Mobile World Congress (MWC) is back in a big way and delivered the 5Goods (my clever play on words) on many fronts. First, the organizer, GSMA, estimates that nearly 90,000 attendees flocked to the beautiful city of Barcelona for the perennial mobility event this year. Second, a handful of significant announcements were compelling and will likely have a lasting impact on the service provider community.
I attended the event for four days, holding numerous meetings with infrastructure providers, mobile network operators and communication service providers (CSPs)—and logging a lot of steps as measured by my Oura ring! Reflecting on the announcements made at MWC, I would like to share my insights on the ones that stood out for me.
Nokia doubles down on enterprise
The most flash-worthy news at MWC was Nokia’s new B2B brand strategy announcement. It’s no secret that the Finnish infrastructure provider has had its share of ups and downs over the years. In 2020, Pekka Lundmark assumed the role of CEO, having previously served in other senior management roles at the company during the decade after he began his career at Nokia in 1990. Since his CEO tenure began, Nokia has made significant strides in improving financials tied to its lines of business, flattening organizational structures and creating end-to-end accountability throughout each of its business units. However, the stock price still doesn’t reflect these gains.
With that in mind, the company has anchored its renewed focus on the enterprise market segment with a logo that looks like it was created in a science fiction movie. I like it, and executives shared that the brandmark connotes a focus on business infrastructure, services and cooperation. The latter is easily seen when viewing the quasi-hieroglyphic letters together. With that said, it will take more than some new branding for Nokia to be successful long-term in the enterprise space. To this end, during the logo reveal ceremony on Sunday afternoon, Lundmark highlighted six key business objectives and four enablement functions that encompass talent retention and development, R&D, company digitalization and brand identity. Nokia’s six objectives are:
- Grow its CSP business faster than the market
- Expand the share of enterprise business
- Actively manage the portfolio
- Secure business longevity via Nokia Technologies
- Build new business models
- Develop Environmental, Social, and Governance into a competitive advantage and become the “trusted provider of choice” in the industry.
Lundmark’s business plan is straightforward and highly executable. Still, I wonder if the third objective of active portfolio management is meant to address the company’s past challenges in product development and roadmap planning. As a former product manager and team leader at Dell Technologies, Compaq and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), I know that product marketing and management can be tricky, especially when facing supply chain constraints and IT/ OT budget scrutiny as everyone does today.
Nokia has the proper hardware, software and overall portfolio depth to make a serious run for enterprise customers. Its traditional CSP selling approach has limited its success in the past, but new partnerships with the likes of Dell Technologies (which doesn’t compete with Nokia networking solutions) could help pull it into more enterprise deals.
GSMA Open Gateway initiative
Moving on from Nokia, this year the GSMA used MWC as a launching pad for a new framework that aims to provide the developer community with universal network application program interfaces (APIs). It's not a new concept, given that Ericsson announced the same strategy at its "Imagine Possible" event in Santa Clara last year. If you want to know more about Ericsson’s strategy, take a look at my analysis of it here.
What is different about Open Gateway is that it enjoys widespread support from 21 mobile network operators (MNOs). This initiative should go far to open an ecosystem that has been closed for decades, one that contributed to the “dumb pipe” phenomena witnessed with 4G LTE. Things must change in a 5G world, given that infrastructure deployments run into the billions of dollars or euros and pricey mid-band spectrum auctions are in the same pricing stratosphere, as we saw in the FCC’s $80+ billion C-Band auction. Subsequently, operators must find ways to monetize and offer compelling services to subscribers.
Open Gateway could be a great start, with eight initial open APIs launched. The most compelling ones include Quality of Service on Demand (QoD), edge site selection and routing and device location verification. More open APIs are planned for this year, and my friends at the Linux Foundation will be charged with documentation through the CAMARA open-source project. Open Gateway could accelerate 5G service innovation. If the MNOs are smart, they will jointly invest in monetizing compelling 5G applications to retire mobile network investments while improving consumer and enterprise subscriber average revenue per user (ARPU).
