The biggest event in the telecoms calendar kicks off in Barcelona next week, so we’ve asked some industry execs, analysts and journos what they expect to be the biggest themes of MWC 2024.

Monetizing APIs – Andrew Brown-Practice Lead-IoT, Omdia

We expect to hear more about the GSMA Open Gateway, a framework of Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs) designed to provide universal access to operator networks for developers and hyperscalers. With shrinking margins in connectivity there is a significant opportunity in telcos exposing APIs for easier developer integration into IoT projects, showcasing a range of approaches from simpler to deeper integration.

The ability of an operator to build and control the APIs that link developers’ and hyperscalers’ new applications with their networks will be pivotal to further monetizing the IoT opportunity. While the business models for monetizing APIs are still emerging, operators could earn returns by charging customers, developers, and hyperscalers for access. Fees could be based on different parameters such as usage, time, or device, while developers and hyperscalers could be charged a fee and potentially a share of their revenues.

Programmable networks – Scott Bicheno, Editorial Director,

A major theme as this year’s MWC will be programmable networks. At its pre-MWC briefing, giant mobile kit vendor Ericsson made it clear that it’s all-in on the concept, on which it thinks the future of the mobile industry depends. Essentially it comes down to operators establishing loads of new B2B revenue streams by charging third parties for access to their networks, through which they can create all kinds of amazing new products and services.

Right now, however, it still feels like a leap of faith. There are very few of these differentiated offerings in the wild and the API economy Ericsson was hoping to capitalize on through its acquisition of Vonage has been slow to evolve. Many vendors will be talking up the programmable network at this year’s show but I suspect solid supporting evidence will be thin on the ground.

AI coming into focus – Andrew Wooden, Deputy Editor,

In the wider world we seem to be past the explosion in think pieces about how AI is going to dissolve everyone’s job and/or blow up the world, and now the mainstream press chatter is often focussed on the more sober concern of the legality of generative AI’s content scraping techniques.

On Planet Telecoms, it seems now almost obligatory that press releases come loaded with a mention of AI and how it’s going to amp up some network function or another. This year’s MWC is bound to see a flurry of such announcements, but a key question will be how the big operators can play a central role in its development as they clearly want to do, and how this dovetails with APIs, which was a key theme of the 2023 show, but has in the intervening year not yielded a wealth of tangible examples.  

Another key theme a couple of years ago was the metaverse. The air seems to have somewhat deflated from that baloon in the meantime, probably because no one really knew what it was and were not sufficiently enlightened by seeing a cartoon avatar of Mark Zuckerberg floating over an island. But they’ll still no doubt be some AR/VR/XR action at the show, though perhaps leaning into more niche use cases like industrial training.

Nokia’s FWA and security offerings – Manish Gulyani, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer, Nokia Network Infrastructure, Nokia

Whether they are well-established CSPs; new networking players or organisations managing mission-critical network infrastructure, our customers have much in common.  First, they are determined to grow their business.  At MWC, we will showcase innovations – including in fixed wireless access for sub-6 and mmWave and broadband experience software – that enable customers to do exactly that.  Second, the more vital networks become, the more important it is to protect them from everything from outages to the threats posed by criminals.  

We will show how our unique Deepfield offering provides faster, more accurate DDoS mitigation, and demonstrate Nokia’s quantum-safe networking: protecting customers against fast-emerging threats.  Finally, our customers want all this while optimising operations to reduce cost and power usage.  We demonstrate how our PSE-6s and WaveSuite solutions are already delivering these objectives and how we are harnessing the power of AI to help simplify operations.

Consumer-ready GenAI – Anthony Goonetilleke, Group President of Technology and Head of Strategy, Amdocs

It’s no secret that GenAI will be a leading theme at this year’s MWC as communication service providers around the world embrace the tech. However, GenAI adoption doesn’t come without challenges and complexities, and overcoming these barriers will be a core topic of discussion as telecoms and technology companies come together at the show.

 Everybody from webscale giants to those at the forefront of LLM development knows that the business impact of GenAI will be significant, but the industry must invest in telco-specific use cases and copilots that can support the provision of carrier-grade service levels and trusted AI while maintaining the high accuracy and trust levels that telecom demands. I am confident that MWC will provide a springboard for these discussions.

The future of 5G and 6G – Dominic Black, Director of Research Services at Cavell

MWC showcases the latest tech, not only showing what is the possible now, but also in the future. I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions around 6G and the possibilities that it may enable even though the perceived benefits of 5G still haven’t been fully realised. Service providers will still be searching for areas that they can drive value out of their huge capital investments that have been made into their networks. AI will be at the forefront of every discussion and keynote, the pace of innovation is so fast that I imagine many of these announcements will be superseded by the time 2025 comes along.

