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Mobile World Congress: More than an annual ritual

Mobile World Congress: More than an annual ritual
February 21
06:19 2024

The Mobile World Congress, MWC 2024, holds next week, from February 26 to 29, at the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona. The city looks forward to this great event which, at some point, was gathering over one hundred thousand people in four days every year, and the industry looks forward to the meeting because it provides a great opportunity for networking and deal-making.

The Mobile World Congress is hosted by the GSMA – the GSM Association which draws membership from the mobile industry, over 750 operators and allied companies, 400 of them including equipment manufacturers and vendors. Last year, the Mobile World Congress added €461m to the Barcelona economy, in four days.

Every year, the final days of February are firmly rooted in the calendar of industry practitioners. It is fun. It is hard work. It is a lot of trekking to do, moving from one hall to another and looking for topics and products that will arrest your instincts and shape your business. At the end of the day, Barcelona makes up for a lot of things.

It wasn’t always Barcelona. I remember the early days in Cannes, South of France, at the Palais des Festivals et des Congres. The yachts in the beautiful waters of the French Riviera for those who want to play exclusively big and with some splash of glamour. A couple of my friends will remember Cannes as well. There was this particular exhibition stand that grabbed lots of attention by featuring a popular porn artist. A certain friend got too taken in with the performance and dropped his phone inadvertently. The young performer asked her assistant to keep the phone. My friend went back with his head lowered in defeat and shrouded in shame. The lady stretched her hand with the phone in it. Is it this? Oh Cannes had its peculiar allure, the narrow streets and the thick coffee served in finger cups.

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After ten years, Barcelona won the bid to host the MWC, lots of hotels after hosting the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, big event centres and lots of history and pull that people were only too happy to return to the city every year in spite of the stubborn pick pockets and other denizens of the underground rail system. It is not tucked in like Cannes. Barcelona breathes. It has Barca, the football team. It has Las Ramblas boulevard, which I always referred to as the Ajegunle of Barcelona. But the street is transformed into something very beautiful at night with life overwhelmingly at its fullest.

Barcelona offers more than a location for the Mobile World Congress. The theme for MWC 2024 is Future First and will address the urgency of bringing industries, continents, technologies and communities together to realise the future’s potential. Whether at the conferences or the exhibition, the agenda will be shaped by six sub-themes reflecting the latest trends and technologies. These themes, according to the organisers, will feature across the 17 different stages we have across the nine halls of MWC and 4YFN, providing a platform for over 1,100 speakers.

The themes are 5G and Beyond, Connecting Everything, Humanising AI, Manufacturing DX, Game Changers and Our Digital DNA.

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Already listed to speak are: Alef Aeronautics CEO, Jim Dukhovny, who will share his experience designing and developing flying cars; Dell Technologies Founder, Chairman and CEO, Michael Dell, who will talk about the importance of Dell being a valued partner for telcos; Ethiopia Telecom’s CEO Frehiwot Tamiru who will share her technology vision for telcos across Africa; Oxford Quantum Circuit’s CEO, Ilana Wisby who will discuss all things Quantum-as-a-Service; Microsoft’s Vice President and Chairman, Brad Smith; Xtend’s Co-Founder & CEO, Aviv Shapira, showcasing how 5G mobile technology is the catalyst for robotics.

One of the hottest spots to be at the Congress is the GSMA Ministerial Programme, not just because of the free lunch and steady flow of beverages, but for being a constellation of policy makers who enable the digital economy, including Ministers and heads of regulatory authorities who use the rendezvous to meet with mobile industry CEOs and senior representatives of international organisations, to share knowledge, and evolve priority policy and regulatory issues.

 

When you are fortunate to attend such privileged sessions, you hear heavy things; for instance, how governments should handle operators who, sometimes, are richer than their host countries. It is always good to encourage highly placed decision makers in government to attend such sessions.

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Mobile World Congress is a place to learn. You humble yourself like a top-of-the-class student and with papers and pens in your backpack ready to learn from those who think the Future First and make tomorrow’s life beautiful today.

In one of those days, an organisation had hosted some lawmakers to a dinner at one of the popular restaurants on Las Ramblas. Great evening with so many people in attendance. There was good food but there was also a stage presentation. You need to eat with your mouth, open your eyes and your ears to follow the stage performance. Without the words and chants you don’t enjoy the dance. But the only problem was that our lawmakers made so much noise that they disturbed everybody. Just like somebody playing loud music in a cinema hall. How do you reconcile such unruliness to needed civility!

Without doubt, the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr Bosun Tijani will be at the Congress and so is the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr Aminu Maida. This is their programme, and their knowledge and youthfulness will do the country proud, obviously.

As it is, the Nigerian Communications minister seems to have been doing a dry run of his Barcelona presentation. February 19, 2024, he launched an ambitious Project 774 LG Connectivity which aims to connect all 774 local government offices in the nation leveraging on the low-hanging fruit facilities of the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NigComSat) and Galaxy Backbone.

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“Project 774 LG Connectivity will create at least 300 direct jobs as we deploy nationwide and potentially more jobs indirectly from the increase in digital access,” the minister said.

Quite an ambitious package except that he needed to look at choices of technology bundles to deliver his dream project, beyond the preceding two immediately available to him.

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But the international community loves hearing this kind of audacious plan, so he will find listening ears. Besides, he will be in the good company of tech enthusiasts and freaks whose idea of Future First is to see beyond the galaxies of ordinary understanding.

But Nigeria is having a bad run at the moment. The mobile networks still can’t boast of acceptable service quality. The economy is bad. Inflation is 29.90 per cent. There are desperations on the streets and the government wakes up to new skirmishes and demonstrations every day. Yet tomorrow looks even more uncertain and the government is at best confused in response.

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The world does not wait for anybody and we should be happy that the Telecommunications sector will be well represented in Barcelona where attendees will have no choice but to contemplate the Future First.

One of the event themes is 5G and Beyond. While we struggle with the basics of the telecoms industry with our mobile networks running on mostly 2G and 3G platforms, little of 4G, and 5G yet to gain traction, the technology has hit a boom in some parts of the world, which will make discussions all the more interesting.

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For instance, by the end of 2027, 5G connections may hit 5.9bn. Global 5G services market is estimated to reach $2,208.25bn by 2030. Has 5G done enough to graduate to 6G which is already hovering in the horizon? This is obviously a huge market that should compel Nigeria to get things right.

Humanising AI is another sub-theme of the Mobile World Congress 2024 that will discuss “Our future with artificial intelligence.” AI contribution to the global economy by 2030 is projected to be in the region of $16trn. While the money looks very tempting, its role in the mobile industry and the advantages and risks will take centre stage at the Congress.

The Nigerian delegation going to the Mobile World Congress will have their hands full, to scout for products and relationships that can do our nation good. Why is the quality of our mobile networks still poor after two decades? How does the country benefit from the windfall of new technologies? That should be of considerable concern. The country is desperate for new opportunities at the moment and telecommunications holds genuine promise.

 



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