Insights from Mobile World Congress

Mobile World Congress — the world’s biggest and most influential mobile event, which took place in Barcelona from  27 February – 2 March 2017 — had a record-breaking 108,000 attendees from 208 countries. This year, MWC showcased how mobile is the force behind every emerging innovation: according to the GSMA, it is simply The Next Element.

Everything from connected cars, virtual reality, new handsets and ingenious app ideas, to 3D printing, privacy protection and backend solutions was on display.

For those of us who weren’t able to make it to Barcelona, Women in Telecoms & Technology once again assembled a panel of experts to bring us news and views from the 2017 show:

  • Janice Hughes, founding Director, Redshift Strategy;
  • Andrea Sommer, Founder & CEO, Hiver;
  • Dr. Mike Short, Vice President – Public Affairs, Telefonica Europe; and
  • John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA.
    (Please see below for our speakers’ bios.)

WiTT board director Annette Nabavi led our panel.

Left to right: Andrea Sommer; Mike Short; Annette Nabavi, Janice Hughes, and John Giusti


Annette asked each speaker to introduce her/himself and then to provide their impressions of Mobile World Congress: the themes they felt were predominant, the trends they saw, and how different they thought this year’s show was from last year.

Janice Hughes kicked off the discussion. She’s been going to the show since it was in Cannes in the ’90s, when roughly 20,000 people attended. Some of the things that stood out for Janice this year included:

  • a face-to-face encounter with Pepper the robot on the Softbank stand. Among other things, Pepper will be used to help autistic children develop coding skills;
  • this year the power of AI and data seems to be accelerating very fast. There were 30-40 driverless cars, and all the components that fit around that.
  • The GSMA also does a great job of taking you out into the world. An example is M-KOPA ( a Kenyan provider of affordable solar power for consumers. They’ve just passed 500,000 subscribers. Users pay on a few shillings each month by M-Pesa on their mobile phones.

Mike Short has been going to Mobile World Congress since 1990. He was the GSMA’s chair 22 years ago, and started the awards for the show. From  the Telefonica point of view, the MWC is a place to see things the company might want to work with or sell to or use to change the way it does things.

Mike believes it’s no longer just a mobile world congress; today, most sectors in society are represented. It’s no longer the big base stations or towers of old, or billing systems and customer care systems. It’s much more.

Among the highlights for Mike were the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected objects. Last year Telefonica connected more objects in the UK than it connected people — connected meters, cars, street lighting; it’s clear the IoT revolution is with us now.

Mike applauded the GSMA Innovation City, where attendees could see lots of connected things on display. O2 supported a demonstrator with Jaguar-Land Rover’s connected car in Innovation City. It showed how high speed could deliver video to the car; telematics security; and how connected cars with or without a driver change driving and transport.

Beyond IoT this year there was a much more attention on 4G/5G transition investment. Why? Because data, particularly video, is booming. If you go to western Europe or North America video traffic is doubling year on year. This requires more capacity, speed, and capability. You could speak to any major vendor and they had a 5G story. Many had an evolution story rather than just revolution story.

The third thing that stood out for Mike is the work the GSMA has been doing with the UN on the Sustainable Development Goals; it has worked to promote the ways in which mobile can make a big difference to the goals. The GSMA has published reports on the development goals, which include case studies on eliminating hunger, poverty, and difficulties with health.

Another point: mobile money is 10 years old this year. Mike noted that mobile money started as a UK Department for International Development (DfID) research project, with UK companies spreading the service through Kenya and to many parts of the world. M-KOPA is similar in its backing, and the GSMA relationship is helping innovation in that space.

Finally, Mike was impressed by the innovation story of 4YFN (4 Years From Now). After three years this side event has matured to be really useful visit location in its own right for VCs and innovators seeking partners and opportunities.

To Mike, IoT, 4/5G, sustainable development goals and 4YFN added up to a comprehensive mobile economy program.

Andrea Sommer’scompany, Hiver, was part of Mobile World Congress’s Start-Up Showcase. Hiver is a geolocation networking and analytics company. It provides an app that’s designed to help people who network remember the people they meet in an automated way. It also aggregates information about how crowds flow through spaces. Event organizers can figure out how to increase engagement and make their events more meaningful.

Twelve start-ups were elected to speak about businesses in the Showcase. They sat right across from main, which allowed Andrea to see Mobile World Congress from a different perspective.

