Mobile World Congress

MWC: Humanity Blinked

I have attended MWC for more than a decade and each one had a unique feel and technology focus. I vividly recall how almost 10 years to the day that the key takeaway of MWC13 was that Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) which had only recently emerged was rapidly starting to take hold and if successful would have major ramifications for service providers, vendors, and end-users.

AI Automation and Integration

Ten years on at last week's MWC23, a sense of Deja-vu came over me as I watched several cloud-based demonstrations. Like NFV I had not anticipated the pace or adoption scope that service providers were committed to in terms of integrating their networks with hyperscalers. It's real and will be generational. Two use cases stood out. Integration of service provider 5G networks to support heavily automated public networks like fulfillment centers as well as spinning 5G core and RAN controllers for disaster recovery or scale. One of the most interesting parts in both cases was just hyperscalers' willingness to allow service provider developers access to the "stack" so they can create or customize enterprise applications.

The strong focus on private networks makes sense given the utilization of AI and ML in these networks will positively impact the bottom line. This was reinforced in some informal briefings with various vendors where the discussion seemed to always end up with the conclusion that 5G monetization will take place in the enterprise.

The only logical conclusion is that on some level private networks use cases and there were many of them will be a success. The outstanding question is who will reap the monetization benefits – hyperscalers or service providers. This focus on the cloud may be one of the reasons why network slicing which I have believed would garner major attention seemed much more a secondary focus. Dynamic slicing is realistically still several years away which perhaps is a good thing given securing slices also felt like a work in progress. While there is consensus that service providers have the basic tools and capabilities to secure slices, complexity and slicing security strategies need additional hardening.

Application Exposure – Human Exposure

There is little doubt that cloud integration and exposing cloud-based APIs anywhere in the network will drive service innovation and revenue growth. But there are concerns. Automation and API-based applications are perfect for robotic fulfillment centers but may be not an optimal approach for maintaining a rich human quality of experience.

MWC23 was a case in point. The step to move ahead with an MWC23 application and Digital Access Pass-only access model was laudable, but it would have been helpful to have a stronger measure of human support to manage issues. In MWC19 the last I attended there was a strong measure of hands-on support that enabled attendees to pick up the badges and metro pass at the airport which saved a lot of time and helped avoid the long queue to pick up the metro pass on the first day.

The MWC23 app seems to have replaced a lot of the iconic and friendly red vest GSMA team members that made any MWC feel like a "global village." At this event, it seemed it was hard to connect on a human level in the hallways without name badges and your head buried in the app. While this application centric approach has cost and optimal efficiencies the exposure is a loss of human interaction which many of us craved after a three-year lockdown.

Additionally, I had issues with my digital access pass which made accessing the event very difficult. I had completed the pre-check digital access pass confirmation steps but when I arrived on day 1 with long lines the pass didn't launch the QR code so I couldn't get in due to the no pass no access strategy.

In the classic stare-down between humans and automation, at this event humanity blinked and let the application take precedence. The frustrating part was that the help desk resources were limited in numbers and could not provide software support since no resources from the app developer were provided for troubleshooting. I recommend next year having a help desk outside with support from the app developer and build in online real support into the app vs simply providing an email address. But to be clear the help desk staff were very attentive and patient with more than a few of us who were spending precious time figuring out how to keep meeting commitments.

The help desk staff were also innovative and showed that given time human ingenuity can address complex automation-centric issues through creative basic workarounds. My second trip to the help desk confirmed ironically that mobile network data capacity was the culprit since the digital access pass worked on Wi-Fi inside which wasn't helpful outside the FIRA.

The two solutions informally offered were to launch the digital access pass using WI-FI in a coffee shop across from the FIRA or to gain access to a streamlined QR code by logging onto the registration page, thereby avoiding the digital access pass. I chose the second option which wasn't elegant but worked well enough to avoid a third trip to the help desk.

While MWC23 provided invaluable insights into the positive path that 5G monetization is embarking upon it also reinforced that as an industry we must not lose sight of the fact that cloud-driven automated efficiencies gains must not be achieved at the expense of human quality of experience since without satisfied human customers there will be limited demand for cloud integration, AI or even live technology events.

– Jim Hodges, Research Director, Heavy Reading

Sign In