The Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been the premiere conference for tech companies to launch the latest smartphones, connectivity chips, new apps to drive up data usage and core building blocks to help mobile carriers upgrade their wireless communication infrastructure. And the communication service providers are still the MWC’s core audience. But for most of them, the MWC this year is anything but business as usual.

Driving today’s network providers to rethink their business model are three factors: a maturing smartphone market, the IoT and 5G.

In the IoT era, mobile carriers' customers are no longer just people. They'd have to deal with machines, vehicles, sensors, hot spots, 'things'-in an orchestrated ecosystem.

Some of that is still going on. But the outfits who come to MWC to strut their stuff are a more diverse bunch nowadays. This year’s show will host data processing and analytics companies, carmakers, “smart-city” and VR/AR tech firms. In short, every vendor who fancies its role in the emerging 5G ecosystem has joined the gold rush to Barcelona.

Let’s face it. For most carriers, the days are long gone when success was measured by subscriber numbers, and strategy was all about how fast they can grow the average revenue per unit (ARPU).

Network’s defined and non-defined uses

As Sam Lucero, senior principal analyst for M2M and IoT at IHS Markit, told us, in a saturated subscriber market, “The mobile ecosystem in general has embraced the IoT as a key growth opportunity.” And the upcoming new narrowband radio technology developed IoT, such as NB-IoT, is enabling mobile ecosystem players to “capitalise on the IoT opportunity,” he added.

While moving into the IoT market seems like a logical step, it’s neither simple nor easy for mobile carriers to execute. The carriers’ focus has always been on human subscribers. They’ve grown by tailouring services to the needs of their customers.

In contrast, in the IoT era, mobile carriers’ customers are no longer just people. They need to deal with defined and non-defined uses of their network–by machines, vehicles, sensors, hot spots, ‘things’–in an orchestrated ecosystem. Connectivity will be a core component, delivered across multiple vertical industries and devices.

In a recent phone interview with EE Times, Francesco Venturini, global industry managing director, Media and Communications for Accenture, told us carriers are coming to Barcelona this year not necessarily to look for new technologies to boost their business (i.e. increase data usage), but “to get a direction, or at least make some sense” of where the mobile industry is heading.

 
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