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Jouko Ahvenainen

New innovations and startups at MWC2017

Mobile World Congress has always been a place to publish new technology, but the focus has been on larger corporations and really hardcore technology components, not typically new business innovations or startups that can disrupt a market. Now it looks like MWC is getting a more important role in these kinds of innovations too, in particular 4YFN is finally finding its market position.

MWC has had many models to activate young innovative companies to come there. The main hall space is typically too expensive for smaller companies. Many countries have their own departments where they try to promote their own startups and growth companies. It anyway looks like these country department companies are often quite traditional telecom technology companies and don't represent significant market innovations. Maybe those government development agencies focus on riskless, traditional and boring companies; innovations at MWC are elsewhere.

This year MWC had two major places for new innovations and companies. Next Tech Pavilion was in the main exhibition center. It includes, for examples, AR, VR, IoT and Robotics companies. The hall was a long walk from the main halls, and I'm not sure how many really found it. But it included interesting new tech companies and enthusiastic people.

Meanwhile 4YFN (4 Years From Now) was located in another (old) exhibition center in Barcelona. It is a less expensive option for companies to have their booth. It also features startup meetings and conferences. A few years ago I was critical about this event, because it was trying to be one more startup pitching event. Anyone who follows the startup business is totally tired of pitching competitions and meetups. But now I can give 4YFN credit, as it is starting to find its position and offer real value.

4YFN now includes top-level speakers, entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts around the world. There were dozens of companies, and nowadays the focus is much more on b2b startups and growth companies. Of course, there are some b2c companies too, but, for example, pure mobile app companies don't make too much sense at this kind of event. This is an industry b2b event, and I believe companies with that focus also get more value from the event. At the same time it’s a good reminder that b2b has become more important after the mobile app hype. It has its own challenges, but it offers also more opportunities to systematic business development than the less predictable b2c market.

What were the innovation areas at MWC2017? 5G, data analytics, and handsets were the main messages from the big players. But those don't really offer special innovations, they are more long term systematic engineering work. Especially offerings in data analytics and big data is a disappointment at MWC year after year; especially the offerings from traditional telco data, system integrator and billing companies. Those companies have so traditional telco data analytics approach with all old "know your customers" messages, and no value to those whose data is ultimately used.

The theme of MWC2017 was "The Next Element," and this actually described the offering very well. There were new elements in many areas, like VR, IoT, robotics (including self-driving cars), fintech (my special article about it here) and advanced data applications and AI. But most of these areas had only elements, not yet really disruptive solutions, business models or mainstream applications. At the same time, there are many interesting and valuable elements.

Those solutions that really change the world need also an innovative business model and real end user value. We are approaching a time that many of these innovation areas, like AI, fintech and VR, will really start to offer real mainstream solutions and value, and also enable entrepreneurs to create new business models. In that way these elements and their technology are very important.

Timing is always the most difficult part to predict, when we estimate the breakthrough of new disruptive technology and business models. It requires the right combination of technology, market demands, cheap enough components and creative business people. My prediction is that in two to three years we see some of those elements we saw at MWC2017 in key roles to disrupt markets with AI, fintech, and IoT solutions and services. Maybe MWC could name the next two years' conferences "The Next Solution" and "The Next Business."