The biggest news from MWC is the lack of news

I’ve been reporting on MWC for various entities for many years. Almost invariably I’ve done this from afar, scanning the press releases, journalist announcements and similar. The years when I’ve actually attended I haven’t actually gained anything more from being there – it’s only in private conversations where the true story comes out and these can happen outside of MWC in a less hassled environment.

What has astonished me this year is the complete lack of any news. Samsung have a better camera and Nokia have a yellow phone – that appears to be it. No major 5G announcements, no new use cases, no significant vertical industry interactions. What were 100,000 people doing?

Regarding 5G there were a few “we’re going to lead the world” announcements, particularly in the US where one-upmanship appears to be rampant; equally there were a few “we can’t see any business case” including, tellingly from Korea Telecom, often seen as the poster child for 5G leadership. In operator panels there was a general inclination to talk down the potential for 5G. The data published was stark and yet often not accepted. The GSMA predicted no revenue growth for the industry (in the developed world) out to 2025 and falling capital expenditure. McKinsey predicted even a modest 5G deployment would increase capital and operational expenditure by 60%, and a full deployment by 300%. Samsung suggested that there was little hope of revenue from verticals, at least in the next few years, due to lack of concerted engagement. A few held out a vague hope for operational cost savings as a way to square that circle.

When the industry cannot even generate any buzz at its own, carefully stage managed, annual jamboree, then there is something seriously amiss. It feels like the approach to mobile provision, which has worked so well for three decades, has run its course, but that coming up with an alternative is proving very hard.

It’s all very much as predicted in my book “The 5G Myth” which does provide an alternative future for the industry.