MWC19 – Peak Mobile, Folding Phones & 5G Overhype

As I mentioned in my pre-MWC interview with Calysto Communications, MWC is the combination of the World Cup, the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve all rolled up together. There is no event in the world where you will find so many senior executives from the traditional mobile industry. Its steady attendance of over 100,000 people reflects the growth and importance of mobile, but it is a far cry from the more intimate environment of 2006 when the show first moved to Barcelona.

The Good…

MWC at its core a supplier show. If you benefit from interacting with telcos, network equipment or network software providers, this is the place to be. Of course, you can see all the latest phones, but that has not been the main draw for years.


Ubiquitous marketing at the show affirms that 5G will be great when it arrives, but the hype is far ahead of the reality. As mentioned in a recent McKinsey paper, 5G will not reach scale until 2021. Certain markets such as Europe will struggle to allocate sufficient investment dollars and will almost certainly need to rely upon shared neutral networks. Operators started sharing towers years ago, so this is a natural evolution that should be welcomed as it will accelerate deployment.


One of the most interesting announcements was about the HTC partnership with Nodle. Nodle is creating a global, virtual BLE network using smartphones as gateways. With almost 4 billion Bluetooth chips shipped last year, there is clearly a huge market for BLE IoT devices.


Evening receptions remain one of the best parts of MWC. It is an unmatched opportunity to network, to learn more about what is going on and to discover new business opportunities. The concentration of senior industry executives alone makes this a very productive and enjoyable trip.


The GSMA is to be commended for the logistical triumph of running this show. Over 100,000 people are moving all around Barcelona, and even a few metro strikes did not have a material impact on getting to the show. Nothing in this world is perfect, but the show organization is far above what it was a few years ago when MWC moved to the current venue.

The Curious…

IoT was barely mentioned on the show floor this year as 5G is the next shiny object to talk about. MWC is focusing more than ever on the radio side of the business, but the overwhelming value of IoT tends to be everything but the connectivity. I feel that the lack of emphasis on IoT reflects the struggle of mobile operators to monetize IoT outside of connections, especially at the SaaS or data level. Google, Amazon and Microsoft all had a presence at the show, but it was hard to find almost anything at a solution level. It is especially interesting given that many analysts believe that there are over 500 IoT platforms in operation.


I was very surprised by the number of people in IoT who skipped MWC to attend Embedded World in Nuremberg this year. Embedded World attracts more of a technical than a business crowd, but it seems to be growing as the destination for IoT. A contributing factor is that MWC does not attract many IoT end customers.

The Future…

MWC represents the traditional mobile industry but has not broadened its appeal. A focused approach is not necessarily a bad thing as CES is starting to suffer from becoming so general that it is tough to define exactly what it stands for. As the growth of the show seems to have peaked, it will be interesting to see how the GSMA continues to reinvent itself in the coming years.


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