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MWC 2017 – have we gone beyond the emperor’s new clothes stage?

By March 1, 2017 No Comments

There’s always been a bit of emperor’s new clothes syndrome around MWC. For the past few years stick a sign up saying 5G and other saying IoT on your stand and you’d draw a crowd. You may not make much money but at least for three days of the year people would want to talk to you. In the last couple of years MWC seemed to waver between being a show about mobile communications and an event about emerging technologies. When I say emerging I mean in about 5 years’ time (or perhaps a bit longer – like never). 

Last year I visited a stand where they displayed an automated pet toy that you controlled with your phone. As I watched the demo I glazed over thinking that someone actually got paid good money to come up with this rubbish. Worse still, some genius thought it would be great to showcase it at MWC to show ‘practical uses of innovative technology’. Talking of barrel scrapping, two years ago I got a 20 minute demo of the IoT toothbrush.  It was utterly pointless. Last I checked it still wasn’t in stock at my local electrical supplier (they must have sold out……..).

However, this year, while there are still some ridiculous exhibits, there is also a sense of urgency and realism. Service providers are asking the question, ‘what’s going to make a difference (to revenue) in 2017 and 2018’.  This was demonstrated at some of the keynotes.   In the key note session Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, spoke about increased cooperation between Netflix and mobile service providers.  You can see why Netflix wants to work with mobile operators. The subscriber base, payment options, and flexible marketing and delivery.  They can have Netflix included into mobile phone bundles and take advantage of mobile charging systems (pre-paid bundles with Netflix). This enables them to tap into the vast numbers of ‘unbanked’ mobile phone users. Also, zero-rating mobile video traffic gives them an advantage over other entertainment companies. Then there’s the usage and customer data that can be a business intelligence goldmine. This is about realising real opportunities that are here and now. Not a grand 5 – 10 year vision that may never become reality.

This approach of identifying realistic and quick wins has been very evident at the Openet stand at MWC. We’ve had dozens of meeting with service providers who want to see a quick return on their investment in the move to digital. They share the same view as Netflix – they want to be able to have innovative offers and get them to market – fast. They want to better engage with their customers in real-time to offer personalised services and contextually aware offers. What we’re seeing is that service providers are realising that the 5 year digital transformation mega-vendor projects are a bit like the Emperor’s new Clothes – a fairy story – which may not have a happy ending.

We’ve gone past the stage where people are saying ‘digital’ and nodding without understanding what it’s about. People are questioning 5 year transformation projects. Service providers are  asking that the investments they make in new systems in process deliver quick wins and drive a return on the investment service providers have made in 4G – never mind waiting for 5G. It seems that mobile is turning a corner. Of course companies need to be ready for the future, but when that future is 5 years away, the priority investment needs to be on getting the quick wins to provide the revenues that will sustain growth (and in some cases existence) for the next 5 years.

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