The things that struck Andrea most were smart cities and IoT, as well as some of the materials developments shared at the show, particularly bendable surfaces and the wrapping graphene revolution. Andrea believes graphene has the potential to truly disrupt mobile technology.

She was also struck by how the show has evolved since she last visited four years ago. Mobile World Congress has evolved to become even more of a commercial show, providing opportunities for partnerships and showcasing. Found that to be really interesting. She’s also interested in seeing how some of the start-ups at 4YFN have developed two to three years from now.

Our final speaker was John Giusti, the GSMA’s Chief regulatory officer. John said that after hearing from the others speakers he felt he had an extra set of eyes; the others saw parts of the show that John hadn’t had a chance to see.

John noted that this year the GSMA had a much more comprehensive Women4Tech program than in previous years. It was the first time the sub-event had a profile throughout the show. The Women4Tech summit took place in the same space as the GSMA hosts the show’s ministerial forum. “I love my ministerial program, but this was the most active and energized I’d seen that space in all the days,” John told us. “I need to challenge ministerial to make it more like the Women4Tech summit.”

John agreed that Mobile World Congress is really no longer a mobile show. Digitalization is clear now; it cuts across all sectors of the economy and society. It’s no longer about mobile as a vertical; it’s an enabler across all sectors. That was an important element that fed into another key event, the Ministerial program.

John has been at the GSMA for six years, but this was his first Ministerial program. It’s important to remember that everything the sector does is only possible with the right enabling environment. We are riding over a sovereign resource, this radio spectrum. The GSMA uses its platform to bring together government officials, international organizations, the UN, the IFC, and the World Bank with the industry. We need to make sure that even though we talk about the same goals of connecting more people, we need to understand each other’s priorities and policies and dynamics.

Going to Innovation City was a real highlight. His favorite exhibit was the connected seals.

The Internet of the Seas Sets Sail

The University of St Andrews Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) is developing smart telemetry tags using Narrow Band-IoT (NB-IoT) technology to track and monitor the movement of harbor seals and research their population decline. The sensors log detailed data on the animals’ behavior, such as location and dive depth, as well as temperature, salinity and, eventually, underwater sound. This is just one example of what IoT can do.

John is also responsible for working with the GSMA Foundation and the Mobile for Development teams to bring together the donor community and philanthropic capital to spur innovation. Days after Mobile World Congress John was in Malawi to visit Airtel and others working in partnership with donors on mobile nutrition. In Malawi there’s a disproportionate rate of stunting in youth; 43% of children under five years old are below height for their age. Airtel, through partnerships, is sending new recipes to their subscribers that allows them to produce food using locally-available ingredients that can improve nutrition.

Mobile World Congress showed us the role of mobile can have touching all touching all aspects of society. The challenge now is to keep the show relevant; John expects 2018 to be just as exciting and innovative as this year.

Annette noticed that none of the panelists had mentioned the “cognitive dress” on IBM’s stand. It was a long, shimmering gown that senses your mood and changes color — not your standard MWC exhibit! More information is here:


Annette then asked the panel a few questions. First, it was very interesting that idea that mobile is no longer a vertical but a horizontal, or enabler. Does that mean that the traditional, very large players are no longer the drivers for the industry? If it’s not the Vodafones of the world, and it’s probably not government, then who is driving the sector? Is it Facebook? Google? Or something completely outside all of that?

Andrea’s view was that there’s no one driver. Innovation and growth are coming from combinations and recombinations of players and ideas. It’s not coming from any particular source but from the partnerships and evolution of the ecosystem more than anything else.

Janice believes that there is still enormous innovation coming from the mobile companies, although sometimes there’s more innovation in smaller countries. In Sri Lanka, for example, Dialog, they’ve been providing TV and content for years. In some other countries, operators are offering to resell Netflix. But there’s no innovation in that.

The big transformation in mobile, though, is the change driven by mobile operating systems like iOS and Android, which bring together the traditional services of voice and data with social media, with content, with voice sensors such as Alexa, or Google Home.

Mike agreed, but noted that the biggest inventions of the 20th century have been mobile and the Internet. When you put the two together they form a platform for many more plays. Scale is still important, to lower unit costs, or to share R&D across many countries, or to help to grow the number of subscribers from eight billion to 25 billion. But scale is less important in some areas, and the barriers to entry are much lower now with mobile and internet. For example, Mike was one of the judges for the sustainable development goals awards category. He saw three innovations he would not have predicted five years ago, or even two years ago.

