Over-focus on 5G was a distraction from fundamental changes in the world economy that telcos should prioritise in their strategies, investments and actions. What are the opportunities, and what should telcos, vendors and the GSMA do about it?
Mobile World Congress 2019
According to the GSMA, 100,000 people gathered in Barcelona last week for the 2019 Mobile World Congress. It is a remarkable testament to the growth and size of the industry that the show has kept growing. I’d like to add our sincere thanks to the GSMA for partnering with STL Partners again for the event.
It was a vibrant and busy show, but what was behind all the noise and action?
While at the Congress last week, I wrote a brief pastiche of the visceral impact of the show’s 5G frenzy in MWC2019: Beyond beyond on Linked-In. On a more serious note, we’ve previously researched 5G intensively in over ten reports, including:
- 5G: The first three years
- Telco economics: Network sharing in a 5G world
- 5G: Why Verizon thinks differently – and what to do about it
The point of the pastiche and these references is that 5G is both a significant development, but also at the peak of its hype-cycle. It’s being touted as the next great hope for growth for the telecoms industry, but its impact will be more piecemeal for reasons we explained in 5G: ‘Just another G’ – yet a catalyst of change. To drive more rational decision-making, 5G and telco strategy overall need to be understood within a broader context.
The question that last week’s article didn’t answer was “what were the deep and important signals that lay behind the 5G hype at MWC?”. That is what this report covers, along with recommendations for actions by telcos, vendors and indeed the GSMA.
The Coordination Age: A fundamental change in the world economy
The ongoing transition to the Coordination Age presents an opportunity for telcos to redefine their roles and create new sources of value. It may also present a possible (albeit partial) swing of advantage back towards the nationally and locally organised telcos from the centralised, global scale technology players.
The Coordination Age is a result of the combination of the changing needs and demands of the world’s people, businesses, and governments, evolving technological solutions and possibilities, and the need to preserve the most habitable possible future environment for the world’s population.
The underlying systemic world need is to improve the efficiency of the use of its many resources, which include food, materials, fuel, land, and water. It is also necessary and important to make the use of human resources (people, time, health, money, employment, etc,) productive and rewarding.
Its principle difference from the Information Age is the need to enable the better co-ordination of ‘real-world’ resources (e.g. people, time and other assets) and digital resources (i.e. information, computing power, etc.).
Overall, there are both changes in:
- Demand, as individuals and organisations seek to improve their resource effectiveness
- Supply, as a confluence of technological advances including AI, automation, IoT, NFV, 5G, edge, cloud, digital twins and the broad concept of ‘digitisation’ fundamentally change the operation and business models of industry production processes.
Figure 1: Global demand and supply trends are driving the Coordination Age
Source: STL Partners
Dr Che’s triangle of needs
We had many conversations at MWC about the Coordination Age. One fellow traveller that we met was Dr Haiping Che, the eminent SVP and Chief Digital Transformation Officer at Huawei.
Dr Che summarised one aspect of future success for the industry in with a rather neat triangle in his notebook, which I reproduce in the following chart.
Figure 2: Dr Che’s triangle – successful strategies will serve three goals
Source: Dr Haiping Che, SVP Chief Digital Transformation Officer, Huawei
Dr Che also made the insightful comment that a further major change will be that collaboration needs to increase in production networks to deliver increased coordination. While collaboration is increasingly common in the sharing economy on the demand side, it is not yet as strong a feature in production.
Accelerated evolution: Technologies versus problems solved
A further trend we’ve identified is that there is a general progression in the way that the increased combination of physical and digital assets produces benefits in the supply-side of the economy.
It broadly follows the steps laid out in Figure 3, taken from work in progress on a soon to be published STL Partners report on “Why need an Internet for Things (I4T)”.
Figure 3: How production is changing in the Coordination Age
Source: STL Partners
The rest of this report summarises where telcos and vendors on all this, and what should they do next.
- Executive Summary
- Mobile World Congress 2019
- The Coordination Age: A fundamental change in the world economy
- Dr Che’s triangle of needs
- Accelerated evolution: Technologies versus problems solved
- What’s happening now?
- Signs of change at MWC 2019
- Where are the telcos?
- Vendors: Going any which way to enterprise
- What should operators do?
- Change the mindset
- Make 5G pay
- Get smarter in enterprise
- How the GSMA should evolve MWC2020
- Next steps for STL Partners
- Figure 1: Global demand and supply trends are driving the Coordination Age
- Figure 2: Dr Che’s triangle – successful future strategies will serve three goals
- Figure 3: How production is changing in the Coordination Age
- Figure 4: Every picture tells a story – growing transport industry presence at MWC 2019
- Figure 5: Elisa Automate at MWC 2019
- Figure 6: Deutsche Telekom CEO Tim Höttges at MWC 2019
- Figure 7: Increasing telecoms capital investment is yielding lower and lower returns
- Figure 8: Three new telecoms industry business models