Seamless roaming between private and public networks – Ann Heyse, Telco Solutions Manager, BICS

Despite a lack of 5G and IoT devices, as well as spectrum licence acquisition challenges, at MWC we will see an emphasis on deploying mobile private networks more widely across sectors, driven by increasing government support globally. The manufacturing sector is poised to dominate private 5G network deployment, but other industries will soon catch up, including healthcare, logistics, energy, utilities, transportation, and smart cities.

 Geographically, countries like the U.S., U.K., Germany, China and Japan are leading the way, but private networks across the board are seeing consistent growth, with reports indicating their presence in over 1,000 organisations across 70+ countries in 2023. Regardless of how the chips fall geographically or industry-wise, the conversation at MWC must be about overcoming the remaining challenges around public/private roaming access if we are to reap the benefits of private networks. The industry is already making the right steps in facilitating seamless in/out roaming between private and public networks without the need for complex operator agreements – but this is something we need to see more of.

AI messaging – Martin Morgan, Head of Digital Marketing at Qvantel

I think it’s fair to say that most of the stands at MWC will have some form on AI messaging on them. But you’ve got to be able to pick the use cases that make most sense and deliver real solutions to real problems. Customer care is a classic example where AI can help. You’ve got average call waiting times of around 3 minutes, and then you’re looking at first call resolution rates of around 40%. This is clearly an area that AI can help – not by replacing care agents, but by acting a copilot in order to improve customer care performance. For anyone looking at AI at MWC, there is a need to add a dose of cold business reality and ask how AI is going to fix current business issues and deliver a better experience for customers.

Industry development – Dario Talmesio, Research Director, Omdia

From the headlines, MWC24 feels like a vast alignment call where everybody shares their progress; those looking for a big headline may be slightly disappointed. But digging deeper, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the development of the industry. Take, for example, some AI challenges such as algorithmic explicability: this year, we will see some clever vendors creating tools to address the issues that still are a serious barrier to adoption. Sum up 100s of these developments and realize that the industry is moving forward decisively. Many areas are moving forward, from network API commercialization to 5G-advanced and 6G and NTN, Open RAN as well as a better regulatory framework for telecom operators. But overall, what will define this year’s MWC is Telco B2B and AI, and, of course, a combination of the two.

Open and disaggregated in the forefront – Kristian Toivo, Executive Director, TIP

Open RAN is designed for multi-vendor deployments and solutions will need to guarantee interoperability and cost-effectiveness. At MWC, the industry will be looking to explore how the major vendors will enable the integration of 3rd party suppliers’ products into their solutions, and how the installed base of RAN equipment will interwork with and evolve towards Open RAN.

 We can expect an emphasis on testing and certifying these multivendor solutions, and also further insights on how the intelligence and automation of the RAN will evolve through the implementation of the Service Management and Orchestration (SMO), RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) and xApps & rApps.

Greater collaboration between terrestrial and non-terrestrial satellite operators – Peter Kibutu, Advanced Technology Lead – NTNs, TTP

At MWC, we can expect more partnerships between terrestrial and satellite operators to be explored, aiming to extend coverage in un- and under-served areas for the delivery of basic services such as voice, messaging and data, as well as new use cases, such as connected cars and industrial IoT.

Terrestrial operators own a lot of valuable spectrum that can be used by satellite operators for direct-to-handset services, and both parties have a lot to gain from collaboration. However, to achieve this, satellite operators will need to move away from using proprietary technology, and instead build their solutions using the 3GPP non-terrestrial network (NTN) standards – which will allow seamless integration with terrestrial networks. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle as we evolve towards the availability of true global coverage, driven by the convergence of the terrestrial and satellite communities.

More gen AI – Kelvin Chaffer, CEO, Lifecycle Software

With European AI regulation hitting the news again over recent weeks, there is no doubt that AI will once again be a hot topic of conversation, with regulation and innovation alike representing a prevalent theme at this year’s MWC. Keeping abreast of regulation and how it impacts will of course be key, but I expect to see most telco players focusing more on AI’s potential for business. Whether it’s discussion of how to harness Gen AI to further enhance the customer experience and deepen the customer relationship, adopt a data-driven approach to target niche markets through more precise and personalised strategies or combat the evolving telecom fraud threat, the power of AI-enabled real-time analytics and machine learning for telcos is very real. By effectively leveraging these technologies, telcos can  identify and neutralise threats, enhance efficiency, reach new audiences and improve current customer experience, ultimately saving on infrastructure and operations costs.

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