A preview of what to expect at MWC 2023 from major global telecoms operators, by Omdia's Service Provider Markets analyst team. 

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Mobile World Congress (MWC) will take place at the end of February in Barcelona, where 80,000 attendees are expected to meet and discuss the future of the telecoms industry. The level of anticipation and excitement around the event has been clouded by a difficult end of 2022 for many companies and an uncertain economic outlook for the year ahead. Omdia’s Service Provider Markets team will be attending MWC and uncovering insights into operators and vendors across the world. This article provides an advance look at what to expect from the event from a regional perspective.

Europe: Strong economic challenges faced by operators will impact next-generation network investment

Ronan de Renesse, Senior Research Director, Service Provider Markets

Taking place in Spain, MWC is usually well attended by European operators. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone will have large exhibition booths prime positioned in Hall 3. They will likely demonstrate their latest 5G services and IoT applications in various verticals such as agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing.

However, the poor financial results and cost reduction measures announced by European operators in the weeks leading up to MWC will cast a shadow over the show and put pressure on these operators to convince the MWC audience that they can continue to be innovators in such difficult times. Behind the scenes, there will be some important conversations between European operators, network vendors and hyperscalers about how to bring cost efficiencies to network deployment and operations, possible reassessing the pace of 5G evolution in Europe. 5G is not progressing in Europe as fast as in North America and parts of Asia with only 9.2% of European mobile connections on 5G in 2022. The situation is unlikely to improve much in 2023.

EU industry chief Thierry Breton is due to announce the launch of a consultation on big tech’s contribution to network roll-out during his speech at MWC. This will spark a heated debate at MWC between European telcos and big tech companies, with the latter already criticizing any such decision for going against net neutrality principles.

Middle East & Africa: Gulf operators buoyed by high oil prices and World Cup

Matthew Reed, Chief Analyst, Service Provider Markets

Major service providers in the Middle East and Africa including e&, Orange, Ooredoo, STC, and Vodafone will be exhibiting at MWC this year. The Gulf-based operators come to Barcelona boosted by high oil prices and the World Cup, while the African market still has strong growth dynamics. 

UAE-based e&, formerly Etisalat, unveiled its new brand last February, reflecting the company’s transition into a global technology and investment group. Since adopting its new brand, e& has built up a stake of 13% in Vodafone and has made acquisitions in the e-commerce and media sectors. e&’s stand at the annual Gitex technology exhibition in Dubai is invariably lavish and futuristic. Will e& put on something similar in Barcelona?

Ooredoo recently played a key role in delivering what can be seen as the first major global public event of the 5G era – the FIFA World Cup, which was hosted in Ooredoo’s home market of Qatar in November-December 2022. Might we see evidence of Ooredoo’s learnings from the World Cup on show in Barcelona?

Saudi Arabia’s incumbent operator STC is playing a pivotal role in the ambitious plans for economic diversification and investment in technology that are underway its home market. In early February, STC signed an agreement with Telefonica that will see the two operators work together across a range of business areas. With STC visiting Telefonica’s home turf in Barcelona, look out for any earlier examples of their collaboration.

Orange, which has a substantial operating footprint in Africa, said that continued growth on the continent is one of the four pillars of its new strategy, which Orange unveiled at its Capital Market Day, held about ten days before MWC.

Latin America: 5G, international trends, digital divide, spectrum policy and partnerships models focus

Sonia Agnese, Senior Principal Analyst, Latin America Markets

MWC23 is garnering a lot of attention in the Latin American telecoms community, as for many it will be the first opportunity since the pandemic to attend the global industry’s most important annual event. In-person interaction is an essential part of Latin America’s way of doing business. Service providers see MWC as an opportunity to learn the latest international trends that will later come to Latin America, and to interact in person with regulators and vendors. Service providers from Chile, Brazil, Mexico and other countries that have already launched 5G are looking to understand which 5G use cases have been successful, and to identify innovative 5G value propositions. For those that haven’t launched 5G yet, they’ll be looking to understand the 5G business case, the opportunities that the technology can bring and how to deploy the most cost-effective network. The current challenging economic environment makes it even more important to understand how the investment is going to be recovered.

Most Latin American countries are sending policy makers and regulator delegations that participate in MWC’s Ministerial Program. Spectrum is, as always, at the top of the agenda, with ten Latin American countries planning to auction 5G spectrum during 2023. Discussion about the 6GHz band, which has not been assigned in all countries, and which Chile has reassigned to Wi-Fi, is still a hot debate for the telecom industry.

The problem of how to bridge the digital divide, with three in 10 people still having no internet connection in Latin America, continues to be one of the main public policy issues. Telefonica is hosting a session entitled “Latest alliance models to meet Latin America´s connectivity challenges”.  Considering the large investment needed for fiber and 5G, involving high sunk costs and long payback periods, innovative investment and co-investment models are more relevant than ever. Discussion about the fair sharing of costs is also on the agenda, focusing on how internet players might contribute to network funding. Finding new ways of collaborating to make infrastructure deployments more effective is one of the main trends that Omdia is seeing. MWC23 might be the perfect opportunity to build new partnerships and innovative collaboration alliances.

Asia: AI – the next key component for a better virtual world?

Jensen Ooi, Principal Analyst, Asia Markets

Since the beginning of last year, telcos in APAC have been exploring the idea of the metaverse concept whether through partnerships with other metaverse platform providers, or by developing their own digital worlds complete with unique characters and designs. Singtel, for instance, has partnered with SK Telecom (SKT) to debut ifland in Singapore initially before extending to other countries where Singtel operates. Similarly in Japan, SKT and NTT Docomo have partnered to co-develop their metaverse platform, enhance mobile network infrastructure and expand their media business. In Thailand, AIS showcased its own virtual mall and its own AI-powered digital influencer known as AiLynn.

SKT’s ifland has seen success, having expanded to over 49 countries by the end of 2022. In the same year, the hype surrounding the metaverse seems to have softened, with people's attention now turned to AI. Shortly after, SKT announced a reorganization of its strategy with a new goal of transforming into an AI-focused entity, by merging AI with other technologies to establish fresh business prospects and accelerate growth.

This hardly means that the metaverse has lost its appeal. The expansion of ifland to 49 countries within a year is an impressive feat, but what is necessary for virtual platforms to differentiate themselves and provide users with a somewhat new and genuinely unique experience? At MWC this year, we could see how SKT integrates AI as one of the key components to evolve its overall business, and for ifland how can AI enhance the overall operations, interactive experience and make it safer at the same time.




Ronan de Renesse, Senior Research Director, Service Provider Markets

Matthew Reed, Chief Analyst, Service Provider Markets

Sonia Agnese, Senior Principal Analyst, Latin America Service Provider Markets

Jensen Ooi, Principal Analyst, Asia Service Provider Markets