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Mobile World Congress 2018

Janice Hughes and Rob Collier represented Redshift at MWC 2018 in Barcelona and have prepared their perspectives in a summary article. It is a pair of viewpoints from different angles: Janice has attended MWC for many years and this year she hosted the keynote on the first day with Gavin Patterson, Sher Wang, Jeremy Fox and Jeff Zucker; for Rob, it was his first time in Barcelona and at Congress.

 

Jeremy Fox (Atrium TV CEO), Janice Hughes (Redshift Strategy), Gavin Patterson (BT CEO) before their keynote session at MWC Barcelona

 

Extracting universal themes from an event as large and diverse as MWC is challenging; we’re using our own firsthand experiences (built on worn shoe leather and sore throats) to highlight the key messages that we heard from the mobile ecosystem at MWC:

 

  • 5G is the central pillar around which mobile innovation is focussed – the new protocol for wireless communication was a hot topic at MWC. Consumer and enterprise brands were keen to demonstrate their ability to leverage the capabilities that 5G will provide and, from connected cars to drone surveys to retail and beyond, innovations centred on the anticipation of a new technology. Given that the capabilities and configuration of the 5G standard remain a work-in-process, the hype feels somewhat unfounded: we (the Redshift team) are eagerly anticipating a technology that is able to meet the diverse range of use cases but are yet to be convinced that the way forward is clear

 

  • Mobile network operators are seeking identity and purpose beyond pure connectivity – the MWC 2018 theme of sustainable development goals allowed a rich showcase of inspiring initiatives built on mobile connectivity (including water supply, disaster relief, education amongst others). Telenor Group CEO, Sigve Brekke, made the case that changing society for the better is not limited to CSR programmes but is “good business” to create long-lasting relationships with customers. The mobile industry has immense potential to be a force for good and, in the process, create meaningful brand affinity with customers in developing markets. It is yet to be proven that the ‘good business’ will allow for the creation of more value-added services and will prevent mobile operators from becoming utility-only providers?

 

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning represent key opportunities for operators to differentiate consumer propositions and improve operational performance – how can mobile operators use data to improve their performance? One of the fascinating aspects of MWC is the platform it provides to discuss and showcase a broad range of data applications (problems to solve) and providers (approaches to solve those problems); it is quite genuinely a thousand flowers blooming. Initial applications of data solutions for marketing, customer management and load balancing will pave the way for more innovative uses such as fraud detection, network planning and traffic management. And it’s early days; you get the sense from MWC that heavyweights from across the mobile ecosystem heavyweights will up the ante in their bids to gain the edge in an extremely competitive landscape

 

  • There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm and excitement around new consumer hardware – it’s been a while since we’ve been bowled away by a handset launch and, unfortunately for those on the nerdier side, MWC 2018 offered little respite. Samsung’s Galaxy S9 dominated through sheer promotional effort but without much to support the hype; it’s so difficult to create meaningful differentiation at the high-end of the handset market. Huawei and LG deferred major device launches rather than try to compete with Samsung. The new wave of device innovation focused on connecting (improving?) existing devices, but it’s tough to get excited about a connected tap.

 

Given his recent work with sports rights holders, Rob was particularly interested to see how some of the world’s most popular entertainment brands were represented at MWC. Sport remains a hot topic for mobile operators and telcos. Gavin Patterson, BT CEO, said that its sports rights was the main point of focus for a local pay-TV operation; as more mobile network operators consider their diversification, the interest in content propositions will increase and, as we’ve seen across many markets, high-profile sports brands are crucial to drive adoption of subscription services.

Formula 1 counts itself amongst the most renowned sports brands and the Liberty Media-owned franchise was out in force in Barcelona. The F1 stand occupied prime real estate at the entrance to the main conference stage and incorporated two racing cars and an eSports tournament stage. The F1 media team used the conference to announce a new OTT service aimed at developing a younger audience. It’s certainly a mark in the sand; F1 is going direct-to-consumer in major markets (Germany, US and Italy were all listed in the initial press release) and foregoing potentially significant pay-TV deals. It presents both opportunities and challenges: will F1 be able to generate the same sort of scale without a broadcast partner? How can it create value from more direct relationships with their viewers? To what extent are they positioned to attract a younger audience (especially given the competition with FormulaE)? Watch this space.

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