The period from 28 February to 3 March will be recorded as significant dates in the history of the telecoms and technology industry as the GSMA convened more than 61,000 people from across the industry for MWC Barcelona 2022, marking the return of full-scale physical events and removed any lingering doubts over the continuing appeal of in-person industry gatherings.

Here we bring you the buzz from the event and predict what to expect in 2023.

A more comprehensive analysis of these developments has also been published by GSMA Intelligence here, examining nearly 50 announcements across 12 individual topics, all the important stories that took centre stage at MWC Barcelona 2022 and what they mean for the industry.

The Connectivity Unleashed theme of MWC Barcelona 2022 was aptly defined to capture everything happening on the show floor. The announcements in the lead up and during the event were dominated by the broad themes of private, open and standalone networks; cloud; and edge, all sitting under the wider umbrella of 5G connectivity and revenue generating opportunities for enterprises.

Obviously sustainability, energy efficiency and, of course the metaverse were other key topics.

On my first business trip in two years, I was excited to experience everything that was happening on the show floor. Having absorbed as much as possible over four days, here are my key highlights and takeaways.

Private networks comes to the fore
The wide range of announcements ranging from partnerships to commercial products and solutions in the sphere of private networks confirms their role in capitalising on enterprise opportunities and operator interest in them. Standalone (SA) 5G and network slicing should foster the easy deployment of private networks and, in recognition of this fact there were several developments seen on these fronts too.

GSMA Intelligence data shows 24 operators to date have deployed commercial SA 5G networks with a further 16 having announced plans to deploy. Notably, Orange announced vendors for its 5G core networks and on the network slicing front, there were systems exhibiting dynamic inventory management.

Continuing focus on RAN
RAN innovation has historically been a major focus at MWC and this year was no different. The number of new open RAN vendors promoting their products speaks to the supplier diversity promise of the approach.

Of course, another set of RAN vendors (not necessarily promoting open RAN) exists in the ecosystem too. These companies demonstrated the benefits of network automation and energy-efficient systems to drive cost-savings and optimised network performance, often clearly targeting perceived weaknesses with open RAN.

Irrespective of how, the end-goal of all these vendors is the same: to drive network efficiencies, cost savings, increase flexibility and reduce time-to-market. And, one other thing was also in common, emphasising the importance of RAN optimisation (via open RAN Intelligent Controllers, or similar non-open RAN solutions) to drive network efficiencies and performance.

Cloud vendors making inroads
Once again the cloud was firmly in view on the show floor. Adam Selipsky, CEO of AWS, in a keynote presentation used examples from its current partnerships with operators to highlight the myriad possibilities available from moving various business operations and networks to the cloud, from core to RAN, from IT to front-end operations, from storage to compute.

Combined with the possibilities of edge computing, the pairing has the potential to open a new world of opportunities for the use-cases demanding low-latency, high throughputs and flexibility in operations.

On one hand, it is good to have clarity on the myriad possibilities and benefits of moving to cloud. At the same time, however, there is a lack of clarity on the role cloud vendors will play for operators in the mobile ecosystem. The varying business models adopted by cloud vendors, from partnership with operators to launching direct-to-enterprise solutions leaves mobile service providers in a fix as to how they should treat cloud vendors: as partners, competitors or co-opetitors?

Metaverse moves beyond hype
It goes without saying the metaverse was one of the most discussed topics on the show floor.

In the lead up to the MWC Barcelona 2022, there was a widespread hope of gaining some more clarity on what exactly the metaverse means, who will be the main players, what will be the business models and much more besides.

While these questions were not fully answered, one thing was clear: the transition of the metaverse from a hyped term to a new world of possibilities is already well underway, addressing questions (or at least understanding opportunities), such as whether there will be one single metaverse or multiple metaverses, and whether non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and crypto will be the digital currencies of the metaverse and Web 3.0.

The rapidly-growing momentum in the metaverse stands as a signal for industry players to start identifying their roles if they want to capture early-mover advantage.

What drives purchase decisions?
While taking up less space than network infrastructure demos and product pods, there was a significant line-up of device launches in the smartphone and laptop/tablet categories.

Corroborating the results of the GSMA Intelligence consumer survey, where 93 per cent of respondents mentioned battery life as a key feature dictating their purchase decisions, major breakthroughs related to battery performance and fast charging were observed in the announcements.

With phones long having replaced dedicated cameras and tablets for many casual users, innovations were also noticed on these fronts. The increased availability of foldable phones with affordable price points also indicated the start of their journey to mass adoption.

MWC had always been a place to do business, network, and gain an understanding of the latest products and solutions in the market. Combined with keynote presentations and various analyst summits, the result is a unique opportunity to glean insights into the strategic direction of the industry.

But, for all the discussion of connectivity and 5G monetisation, I saw another theme emerge across the presentations, keynotes and speeches from industry leaders.

Beyond specific product and service launches, these CEOs and business leaders highlighted a strategic focus to make the world a better place to live, either by way of ethical leadership or climate change initiatives.

  • Need for ethical leadership: Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, industry bosses called for ethical leadership and set out the role technology can play for the betterment of everyone.
  • Play your part to combat climate change: A need for continued focus on climate-change initiatives supporting the decarbonisation and net-zero journey of operators was cited numerous times. Examples and case studies were used to highlight the significant carbon reductions smart connectivity can drive.
  • Fair return opportunities demand shared investment load: A level playing field was also claimed as the need of the hour to offer fair return on investment opportunities to everyone. Industry leaders called for greater sharing of the investment required to support increased data traffic, the benefits of which are reaped by multiple players across the entire ecosystem, not just operators.

What does this all mean?
The announcements and developments from MWC signal the broader topics of network innovations, cloud, and enterprise opportunities will continue to be the focus areas in 2022, alongside emerging topics like the metaverse.

Progress on 6G beyond the formation of working groups and creation of a roadmap is also expected.

Perhaps more importantly, the mobile ecosystem is expanding like never seen before. The advent of new concepts like the metaverse and emergence of new use-cases with 5G and beyond will only see the ecosystem growing further. Consequently, we should expect to see more players from the widening mobile industry ecosystem present at MWC Barcelona next year.

While all this happens, in the here and now, it is worth cherishing the success of MWC Barcelona 2022 and everything that we learned in just four days.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and don’t forget to check out our wrap-up report as well as the Industry Updates section of GSMA Intelligence which captures the announcements and developments in the lead up to and during the event.

– Radhika Gupta – head of data acquisition, GSMA Intelligence

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.