The First World Problems of MWC

— Tom Woods, WE 

In many ways, this has been a Mobile World Congress lacking in experience. No matter how many VR headsets were on show.

Having gradually evolved into something of a European CES, there is no shortage of consumer-friendly glitz and glam in Barcelona this week - odd for what is still billed as a B2B show. Despite this, there is a clear experience problem. Here’s why.

Much of the talk this week has concerned the quality of AI assistants, the specs of smartphone cameras and being the first to Gigabit LTE chipsets. All good, worthwhile discussions, particularly for consumer audiences that are searching for better technology experiences every day. But this should not disguise that we are moving too quickly for a telecoms industry that isn’t keeping up. And that affects the connected experience of every single user.

I’ve been coming to MWC for five years now, and many of the same experiential problems still need solving. The Wi-Fi is still rubbish in the hall, and across the city for that matter. The data contained in my pass is insufficient to get me through security, meaning I have to carry my passport everywhere. Some stalls still require cash payments.

The point here is that the infrastructure of the world’s leading mobile technology show isn’t yet able to keep up with demands of the mini-computers we all carry in our pockets. So producing slightly more advanced features at the device level doesn’t help. Surely as a B2B buyer, you’re going to be a little worried about the obvious network deficiencies that will keep us from enjoying these new devices to the maximum.

Communicators know that it’s crucial to have a story behind the technical detail, and it’s clear that the organisers of MWC have also grasped this. Just like last year, talk of 5G rollout is being hyped as the saviour of everything, and very soon all connectivity problems will be taken care of. But most projections still put the launch of 5G at 2020. So what happens between now and then?

This year we had nostalgia in the form of the Nokia and Blackberry launches. Next year, what, the return of Amstrad? Before you entertain that thought let me jump right in and say: MWC needs to change the record for the next couple of years to keep its storytelling potential alive. And maybe, for the time being, it could come from looking beyond the first world problems of camera quality, connection speeds and chrome finishes.

On day one of the show, the GSMA announced Big Data for Social Good, an initiative consisting of 16 operators that have agreed to share network data with governments and relief agencies in order to help better respond to humanitarian crises. The likes of Huawei and Ericsson also dedicated significant booth space to showing how mobile technology can bring opportunity to some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities. Not in three years, but right now.

The results of GSMA’s collaboration will be announced at the start of MWC 2018, and more than anything else, it’s this story that will prompt me to return to the show next year. The capabilities of new mobile handsets never cease to amaze me, but we mustn’t forget that far more humble technology, applied in the right way, has the power to be truly transformative.