"Responsible leadership is the way to reject division, to innovate for global recovery, and to unleash the full power of connectivity to transform lives and society."
The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC 2022) has opened its doors at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions over Ukraine. In his opening keynote, Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, stressed the role and responsibilities to ensure that connectivity drives sustainability and bridges the digital divide.
Following a sustainable path
For telcos, sustainability has become an integral part of their strategy. The unprecedented demand for digital communications during the Covid-19 pandemic has indeed forced telecom infrastructures to consume more energy, thereby increasing their carbon footprint.
To coincide with the COP26 UN climate change congress in Glasgow, Scotland, last November, the GSMA warned that mobile network operators could do more to reduce their carbon emissions in the coming years.
According to a report compiled by the GSMA, which represents almost all the MNO’s globally as well as numerous vendors, savings of around 11 billion tonnes is a realistic target that could be achieved by deploying new technologies, in particular the application of AI.
“During COP26, I called on business leaders and policymakers to use smart technology to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said Granryd. “We don’t need to wait. These technologies already exist today. But they are still very underused by energy intensive industries, like transport, buildings, and manufacturing.”
“It’s a huge opportunity, and the mobile industry is prepared, and we are ready to engage with other sectors to enable those savings,” said Granryd.
Speeding up 5G roll out
Meaningful connectivity is the combination of 5G, AI, IoT, and big data, said Granryd.
The GSMA expects there will be one billion 5G connections by the end of 2022 and two billions by 2025. 5G will then account for around a quarter of total mobile connections, and more than two in five people worldwide will live within reach of a 5G network.
The transition from 4G to 5G represents a frontier growth area with many opportunities. “Government and policy makers must be informed and encouraged to support the rapid and sustainable growth of 5G, so I want to call on governments for the timely release and assignment of spectrum at affordable prices,” said Granryd. “So far, almost 80% of 5G launches have been carried out in the mid-band spectrum, which is vital for safety wide coverage, but it will be the millimeter wave spectrum that provides the fastest state of speeds in densely populated areas like campuses, industrial parks, and sports arenas.”
Closing the usage gap
In a post-pandemic economy, digitization and connectivity are imperative for recovery. However, just under half of the world’s population is still not connected, said Granryd. “That is 3.7 billion people, and it’s made up of 450 million people that live outside areas that are not covered with mobile broadband.” This is what the GSMA calls the coverage gap.
Granryd continued, “The good news is that the coverage gap is being reduced. Over the last five years, 1.4 billion more people have been covered with mobile broadband.” This comes from operator investments in network infrastructure over the past decade that have helped close the mobile broadband coverage gap from one-third of the world’s population to just 6%. But while the industry continues to invest in innovative solutions and partnerships to extend connectivity to still-underserved and remote communities, the adoption of mobile internet services has not kept pace with network coverage expansion.
“The usage gap has hardly moved at all,” said Granryd. In 2021, 3.2 billion people, or 41% of the global population, lived in a mobile broadband coverage area but didn’t yet use mobile broadband internet, according to GSMA’s latest report, The Mobile Economy 2022.
The reasons for this usage gap are multiple and vary by region, but they are generally related to the lack of affordability, relevance, knowledge and skills, as well as safety and security issues.
Because widespread access to the internet and digital technology is paramount, Granryd turned to the audience and urged “partners, public and private, to invest at the same level as the mobile industry to reduce the usage gap and bring the benefits of mobile internet to more people.”
Mobile operators are indeed facing a capex investment requirement of over $600 billion worldwide between 2022 and 2025, roughly 85% of which will be in 5G networks, according to the GSMA.
Reaching the end of his keynote speech, Granryd said, “More than ever, responsible leadership is the way, and let me say that the GSMA strongly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
He further explained, “Responsible leadership is the way to reject division, to innovate for global recovery, and to unleash the full power of connectivity to transform lives and society.”
In a statement, the GSMA indeed clarified its position on the Russian-Ukraine conflict. “The situation is fast-moving, and we understand that various governments are considering broader sanctions against Russia. In light of this emerging situation and considering the tragic loss of lives, MWC seems immaterial under the circumstances.”
MWC said it is “a unifying event” and that it has “a vision to convene the mobile ecosystem to progress ways and means that connectivity can ensure people, industry, and society thrive.”
Subsequently, the GSMA said it was following all government sanctions and policies and decided that there would be “no Russian Pavilion at MWC 2022.”
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.
Anne-Françoise Pelé is editor-in-chief of eetimes.eu and EE Times Europe.