MWC24: Key takes from our editorial team

MWC24: Key takes from our editorial team

With MWC24 now over, it’s time to look at the key trends that emerged from the show – and check whether they aligned with our predictions.

Our editorial team on the ground in Barcelona consisted of our Editor Manny Pham, Director of Content James Barton, and Contributing Analyst Julian Bright. Here, each of them gives their take on the main developments from MWC24.

Manny: Another year and another MWC has flown by, and of course we saw more trends that will shape this exciting industry going forward.

AI blasted onto the scene last year and has come back stronger, as agenda-pusher Nvidia continues its astonishing growth to supply the hype - but its use in developing markets is still a long way away. A rigid contrast was evident in a keynote presentation which featured Ethio Telecom CEO Frehiwot Tamru, Veon Group chief Kaan Terzioglu, and Deutsche Telekom boss Tim Hoettges as panellists.

Tamru and Terzioglu detailed how their respective operations are still working with 2G to gain revenues, adding that they are in the process of deploying 4G. Meanwhile, Hoettges warned about concerns of the technology, focusing particularly on AI hallucinations, an occurrence in large language models (used to power AI chatbots) when they perceive a non-existent pattern and create inaccurate outputs. However, the benefits of AI promise growth for operators experiencing flat revenues and becoming so-called ‘dumb pipes’ in the expanding technology landscape. 

More breakthroughs were seen by executives to improve operational efficiencies in energy, network stability, automation and productivity. However, we won’t be seeing that with most operators in developing markets just yet - AI will be adopted more widely when equipment and software comes down in price as it becomes more widespread. It will be interesting to see if any other AI vendor can mount a serious challenge against Nvidia and offer alternatives.

6G

At MWC some things are expected, such as meeting old friends, getting lost in Hall 8.1.772 with two minutes to go before your next meeting, and someone talking about 6G. 

Alas, 6G is another technology not even close to the agenda for the majority of emerging market operators, as 4G is yet to be fully deployed. Executives speaking to Developing Telecoms made no mention of 6G but they are witnessing promising growth of data usage on current networks across LATAM, Africa and the Asia-Pacific. 

However, Turkcell recently signed an MoU with Ericsson to lay the groundwork for 6G to ensure the opportunities presented by the connectivity standard are efficiently tapped. The companies said they will foster research initiatives and strengthen R&D projects to build out emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and 6G architecture. 

James: We noted that FWA remains the main use case for 5G in emerging markets, but certain markets now appear to be turning towards 5G-A as a viable technology, with Malaysia in particular leading the charge. Over the past week, Ericsson announced an agreement to upgrade DNB’s wholesale 5G network to 5G-A, while CelcomDigi and Ucom pledged to collaborate on developing use cases for the standard. Meanwhile, Maxis and Huawei claimed to have successfully staged the Southeast Asia region’s first 5G-A trial.

Another of our predictions focused on increased adoption of sustainable energy solutions, and sustainability was firmly on the agenda at MWC24, with many companies announcing new targets, pledges and commitments around their environmental impact. ZTE highlighted the wide-scale deployment of what it called the industry’s first hibernation technology, enabling ultra-low power consumption for Active Antenna Units, while Intracom Telecom talked up how Dynamic Datacentre Sizing will enhance the energy and resource efficiency of telco data centres. Operators and vendors alike announced major initiatives to reduce their impact on the climate, with Ericsson and Telkomsel announcing plans to cut carbon emissions via improved efficiencies, Nokia bringing forward its Net Zero goal from 2050 to 2040, and Orange Business and Cisco setting the same target.

Open RAN didn’t make too much of a splash, but Rakuten Symphony announced a couple of high-profile agreements. The company will collaborate with NOW Telecom in the Philippines on a framework for deploying a 5G Open RAN pilot, with the goal of facilitating disaggregated networks and open interfaces within the operator’s network. Rakuten is also providing Open RAN solutions to Veon’s Ukrainian subsidiary Kyivstar as it seeks to rebuild infrastructure in the war-torn country. The initiative will involve both 4G and 5G Open RAN, and follows Veon committing to investment of US$600 million into Ukraine over the next three years.

Julian: Not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk about AI, with Nokia saying it would permeate all areas of telco networks and operations including the RAN. It will start to be implemented and trialed in 5G-Advanced networks and this will carry over into 6G.

AI will also be used as a training tool - for example, simplified and more intuitive interfaces for network operations staff that would remove a lot of the complexity (and by implication, the level of skills/experience required by the personnel).

Spectrum

Huawei said there’s a continuing role for the sub-3GHz bands in 5G/5G-A. In emerging markets FDD + massive MIMO can be deployed to bring dividends on LTE network as well as get ready for 5G.

FWA

Nokia launched a new 5G mmWave receiver to add capacity to Fixed Wireless Access. The vendor advocates mmWave + FWA for rural coverage – it’s not widely applicable, but mostly where LoS is available (e.g. NBN network in Australia). Du says it has doubled market share in terms of subscribers since launching FWA in the UAE 3 years ago.

5G/Handsets in Africa

In a panel session, MTN’s Chika Ekeji acknowledged that operators in Africa may not yet have some of the advanced use cases that will become important to the continent, but said there was a need to discover how to get creative around leveraging 5G technology. The need to unlock value for Africa’s young population, coverage, and handset affordability were critical factors.

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