Intelligence Brief: Who will win at MWC Americas? - Mobile World Live

Intelligence Brief: Who will win at MWC Americas?

29 AUG 2018

In 2017, on the eve of the inaugural Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA), I penned a column to dig into a fairly complicated question: what would success for the new event look like?

Just between us, there were some fundamental problems with the question. The show wasn’t actually new, it was a rebranding and rethink of CTIA’s annual autumn event. Meanwhile, the location was new (and temporary), impacting the logistical smoothness to be expected. Oh, and how one measures success is up for debate. Success for the organiser? Success for the attendees? Which set of attendees? All of the above? There are so many ways to slice success that it is largely a useless question. Sorry.

As we look forward to this year’s MWCA, then, a better question might be who will win?

Yes, it’s still a fraught question. Winning can be defined in a number of ways. Ultimately, however, we’re talking about winning people’s attention and telling a good story. This turns the focus from the event itself to the content; themes; news; and exhibitors. It asks who will benefit most. Who will take the best advantage of the show. And, luckily, it comes with a handful of clearer answers.

I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again. Circa 2018, 5G will factor prominently in (if not dominate) nearly any mobile-focused event. Such was the case in 2017. Such will be the case in 2019. It may be annoying, but it’s understandable when considering the capex implications and the high-hopes surrounding 5G. And when the show is taking place in the US? Then you know 5G will make a centre-stage appearance given plans for near-term commercial launches and 5G jockeying among the major carriers. Will simply making an appearance count as winning? I’m not sure. But early insights on how 5G is going to be monetised, new innovations (device commitments, maybe) and announcements of plans from smaller operators or those outside the US would help.

I’m sure it’s possible to hold an industry event in LA and not include Hollywood in the agenda, in the same way you could go to Washington DC and not talk politics. But it wouldn’t be easy. And, as the telecom and entertainment industries increasingly intersect, it wouldn’t make sense to ignore the massive changes taking place in mobility. From the large amounts of YouTube, Netflix and Amazon video traffic coursing through mobile networks, to the evolution of TV everywhere (driven by such traffic). From the rollout of mobile services by cable operators to the rollout of video services by mobile operators. Naturally, AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner will frame many of the conversations at MWCA. For Hollywood to truly win at MWCA, those conversations will need to acknowledge the broad spectrum of telecom-media strategies which range from AT&T (aspiring to be a media player) to Verizon (partnering for video) and everything in between.

Los Angeles
I might mean, here, that LA will benefit from the presence of MWCA. That the Thursday morning 5K run and insights from the mobile industry will enrich the city. That’s all true, but it’s not what I mean. In the same way Hollywood is not the entirety of LA, video (movies, TV, and short-form content) is not the entirety of entertainment. Between live events; music streaming; augmented and virtual reality; and gaming, the entertainment world is very broad. More importantly, from sell-through to sponsorships to low-latency connectivity, there is a role for mobile to play. Hollywood may dominate many conversations around the intersection of mobility and entertainment, but the entertainment industry is greater than that, which we should see on display in LA.

While a lot has been made about the so-called race to 5G across regions, the race between vendors to score early 5G expertise and credibility is very real. And the US is a prime battleground to see all of the complexities on display. You’ve got AT&T and Verizon duking it out to be first. You’ve got Sprint and T-Mobile US justifying a major merger on the back of 5G. You’ve got fixed and mobile use cases. You’ve got some carriers highlighting LTE as part of the 5G marketing. You’ve got enough fibre available to make new 5G network architectures a reality. About the only thing missing is a significant presence of Chinese network vendors. While this does not mean they are absent from the market and will likely have plenty of people in attendance (despite not exhibiting at the event), they are unlikely to make the same sort of noise they would at events outside the US. And that can only benefit their competitors in the network infrastructure space.

In 2017, as MWCA kicked off, Apple launched the iPhone X (and the less exciting iPhone 8). This year, we’ll have the same sort of conflict: the next set of iPhones will be launched on 12 September. As always, the rumour mill is churning away with predictions. Larger versions; cheaper versions; new colours. Regardless of what is launched, it will be major news for the entire mobile industry and a major conversation topic at MWCA. Luckily, streaming, tweeting and mobile connectivity mean being in LA and at the iPhone launch (at least virtually) aren’t mutually exclusive.

As much as it’s nearly certain these trends and players will win the MWCA battle for attention, I’m holding out hope that some others will come in close. If not clear winners, then maybe they can be second, third, (fifth?).

I hope to see the rest of the Americas beyond the US represented. Given the continuing role of LTE across the continent, I want to see it make a strong appearance. And where open networking initiatives have been championed by players including AT&T, Telefonica, Facebook and Google, I hope to hear some noise around them.

Among everything else, these may be outside bets. If nothing else, that should make it all-the-more fun to show up and see how this all plays out.

– Peter Jarich, head of 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.