Insight: what the MWC inspires

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Among many other things, the GSMA's Mobile World Congress (MWC) is a useful barometer for the industry overall. Looking back at our analysis of Catalonian forays by Google, Microsoft and Facebook, telco CEO-speak, and also predictions for Huawei and others, we examine its appeal and look at the key trends it's highlighted over recent years.

To a certain section of the telecoms industry (somewhere between 50,000-85,000 people depending on how and when you count them), the MWC is a regular institution on the annual calendar. Like all ritual opportunities for clan gatherings there are those that love it and those that hate it. It marks out something each year: something familiar and yet always with new aspects, a huge humming snapshot of the industry at a given moment.

We're delighted to be official partners with the GSMA's Mobile World Congress 2015, and love participating in the Congress for three main reasons:

  • It provides a concentrated experience of CEO-think, like the market briefly playing out in public;

  • We get to see lots of 'stuff' - ideas and technologies;

  • We also get to see and meet a lot of our clients and friends in the industry, in the enjoyable context of Barcelona.

Looking back overthe past few years, here are a few of the themes we've seen emerging and playing out. [Ed: Please email contact@stlpartners.com if you'd like to catch up with us there or take advantage of the discount code for Conference packages kindly offered to Telco 2.0 readers by our partners the GSMA.]

OTT - From Enemy to Frenemy

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The biggest name on show in 2014 was Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO and founder. This was on the back of Facebook's acquisition of Whatsapp (our analysis here). Speakers from the Internet players have featured heavily in the past few years, with Steve Ballmer, then Microsoft CEO, failing to land all punches in 2012, and Google's Eric Schmidt stealing the show in 2010. This year sees Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, joining the roster (so please remember to pay that donation you've always promised to make before then) alongside Jeanie Han, CEO of LINE Euro-Americas, the communications app that originated in Japan.

Zuckerberg and the others received rock star welcomes live at the Congress relative to most speakers, bringing some intrigue and excitement to the show from the Valley. In terms of the messages they shared via the public platform of the MWC, it has been intriguing to watch the strategic sub-text playing out between the Internet CEOs and the telcos. We commented in 2012 in 'Facebook, Google and Apple: of BĂȘtes Noires and the Art of Evasion' on how to read what the players did and didn't say, and noted in 2013 that the European operators had subtly changed tack and declared 'Peace with OTT, War on the Regulators'.

Seeing The Big Picture

In terms of the telco CEOs, business model innovation has been a regular theme. At 2007's '3GSM' (the precursor of the MWC) it was the 'year of the business model' for T-Mobile International, and Telco 2.0 models have surfaced regularly, including in 2012 despite tones of 'Goodfellas' and 'sex or smartphone?'.

The Congress is also a mirror of global change, and alongside the many annual examples of how the industry is helping the world's disadvantaged by improving communications and services, the rise of the power of Asian and Chinese companies in particular has been highlighted in Smartphones: when will Huawei be No.1? (2013) and China Mobile: a mindbogglingly big platform (2012). The impact of the global 'credit crunch' was also on top of mind in 2009 as LTE/4G and 'appstores' were hitting the headlines too.

The Long Road to M-Commerce

Mobile commerce has long been a common thread at the Congress. For example, in payments the now defunct ISIS asked if M-Commerce could be better than a cash filled wallet in 2012, while we reviewed Why a bank is like Lebara Mobile in 2008. The Mobile Marketing aspect of commerce has also blown hot and cold for telcos. This summary of the key steps from back in 2008 still seems pretty much on the money, as it were, though telco co-operation has unfortunately proved even more problematic in practice than we feared.

A successful mobile marketing (or 2-sided) play for operators requires a separate business unit:

  1. Board Level Support - this is a big strategic play

  2. Joined-up Business Case - think beyond marketing

  3. Separate Dedicated Organisation - so the parent company cannot swamp the baby

  4. CRM & Data Mining Expertise - Google currently do far more targeting than operators with far less data

  5. Collaborative Process - no operator is big enough to go-it-alone; there is a need to work together (as operators did in developing the GSM standard 20 years ago)

  6. Business Model Development - a rate card for advertising is the starting point but the business model for a 2-sided business is complex. Determining who to charge what will take significant thought and testing."

A Surfeit of Newness

The Congress also provides a glut of 'news' which we gamely try to digest (see this gallant effort from last year) and opportunities to reflect on technologies and how the latest developments change us and the world we live in.

So why not join us there? Email contact@stlpartners.com if you'd like to catch up with us or take advantage of the discount code for Conference packages kindly offered to Telco 2.0 readers by our partners the GSMA.