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MWC 2024: key takeaways re-shaping the Telco industry

Johannes Aasheim
Mar 14, 2024

If our team had to summarize the main theme of this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in just three words, they would be: Innovation takes collaboration.

Whether companies were looking to harness powerful technologies like Generative AI, launch OpenRAN networks or achieve net-zero goals, MWC proved that progress thrives in an ecosystem.

So, what does collaboration look like in today’s Telco landscape – and what role does technology play in driving innovation? In this post, we recap some of the biggest announcements, highlights and observations from MWC24.

EU operators call for a “new deal” with radical regulatory changes

The Digital Network Act (DNA), which was introduced by the European Commission as a potential solution, aims to establish a single digital market in Europe (including spectrum allocation reforms). These discussions signal a potential shift towards facilitating cross-border scaling and represent a major reversal of the European Commission’s long-standing position to prevent mergers that could inhibit competition.

The inescapable presence – and incredible power – of Generative AI

At this year’s event, AI took center stage with more than 40 dedicated sessions and numerous booths presenting diverse applications. Many companies also unveiled tailored products like AI platforms, assistants, industry-specific large language models (LLMs) and AI software to support various Telco use cases. 

For example, one announcement that caught our attention at MWC24 was the creation of a joint venture by Deutsche Telekom, e& Group, Singtel, SoftBank and SK Telekom to develop telco-specific AI LLMs. The models will support multi-lingual digital assistants and chatbots that can be used to enhance telcos’ customer interactions.

AI-powered devices were all over MWC24, with handset makers like Samsung and Honor announcing plenty of AI-features and new players like Humane with their AI Pin challenging them. DT launched their own AI-phone built with Qualcomm Technologies and, envisioning an “app-free future” with a single AI assistant handling all interactions and transactions on the device, replacing the need for mobile apps.

While there was much excitement about GenAI, it is clear that the industry is still exploring how to harness the benefits of this technology while minimizing potential risks. MWC underscores the need to develop a comprehensive and responsible approach to AI before scaling initiatives.

A unified ecosystem will accelerate innovation and unlock growth

MWC remains a valuable connection point for industry players to explore the latest technologies, solutions and services that will foster technological innovation and enable market expansion.

Perhaps the best example of this trend is the growing confidence for the GSMA Open Gateway initiative. Since its launch at MWC23, 47 mobile operators, representing 239 mobile networks and 65% of connections around the world, have signed up. The collaborative initiative illustrates the sector’s move toward openness and shared innovation to foster growth and adapt to new technological paradigms. Many companies were talking about the new opportunities that this might lead to.

All players have a role to play in the connectivity value chain

MWC also showcased how major connectivity players are diversifying their investments beyond their traditional core, disrupting the conventional value chain.

For example, chipmakers are riding the wave for satellite communications and wireless integration with AI, with companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek, showcasing how generative AI can be used on mobile hardware to enable on-demand queries for personal devices.

Meanwhile, operators, network equipment vendors and cloud providers are looking to creatively monetize networks. For example, Ericsson and Telefonica designed a PoC to conduct network slicing on demand, while Nokia and Dell Technologies paired up to explore private network slicing. Microsoft also demonstrated how it is modernizing and monetizing networks through its Azure for Operators solution, and ZTE and Red Hat are teaming up to modernize network capabilities in 5GSA.

The quest is on for the next growth horizon

5G monetization, non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) and fixed wireless access (FWA) were all hot topics at MWC2024, but the next growth horizon for Telcos remains unclear.

On top of the Open Gateway initiative, the event also showcased continued advancements in satellites and NTNs and increased integration with existing infrastructure. At the same time, regulatory and technical challenges remain, and the coming year will be one of testing.

Finally, 5G monetization innovations continue to drive discussion at MWC24, with on-demand slicing, private networks, FWA and tailored industrial services taking center stage. Industry leaders are actively seeking partnerships and value-added offerings to optimize revenue generation from high-speed, low-latency networks.

OpenRAN is only a matter of time – and investments

MWC showcased the potential synergy of autonomous networks, cloudification, and edge capabilities with AI across various industries in achieving OpenRAN.

While 84% of telcos have achieved some network autonomy, there’s a growing desire to elevate this further, particularly by integrating AI capabilities. Based on the presence at this year’s event, it is clear that network equipment providers, like Rakuten Symphony, Ericsson, HPE and Samsung, have reaffirmed their priority to deploy ORAN technologies. It is only a matter of time – and investment – before the industry is able to advance at scale.

Social sustainability shifts to the forefront

From an environmental perspective, MWC continues to underpin discussions on network efficiency and renewed commitments to achieve net-zero goals. For the next generation of mobile network, sustainability is planned to be an integral part. Focus now is on more sustainable digital solutions and devices, recyclable materials, and other modular solutions in addition to energy efficiency– demonstrating that sustainability is becoming more mature as a topic, and newfound innovations are continuing to be discovered throughout the Telco’s supply chain.

The need for a standardized way to acknowledge operators investments needed for the net zero transition was also addressed.

At the same time, while the mobile industry transitions into big data analytics and AI, the digital usage gap – especially with media literacy, digital skills, cyber security, accessibility, and affordability of handsets globally – will increase if not addressed immediately. Mats Granryd, director general of GSMA when on stage and talked about “leave no one behind” as one of the key objectives.

Digital security is receiving increased attention

Networks have become more open; the world has become more interconnected; and the political landscape has become more unpredictable. Against this backdrop, security emerges as a top priority in the telecom industry. At MWC, this emphasis was underscored by the presence of six dedicated cybersecurity events, including a three-hour security summit.

In addition to focusing on security in all aspects of telecom operations, many operators and vendors launched or demoed dedicated security products. For example, Deutsche Telekom announced that starting in 2025, they will be offering new network-based security products from the “Magenta Security on Net” line. Palo Alto Networks also debuted a suite of private 5G security services in collaboration with select private 5G partners.

As our team reflects on MWC 2024, we are reminded that overcoming the challenges within our companies and across our industry requires us to work together—to innovate, advance, scale and sustain. Stay tuned when we dive into more details on some of the trends while we explore the areas of the Innovation Generation (iG).

TelcoInsights is a series of posts about the latest trends and opportunities in the telecommunications industry – powered by a community of global industry experts and thought leaders.

Meet the authors

Johannes Aasheim

Vice President – Head of Telecommunication, Media and Technology sector in the Nordics 
Johannes has for the last 15 years been supporting several large telco acquisitions in the Nordics from pre-deal throughout integration, including customer strategy, several rebranding and more than 10 migrations.

Gunnhild Øistensen Holthe

Senior Manager – Telecommunications, Media and Technology sector in the Nordics
Gunnhild has 8 years of experience in the telco industry, encompassing business strategy, transformation, cost optimization and customer experience.