Observations on MWC2018: each business has its ironies

March 12th, 2018 by · Leave a Comment

This article was authored by Jouko Ahvenainen, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.

Many people come to MWC to work hard, have business meetings and also participate in networking events. But as we know, each business, industry and event also has its more ironic parts. Especially if you have been to the event many times, you cannot take all things, announcements and comments too seriously. I was again curious about some things at the event.

Barcelona is a great place to eat with very nice restaurants, tasty food and reasonable prices for great food. But inside the MWC event, it is a totally different story. The catering has been outsourced to a company and its services and food puts me wondering about the deal every year. The main food offering is English style sandwiches (i.e. tasteless white bread and cheese) for €5.20. You get excellent sandwiches with actual taste in Barcelona downtown for €3 euros. The service at those event cafeterias is extremely slow, even the process to order a coffee is like from the Soviet Union to get a ticket and then walk to the next person, who shouts the order to the next person, and then after 5 minutes you get a latte, if you have ordered an Americano. This year’s extra was that their mobile payment terminals didn’t work, and the staff were walking around with them for a few minutes to get a connection to make the payment transaction. But howis it possible that the mobile payment terminals not work in the world’s leading mobile event?

Sustainable Development Goals, SDG, were one of the main themes of the event in this year. Blockchain as a service was also a quite visible topic. There are several models to make blockchain services, but especially bitcoin type proof-of-work takes a lot of computing resources and electricity. For example, Kazakhtelecom said that their new business offering is blockchain as a service, because they have a lot of cheap energy available. According to the latest statistics, about 72% of electricity is generated from coal and about 5% from oil in Kazakhstan. I was just wondering, how sustainable a business is that, from an ecological or financial point of view?

The “next generation” SMS, i.e. Rich Communication Services (RCS), seems to be still one of those things operators want to create a big business with. They tell stories of how it is much better than native apps or chatbots for brands to communicate with consumers. Of course, they like it – when they can control them and make more money there than from apps. One more instance of carriers trying to get out from their bit pipe business. There was a panel about RCS and its opportunities. A marketing lady from British TV channel ITV told the crowd how excited she is about it, and Orange and Vodafone guys looked so happy. She compared moving from SMS to RCS to moving black-and-white TV to color TV. She was so excited that I was mainly wondering, what does she smoke, and does she know the color TV came 50 years ago, and now we have a thing called the internet, and even the mobile internet. Someone commented after the panel that RCS is an option for communications immediately after fax machine, pigeon and donkey.

IBM is very proud of their Watson AI. They tell how it helps manage big events, facility management and even predict problems with technical devices. So, I decided to go to IBM’s AI and predictive analytics sessions and indicated my intention also at MWC app. I went there, but I couldn’t get in, because they said it was overbooked and they cannot take more people in. I have learned also earlier about analytics, it is not really just to analyze data, but it is really about how you are able to execute and act based on your data and analysis. I think this experience told me a lot about IBM’s solutions to manage big events.

AI was an important topic at the show. There are always discussions about how much AI can really do and can it replace human beings. I always wonder about the passive crews many companies have at their booths at MWC. It is a big investment to be there. So, how can it make sense to have so many people there mainly tapping their phones or using their laptops, and even if you ask something, it is hard to get good answers. I was thinking that one place AI could really replace human beings is the staff at the booths in MWC.

Mobile and online advertising targeting is one exciting category at MWC. I mean, the exciting part is to understand, how it makes sense to have 1001 small companies there that tell, how they are better to target ads based on algorithm XYZ, and how they improve conversion by 7x. Especially this is exciting when the prices of online and mobile ads are now so low that it is hard for anyone to make significant business from it. Google and Facebook can do it with more than 1 billion users, but even with millions of users it is hard.

One of the best 5G comment came from F1 driver Fernando Alonso who was speaking in a panel. He said he has been doing it for 17 years, and his neck is used to it.

MWC has also mobile phones and some journalists that don’t understand other stuff there write stories about them. I also found myself one day at a huge stand that was full of mobile phones, but I have never heard about that brand. I asked the crew, what is this brand. They said the same company has also another brand, maybe I have heard about that one. No, I haven’t. Then she told me it is from China. I said it is unnecessary to say, when I know all big mobile brands I don’t know are from China. Then I walked to another big mobile phone stand, and found out, those phones were actually from Algeria.

The guys from mobile phone history – Nokia and Blackberry, had also devices with their brands at the show. Blackberry continues with its old style, i.e. black, thick, and slow phones with physical keyboard. Nokia was even more retro and brought back the banana phone. All those people who say the mobile phone is only for talking and texting like them. Except, such a phone is useless nowadays, and not even those real retro people really want to use them.

MWC is a good industry event, many interesting new things, if you want to find them, and Barcelona is a great city. There is always something to improve, and some companies should also do their homework better that they don’t look so out of place. In that way we can create the next generation MWC. But really, please, don’t call it ‘next generation’, because there are already hundreds of companies at MWC that offer next generation products.

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