Earlier in the month I caught up with Mobile World Live’s Mike Robuck to talk about my expectations for the 2023 edition of MWC Las Vegas. He kicked off with a simple – yet profound – question, “what’s new this year?” Beyond any specifics of what’s new at MWC Las Vegas this year, there is, of course, the broader question of what’s new in the industry. Ultimately, of course, the one should drive the other (industry changes driving event changes), and this is what makes it such a great topic.

As we move into the back half of 2023, there’s obviously a lot going on in the mobile industry. 5G continues to scale. Operators continue to make progress penetrating enterprise verticals (with and without 5G). New network innovations like 5G-Advanced are getting more attention alongside new network monetisation issues like API exposure.

Much of this will be touched upon in a blog my colleague James Joiner pens building off our North American Mobile Economy report. In the meantime, I’d like to touch on three ‘new’ things which I’ll be following closely. In part, because they’re extremely important industry issues. In part, because I’ll be directly involved with them at the show next week.

I know what you’re probably thinking; the focus on sustainability in telecoms and mobile is not new. Not by a long shot. I’ll also let you in on a secret from our upcoming network transformation survey of telecoms networks decision makers. Sustainability is no longer the top network transformation business priority for operators – though still firmly in the top three.

So why is it a big deal? The story has changed.

When we first started writing about sustainability, network energy efficiency was the main focus. This makes sense since it’s the biggest direct impact operators have on carbon emissions. And, it’s the one they can most easily control (plus, vendors are always eager to sell new innovations – like energy efficiency upgrades). Circa 2023, the network efficiency story hasn’t gone away. But, it’s now accompanied by a broader view of sustainability and even networks. Think the impact of data processing at the network core vs. network edge. Think the use of renewables. Think circularity. Circa 2023, there’s an understanding that there’s a lot more operators can do to support their sustainability goals than simply run more efficient base stations.

It’s this dynamic that led the GSMA Intelligence team to run a Sustainability Summit on Day One of MWC Las Vegas including incredible sponsors like AMD, Inel and Arm. We’ll be on the showfloor at the Hub Innovation Stage from 2pm.

Generative AI
Okay, this one really is new.

At MWC Las Vegas 2022, Generative AI (GenAI) was a “known” technology. The launch of ChatGPT two months later, however, catapulted it into the mainstream and drove myriad competitors to come forward with their solutions. What has truly made GenAI an omni-present topic of conversation is its democratisation.

By making GenAI something that’s easily accessible to nearly anyone with basic digital skills, usage has scaled at an incredible pace. This comes with network effects – driving more conversations, more usage, and fueling use case development. At the same time, GenAI is something that stakeholders across businesses and societies want to see progress, and clarity on. That includes employees and C-Suite execs alongside governments.

This doesn’t mean that everyone (anyone?) has the technology figured out and knows exactly how it should be put to use…today or in the future. That includes telcos. There have been a number of GenAI initiatives and partnerships announced by operators – including the formation of the Global Telco AI Alliance – but exactly how and where they put it to use is still a work in progress.

I’m not expecting any definitive answers in the near-term, but I do expect MWC Las Vegas to generate some great insights. That’s why I specifically asked to moderate the conference session on Generative AI: What is the Operator’s Role in Generative AI? At 1:30p on Wednesday the 27th, we’ll have folks like Verizon, Ericsson, NVIDIA, Accenture and AWS at Stage B, all weighing in on the topic. I’ll be bringing my pressing questions and hope you will too.

Non-Terrestrial Networks
Like the sustainability topic, non-terrestrial networks (connectivity via drone or satellite) is not a particularly new topic. And, like Generative AI, it’s not actually high on the list of operator strategic priorities. Regardless, the gathering momentum and recognition of what these technologies can deliver is undeniable.

Perhaps more importantly for MWC Las Vegas, the momentum in the US is palpable. Think T-Mobile and SpaceX. Think AT&T and AST SpaceMobile. Think Amazon’s Project Kuiper. None of this means the trajectory of the industry is certain. Will satellite be a friend or foe to mobile operator businesses? Will there be room for the many competing constellations to survive? How quickly will the mobile device ecosystem embrace direct-to-device support?

And, of course, let’s not forget about the drone aspect of non-terrestrial networks. Here, the US is a good news, bad news story. The recent FCC moves to grant licenses for beyond line-of-sight drone operations could well be a catalyst for the market’s drone economy. At the same time, when GSMA Intelligence benchmarked drone regulations across different countries, the US came in near the bottom. Positive momentum aside, more work clearly remains to be done.

Add in the inclusion of non-terrestrial network support as a part of 5G-Advanced standards and it’s clear why this is a topic of critical importance – in the US and beyond. As with the sustainability topic, this is why the GSMA Intelligence team decided it was important to organise a Summit at MWC Las Vegas to dig into these questions and issues. With the support of Comtech Telecommunications and including a keynote from Globalstar’s CEO Paul Jacobs, we’ll be kicking things off from 9:30am on Day One at the Hub Innovation Stage back on the showfloor. I can’t think of a better way to begin a busy week at MWC Las Vegas and hope to see you there.

– Peter Jarich – Head, 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.