LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS SHANGHAI 2017: The mobile industry will be the lynchpin of future digital transformation, enabling governments and businesses to connect with a growing number of users to deliver a wide range of societal benefits, leaders of the GSMA said.

Speaking in the keynote session on the opening day of Mobile World Congress Shanghai, GSMA director general Mats Granryd (pictured) focused on the transformational opportunities 5G will create in just a few years, and how mobile is becoming instrumental in driving a broader industrial evolution, which he named the fourth industrial revolution.

This revolution will see hundreds of billions of connections, which will be capable of sensing and communicating key information about their environment. This, in turn, will drive the digital economy into every aspect of people’s lives.

However, rather than being some far-flung vision of the future, Granryd noted the mobile industry is already driving growth and creating new economic opportunities. In Asia Pacific alone, the mobile industry employs around 16 million people, directly and indirectly, and contributes $1.3 trillion in terms of economic value.

Granryd called on governments to back the mobile industry by ensuring competition and regulatory frameworks reflect how the market has evolved and provide a sound foundation for ongoing competition, investment and innovation.

“In particular, the timely release of harmonised spectrum with the right conditions, the approval of consolidation to drive investment while maintaining effective competition, and the application of the same regulations to equivalent digital services are crucial to the development of a rich and vibrant digital economy,” he said.

Bharti boss
The theme of enabling the mobile industry to thrive was picked up by Sunil Bharti Mittal, head of operator Bharti Airtel and chairman of the GSMA.

In his presentation, Mittal called for competition regulators to make it easier for mobile operators to merge, because “this industry requires serious scale.”

He pointed to China as a market which is thriving because it achieved the necessary scale by having three main mobile operators. “A country of 1.3 or 1.4 billion people having just three operators shows the way for the world that scale matters.”

“It is because of scale that you can lower the tariffs, it is because of scale that you can make internet affordable to everyone.”

The GSMA chairman explained bringing down prices is essential to ensure everyone can benefit from the societal improvements mobile can deliver, noting there is still a large digital divide where some 2 billion people remain unconnected to mobile networks, penetration of internet remains poor, and more men than women are capable of accessing connected services.

Mittal also issued a stark warning regarding the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a range of targets the organisation set to deliver societal change and improvement by 2030: “There is no way the UN will be able to meet these outcomes without the support of this vital mobile industry”.

Despite the GSMA leaders’ call to arms, Mittal noted mobile is already delivering benefits to society, spanning sectors including education, healthcare and agriculture in Asia Pacific.