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Jouko Ahvenainen

MWC2016 beyond official statements and reviews

You have probably already seen many reviews from MWC16, so let’s try to dig into some other aspects. Do you know what the most boring thing at MWC is nowadays? It is when a mobile handset company’s VP of Something is on the stage and tells the audience “our new beautiful device will change everything” - and then you take that new handset into your hand and cannot understand how it is different from all other devices. But there was also much more at MWC this year in Barcelona.

The keywords of this year's conference were 5G, VR/AR, and maybe internet for everyone thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, or IoT thanks to all companies that claimed to be IoT companies even though it was not so easy to know, why. 5G is important especially for network providers, even though something like 4.5G is still more tangible to sell. 5G won't really start to happen until 2020.

Most handset manufacturers announced new devices in the show. Almost all of them are based on Android and try to develop the design, but very often the devices look very similar. Maybe the most unique handset announcement this week was HP’s new Elite x3 high-end phone that uses Windows 10 OS. At the same time Microsoft didn’t announce anything new and interesting at MWC, and its Windows phones are more low-end nowadays. The future of Windows phone OS is still very unclear but HP’s announcement brings some hope for it.

Even Nokia again hinted that it could be interested in the handset business. They revealed they are considering licensing their brand to a handset business. Now that they have Alcatel, they should also have Alcatel’s experience regarding how to dilute brand value by licensing it to poor handsets. It is hard to understand Nokia’s obsession to get back into the handset business, when you look at the margins of the handset business. Maybe it is more an obsession of Finns to get back to the golden days of handset economy. But personally I miss Nokia’s rubber boots more from my childhood than Nokia’s mobile phones.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality played an important role at the event; as some commentators summarized VR is a way to AR. Maybe the highest profile announcement was Facebook’s and Samsung’s cooperation in long term VR solutions. Most device manufacturers, but also other companies like Gemalto, had VR glasses at their stands. Typically they didn’t yet offer a mind-blowing experience, but VR and AR are definitely coming in many ways. A few years ago when a British business consultant told me “augmented reality doesn’t make any sense, people are not interested in technology, they are interested in value to them, and AR is just a gadget”, I already knew AR was going to be something significant. You can always trust British technology expertise.

Turkcell's CEO argued that carriers should take a more active role in the OTT business. I think it is something many carriers have dreamed of and still dream of. But to be honest, as far as they talk about OTT, and not about mobile apps and mobile services, it is hard to believe these guys get an important role in that business.

AOL was also at MWC. It was a good reminder that they still exist. When I noticed AOL, I had to check if Yahoo is also there. And they were, so they also exist. And Blackberry asserted that they develop a “unified enterprise mobile platform” that will be “cross-OS end-to-end enterprise solution for all secure connections including IoT.” So, they also exist.

I was listening to a couple of New York based analysts, and how they saw the event. Generally they were wondering how the handset business attracts so many companies when margins are so bad. Then they were wondering, why there are no European software or internet giants. They mentioned that SAP is almost the only one, but it is also losing pace. They thought maybe the most interesting internet company from Europe is Zalando.

Then there were a lot of usual, but still relevant discussions, like how carriers could better monetize data services, whether carriers can play a more important role in the media business (Vodafone for example has TV plans), how the earlier handset upgrade plans can be a financial risk for carriers, even $6 billion in the US alone, and how carriers can achieve growth in developed countries, when the market saturates.

4YFN (4 year from now) was again a separate event for startups. It was bigger than a year ago, with more startups and also more startup pitching. It is a more cost effective option for startups to present their offering and also meet investors. But as I commented already in the last year, it cannot really compete with top startup events. Especially European governmental programs support startups to come there. But generally, this startup pitching at an event starts to be such “me too” activity.

In this year also the metro crew of Barcelona wanted to get some visibility during the event, when Barcelona finally got a metro line to the airport, they decided to have a strike during the event. Generally the event is very well organized and Barcelona is an excellent city to host it.

As a whole, MWC is the most important annual event from mobile people to meet each other. And these meetings and networking are often more important than the actually content of the show. Of course the show is also a good place to update on the latest technology and trends of the industry. I just hope companies and their marketing people could try to be more innovative and unique in their activities and messages, everyone doesn’t need to talk about the same trends. There is a lot of room to be innovative and to be noticed in the show. It is time to start to think unique messages for next year’s event.