRAN workloads on COTS hardware
- Energy efficiency is a key use case of open RAN and vRAN
- Other business
- Consumer: Where are telcos currently focused?
- Staying relevant: Metaverse returns
- Consumer revenue opportunities: Commerce and finance
- Customer engagement: Utilising AI
- Enterprise: Are telcos really ready for new business models?
- Metaverse for enterprise: Pure hype?
- Network APIs: The tech is progressing
- …But commercial value is still unclear
- Final takeaways:
- Private networks: Coming over the hype curve
- A fragmented but dynamic ecosystem
- A push for mid-market adoption
- Finding the right sector and the right business case
- Edge computing: Entering the next phase
- Telcos are looking for ways to monetise edge
- Edge computing and private networks – a winning combination?
- Network APIs take centre stage
- Final thoughts
- AI and automation: Opening up access to operational data
- Gathering up of end-to-end data across multiple-domains
- Support for network automations
- Data for external use
- Key takeaways