Mobile World Congress 2017: What will we be talking about in Barcelona?


Yves Gassot,
CEO, IDATE DigiWorld

The GSM Association’s Mobile World Congress has taken hold as the mobile industry’s biggest annual event, as well as a significant event for a great many Internet and entertainment sector players.

What do we expect to hear about in Barcelona in 2017?
We will no doubt see three to four main themes emerge from the event. We are betting that they will relate in some way to the following five topics:

5G of course! We will no doubt see on display demonstrations based on much smaller devices and equipment, so miniaturised and closer to what will actually be deployed. Not everything has been standardised, but we will be able to measure the progress made in antenna technologies (MIMO and beamforming) which will bolster frequency use, in access to millimetre wave spectrum (effectively >6GHz) which will mean much wider channels, in virtualisation and slicing with Cloud-RAN architectures …

But the status of 5G on the stands, and the announcements and press releases on pilot rollouts are also expected to illustrate two rather different approaches to pioneer applications. On the other side of the pond, the two market leaders, AT&T and Verizon, are clearly playing the Video First card. Their announcements today are heavily focused on fixed 5G trials. Essentially, they have ascertained that video is the main purveyor of traffic and can help monetise 5G’s higher speeds as much as subscriber data (programmatic advertising), that TV and video are going the way of streaming, that they are not national wireline operators and that 5G could replace or complement access provided by cable companies (which are now entering the mobile market) and Fttx. Asia is also heavily video-centric, perhaps with the added dimension of gaming which demands low latency, and the prospects surrounding virtual reality. In Europe, debates and the work being done are focused more on identifying the needs of the different vertical markets, such as integrated/autonomous cars, so 5G is defined less in terms of its higher speeds than by security and latency metrics.

Enter the ties with IoT, and we expect to see new assessments of 3GPP (NB-IoT, LTE-M, 5G) standards in Barcelona, in terms of how thy complement and compete with LPWA standards, such as Sigfox or Lora, operating in unlicensed bands.

When it comes to infrastructure, it will be difficult to avoid debates over the investments required to deploy 5G. The South Koreans and Japanese are planning on being frontrunners, spurred by the upcoming Olympic Games. Verizon and AT&T will be quick off the mark. Once again, they will need to gain a competitive edge over T-Mobile and Sprint. Carriers in Europe are being spurred by the European Commission. They may lag behind their counterparts in the United States, Japan, South Korea and even China, much as they did when it came to 4G (LTE). As a result, growth forecasts for the network equipment market worldwide are not terribly sunny, especially for mobile networks as both the fixed services and equipment markets have become more dynamic. We will need to wait until 2019 and 2020 to see an impact of the new 5G cycle on CAPEX. Under these circumstances then, we will also be talking about the situation with network suppliers? What will happen if Huawei continues to grow as it has over the next three years, while the market’s value remains unchanged?

And what about smartphones? We know that the market has flattened out in terms of unit sales, and even more so in terms of value. Innovation is getting harder to come by. As it was in Las Vegas a few weeks back, the focus in Barcelona will probably be on voice interfaces, flexible displays, virtual reality…

Lastly, the latest headlines could well loom large over the MWC. Of course uppermost in everyone’s mind is the impact of the Trump administration, with rumours surrounding M&A deals that are currently under examination (AT&T – Time Warner) or back on the table (Sprint – T-Mobile ), talk of Verizon’s entry into cable or Comcast’s into the mobile market, news that affects Netflix (whose CEO will be one of the GSMA’s special guests in Barcelona), and the ongoing hubbub around net neutrality, unlimited plans and zero rating.

Our teams will be on hand in Barcelona, and will update you in March with our reports, and we look forward to seeing you at the DigiWorld Clubs in Brussels, London and Paris for a debriefing!

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