The rumors of Huawei’s death have been greatly exaggerated
Huawei has maintained a lower profile over the past two years, but that changed at MWC this year. The Chinese information communications technology giant had the largest booth at the event. That says a lot, given the formidable size of the event spaces of Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and others. More importantly, this year I found Huawei focused on compelling 5G use cases, versus past MWC events where it showcased its hardware, silicon and smartphones. One use case that caught my eye was Huawei’s participation in digitalizing mining operations for the Debswana mining company in Botswana.
Debswana is a joint venture between De Beers and the Botswana government. It’s also an essential part of the African country’s economy, generating most of its exports and contributing significantly to Botswana’s GDP. The company’s diamond mines have been open for decades, and most operational aspects were manual in the past. However, the need to improve safety and efficiency led Debswana to seek a partner during the pandemic to modernize its infrastructure by leveraging 5G's latency, massive device support and throughput advantages.
At MWC, Huawei positioned the initiative as the world’s first Smart 5G diamond mine project. It builds upon a Huawei LTE deployment dating back to 2021 that now adds capabilities such as autonomous piloting of vehicles to further improve worker safety, smart camera and computer vision solutions. Huawei has also developed a new lens coating that repeals dust and debris for unobstructed camera visibility. It’s all very compelling on the surface and proves that some parts of the world are comfortable using Huawei solutions, despite the security concerns raised by the West. 2023 is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, and 5G supercharged mining use cases could serve as a lucky rabbit’s foot for the company.
Honorable mentions: Cisco and NTT, HPE Aruba Networking
There are two other MWC announcements worth mentioning. Private cellular networking powered by 5G continues to be a subject of great interest to both infrastructure providers and operators. However, its adoption could be faster. My theory is that significant fragmentation has occurred, given the multiple routes to market represented by solutions in a box from Celona; on-premises and cloudified offerings from Ericsson/Cradlepoint, Nokia, Samsung and Huawei; and 5G-as-a-service from Cisco, AWS, Azure for Operators and others.
That said, Cisco and NTT announced a strategic partnership to further their mutual private networking efforts. What I like about the tie-up is the focus on integrating cellular into existing LAN and WAN enterprise deployments. One of the challenges with private wireless is to avoid creating overlay networks that might increase operational complexity. Given both companies’ depth of capabilities and large customer install bases, I expect to hear great things in the future about this partnership. If you want to learn more, you can find the press release here.
HPE also made a significant statement with its announced intention to acquire mobile core networking infrastructure provider Athonet. Once finalized, the transaction will give HPE’s Aruba Networking portfolio an instant seat at the table for private 5G opportunities (versus the more reactive fallback position of having Celona on its price list in the past). To gain more context on this deal, I met with HPE CFO Tarek Robbiati, who has responsibility for the company's strategy. I was impressed by Robbiati’s background and knowledge of the telecommunications industry, much of which was gained in his years as a Sprint executive. He shared that with Athonet, Aruba can extend its networking reach beyond the confines of IT campus and branch locations, moving into OT connectivity use cases such as transportation and logistics, manufacturing and more. Even better, all of this can be managed through the Aruba Central control center. If you want to learn more, you can find the press release here.
Aruba’s strategy seems similar to its rival Cisco’s, yet different because Cisco has developed its own converged core. It's too early to call a winner regarding which approach is better, but time should tell. Regardless of who wins, the competition should breed more innovation and compelling pricing for enterprises considering taking the plunge into private 5G networking.
MWC was a fantastic event this year, as my colleagues Patrick Moorhead and Anshel Sag concurred when we regrouped for tapas at the end of the event. Attendance is inching closer to pre-pandemic levels, and there were some significant announcements. My big takeaway is that private cellular networking and fixed wireless access services will continue to receive the lion's share of 5G attention for the foreseeable future. However, as networking infrastructure providers and MNOs expose more APIs, that should also accelerate 5G service innovation.
I’ve probably overused the example of 4G LTE enabling rideshare services as being that technology generation’s watershed application that no one saw coming. However, if APIs bring developers more quickly into the technology stacks for next-generation connectivity like 5G, we will all benefit from its promise sooner—and who knows what the next watershed application will be.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.