Mobile World Congress isn't what it used to be (and that's a good thing)

Mobile World Congress isn't what it used to be (and that's a good thing)

For some years now, the GSMA, the communications body that organizes the Mobile World Congresses (MWC) in Barcelona, ​​Los Angeles, Shanghai and Kigali, has been insisting – with little success here – that the conference should not be called mobile because it has too much reach. Much further than a mobile phone. And in this edition they were clearly proven right. Not only because of the absence of major innovations in telephony, but also because the bulk of the displays and stands already correspond to products and services that take connectivity for granted, as if it were electricity or water. Although some clouds threaten this industry. To complement the daily records, today we review some notable trends.

Artificial intelligence down to soup. One multinational executive told me on Wednesday that a quarter of MWC24's 2,400 stands displayed the abbreviation AI somewhere on signage. Algorithms have defined our digital experience for years: Gmail's spam filter, Maps' route calculation, the ads we see in video games we didn't pay for, the photos Instagram shows us… but the presence of AI in this edition has been overwhelming. On the one hand, the motive of the generative method, which is able to invent texts, images and sounds from a more or less natural dialogue with users. On the other hand, industrial uses of AI to improve production, research or healthcare, with numerous examples among startups in the 4YFN section. And there is another matter: the extensive application of artificial intelligence in the operation of networks, making them more efficient in terms of performance and energy saving. Side, the latter, which Telecom And their vendors do their homework much better than the Internet giants: every query to ChatGPT and every fancy image generated using DALL-E consumes so many data center resources that it actually jeopardizes the sustainability goals of the entire industry.

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Cell phones are so boring. Beyond the inevitable flexible-screen prototype, in this case from Motorola/Lenovo, the hardware innovations are on the inside. Before MWC, Samsung – as well as Xiaomi, Honor and ZTE – have focused on promoting the integration of generative AI functions that allow their devices to perform operations – retouching images, transcribing/summarizing/translating texts and sounds – that previously required access to cloud services. The key is for all of the above brands to use Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon processor, which will soon feature a similar chip from Mediatek that will expand the scope of AI in mid-range phones.

Communication is the foundation of everything. Phones, sensors, applications and services depend on strong, fast and wide-coverage networks, without which nothing would be possible to see in MWC and 4YFN. That's why network infrastructure providers—antennas, fiber, data centers, and management software—remain, in fact, the most important exhibitors at the conference. While commercial 5G is still here without quite being there, as it still shares elements with existing 4G, advanced 5G has already been demonstrated at MWC, an evolution of true 5G that envisions getting closer to antennas as part of existing intelligence. Currently in cloud servers, to achieve the low latency necessary for industrial uses – factories, autonomous vehicles – and also to enable so-called RedCap (low capacity) that allows devices to be connected with a small amount of autonomy, from watches to agricultural sensors.

Huawei does not need the West. The US veto of Huawei products, an intervention of trade protectionism disguised as cybersecurity concern, has led to the Chinese company's radio equipment disappearing from Western networks and its phones from stores there. But it overcame the obstacle by developing its own technology to replace what was denied to it from abroad thanks to the strength present in other markets. In the Forbidden City, with its 10,000 square meter pavilion – the largest at the MWC – where only telephone operators have access, we were able to understand that Huawei's business is booming in regions such as Africa and Latin America, not to mention that the company is also the preferred supplier of networks in countries such as Russia and the Taliban's Afghanistan.

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Who pays it? In my article on the Sunday before MWC, I already noted the weakness of the European telecoms industry, unable to handle the network investments that would require a 5G rollout on the scale of the US, China or Korea. The first day of the conference was once again the scene of calls from major European operators to the authorities to force American digital giants to pay part of the cost of the networks of which they consume half. the Telecom They also ask Brussels to make it easier for company mergers, especially between states, to have access to the same spectrum as elsewhere in the world and not have to negotiate frequencies with 27 regulators.

D'Artagnan Palette and the Three Musketeers. The protagonist on Monday was José María Alvarez Ballete in a three-way match. The Telefónica CEO, an experienced marathon runner and always one step ahead – he wears not a smartwatch but an Oura connected ring – spoke in the morning as GSMA president, highlighting the progress made by the Open Gateway initiative to include 5G network services in end-to-end applications the third; In the afternoon, the conciliatory tone was set after the aggressive intervention of Tim Höttjes of Deutsche Telekom, in an unusual four-party presentation, in which the top managers of Orange, Christel Heidemann, and Vodafone, Margherita Della Valle also participated; At night, it hosts the interactive concert of pianist Lang Lang and his hologram at the Liceu, the event with which Telefónica kicked off its centenary celebrations.

In Catalan please. As an international event – to the satisfaction of the local hotel industry – it is understood that the standard language of the MWC is English. But it is especially appreciated that some companies from abroad use our language. I almost cry with joy when I'm big teleco Asiatica wrote to me the other day to invite me to visit her booth with a message in impeccable Catalan. All visitors who went to the exhibition by metro were able to see advertisements in which Xiaomi promoted the “legendary lens” of its new phone in our language. It should put shame on the faces of many other exhibitors, especially startups here, that ignore the Catalan language in their products. Most justify this by saying that they have to prioritize until they have more resources. But, wherever you go, they always give priority to other languages.

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