(Photo credit: Christopher R. Wilder)
Over the last two weeks, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe visiting several innovative service providers. The trip wound-up in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress (MWC). MWC is the premier event for mobility, communications and connectivity. There were a few trends that I observed during my travels.
Cloud is both a challenge and an opportunity for carriers. Public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google are putting a tremendous amount of competitive pressure on the carrier marketplace. Further, the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine to Machine (M2M) and other data/storage intensive applications are forcing carriers to adjust how they deliver value to their customers—long gone are the days of carriers only providing connectivity. To address these challenges, carriers have begun to adopt software-based datacenter solutions that virtualize and automate networks to deliver on-demand services and applications to their customers. Carrier-grade network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) solutions have evolved to become a viable opportunity for carriers to “cloudify” and compete in the public cloud realm. Firms like AT&T, Deutsche Telekom (T-Mobile), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Huawei Technologies, Telefónica SA, Telenor Group, Canonical’s Ubuntu, Verizon and Wind River have been driving leadership in the space.
It is, and always will be, about applications. While there was considerable interest on 5G, connectivity and IoT at MWC, the real value with these technologies are the applications that reside on top. An old friend of mine says, “tools solve technology problems, while applications solve business problems”. For the past few years, IoT and other emerging enablers have been technologies in search of a solution. Now that we have reached competitive parity from an IoT perspective, many vendors have shifted to focusing on use cases and applications that solve real-world business problems. For example, mobility, wearables and the Internet of Things have shown to be major disruptors within the field service automation, supply chain, asset management and logistics industries. By coalescing data from endpoint devices, organizations can improve overall efficiency and profitability through better management of remote assets, technicians and contractors. I believe this is why there was a significant presence from the likes of Accenture, IBM, SAP, as well as an entire pavilion at MWC dedicated to mobile applications.
Eastern Europe is becoming a stronghold for business and technology innovation. For the past 15 years, I have been following how post-Communist Eastern Bloc countries have evolved to create a viable marketplace for technology development and consulting. Today, for example, many of the pan-European NFV & SDN projects begin in Eastern Europe. This has caused an explosion in the growth of consulting and systems integrators throughout the region. Countries like Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic have a low-paid, highly educated workforce that understands the latest technology trends while understanding the nuances of open source and other development platforms. Further, because of the region’s time-zone friendly proximity, many systems integrators have begun to provide comprehensive guaranteed performance Service Level Agreement services for service providers. Three systems integrators I had a chance to meet while in Poland have been doing a very good job of taking advantage of this growth: Computaris, ProIDS and Ovoo.
From a business perspective, I thought it was interesting that countries like Estonia are offering e-residency programs to help attract online businesses and investment into the country. Additionally, the presence of major companies that have established presence in these countries is a testament to their creativity and investment in economic development.
MWC is the kingpin show for all things mobile and connected. That said, it is a symbol of an innovative and vibrant market. With the explosion of WebRTC, voice, video and mobile, communication systems are converging. 5G promises to make IoT not just a reality but part of our everyday lives, and the lines between our smart phones, laptops, devices and the internet are becoming blurred. MWC reminded me that we live in interesting times.