The opening keynotes of Mobile World Congress 2014 can be summed up in two words: optimism and collaboration.
Telenor CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas – speaking as chairman of the GSM Association, a post he took last October – spoke of the massive opportunities for mobile as the sector looks to connect another 1 billion people in the next six years.
Baksaas said the GSMA will focus its work on areas such as personal data (i.e. identity – your phone will serve as your ID and authentication tool), connected living (IoT, embedded SIMs, smart cities, wearables) and digital commerce (including NFC).
But he emphasized that achieving those things will require collaboration across a multiplayer ecosystem. “This cannot be a closed garden. With the right collaborative models, growth will pour into the industry.”
Baksaas said the industry is “at an inflection point” on the collaboration front. “Operators, handset makers, systems providers and service providers – we need collaboration models for everyone to join in, and we need to define the business models. Everyone in the ecosystem is in the same boat.”
Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, CEO of Etisalat, echoed the need for stronger industry collaboration. “All stakeholders, regulators and partners must work closely together and align their interests and move the industry forward,” he said. “Everyone in the ecosystem has to change their mindset – we have to go from thinking of this as competitive value destruction to collaborative value addition.
Julfar said he was very optimistic about the future of the mobile industry despite the challenges brought on by the changing nature of the market. “Some operators worry about regulations and becoming a dumb pipe – I see an opportunity for growth, and an opportunity to innovate.”
SingTel group CEO Chua Sock Koong also expressed optimism about the mobile industry’s prospects.
“Many people worry about becoming a dumb pipe, but consumers and businesses will always need connecting,” she said. “Most marketers would die for a product that people reach for as soon as they wake up and use through their daily lives. Any other industry would be exalted at the level of demand that we have.”
The problem, she said, has been monetizing that demand. Chua recommended that cellcos focus on service differentiation, smart pricing strategies, and new relevant services that leverage telco assets like customer data and trusted relationships.
“As people grow more concerned about privacy, that trust will be an advantage for us,” she said.
Chua also agreed that collaboration was necessary element for future success. “We must collaborate with OTT players as we develop digital services, increase network usage and then monetize that.”
The optimism angle is somewhat striking, if only because it marks a stark contrast to the past few MWC events, in which the keynotes usually opened with stark warnings from cellco chiefs about declining voice/SMS revenues and non-level playing fields that gave OTT players – especially Google – unfair advantages over mobile operators.
Not this year.