One was a Korean operator that was starting to identify travelers going through Korea to Zika or Ebola countries. It was advising the health service to try to stop epidemics breaking out.

Another example is in Pakistan, where citizens can’t access education or health care without an identity card. Now, though, they can gain a mobile identify when their birth is registered.

The category winner, though, was an app organized by the UN World Food Program, where people could donate meals as a charitable endeavor. The mobile part was incidental, but internet was absolutely vital.

Annette asked, if mobile was becoming incidental,  doesn’t that mean that the mobile industry has to work harder to determine what its role is? Is there a risk of losing touch with where the industry came from?

John said that mobile today is all the different players. But mobile would be nowhere without investment in the network. It’s the kind of thing we forget about. It is the biggest expense for the industry, and the providers are heavily regulated. This is a major challenge. The network is the necessary platform that enables everything else. Mobile networks have reached more people more quickly than any other technology. But we need to make sure we balance these things with investing in the infrastructure that will allow society and the economy to advance. And if you don’t have the networks you won’t have the next generation of technology.


Another question: there were quite a few drones in Barcelona, although they were all in cages rather than flying around the Fira. Are they just a toy? Do they need to be regulated?

Janice felt drones are much more than toys. She worked on a project with drones that deliver medicines in very remote areas. Of course, they can also be used in negative ways, such as interfering with air traffic. There’s no doubt they should be regulated.

John said governments have a responsibility to respond to changing dynamics. But we need to be careful with innovations that we don’t regulate too heavily too soon. There are obviously flight issues. But if you don’t allow some things to develop they may never each their full potential. There needs to be dialog with developers, industry and government to see that the right degree of regulation is imposed. Often regulation is imposed without those conversations; it may impose a burden and cost but not solve the problem.

Mike noted that drones are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK. There’s currently a debate taking place at the CAA on restricting the height of drone flights so they can’t get in line of fire of aircraft. And they may ultimately regulate drone pilots.

Telefonica is involved in at least three drone projects:

First: video to examine properties for maintenance or other reasons.

Second, radio coverage. Many people complain about the lack of mobile coverage in some parts of world. Drones can be used to boost mobile coverage over events such as Glastonbury.

Third: there’s a big shift towards data mapping in 3D; if the industry does better mapping it can do better radio engineering. It can also help with maintenance of roads, motorways, railways, pylons, etc.. Drone survey activity is important for future data sets and future innovation.

“So over regulate over my dead body. Think about innovation very deeply. Make sure they have a pro-safety agenda. There is room for more regulation, but in a managed way.”


We then took questions from the floor:

Which part of the world do you see innovation coming from? Is it mainly developing countries?

Janice thought Kenya was a good example of how innovation can evolve: the country has 238,000 fixed lines and close to 40 million mobile phones. It’s topsy-turvy to Europe. We still have quite a lot of fixed phones here; we have more mobile connections than we do fixed but the drivers are different.

Other markets sometimes have leapfrogged what we do here. It would be very difficult to launch M-Pesa in Europe or the U.S. because of all the financial regulations. The innovation around micropayments is fascinating because people can do a lot more with it — heating, lighting, renting a TV. Because fixed is not really there consumers rely on their mobile phones for everything.

Mike sees four sources of innovation, and most aren’t country-specific.

First, some sectors are stronger around the world than others. For driverless cars or evolution of the insurance industry, or smart metering, you might look for sector leaders internationally. Equally you need to look for scale because cost comes into this. So what’s coming out of China is highly relevant since close to 1/4 of the world’s mobile subscribers are there, even if internet leadership is more U.S.-oriented.

Key vendors can be enablers of innovation in the mobile or internet space.

And facilitation of incubation and acceleration is important. Telefonica is involved with Wayra, which has helped many young companies around the world grow from.


Q: Mobile is exploding. What do you think could slow or stop growth or change the course of growth?

John felt one challenge is the volume of traffic on networks — making sure we can keep up with capacity demand. And for the operators, to be able to make the revenue necessary to invest in more infrastructure and more spectrum.  We have to remember that spectrum is finite. The challenge is really one of policy impediments that we need to overcome together. The opportunities are endless as long as we all move on the same path to make sure we can put in the investments needed for the next generation.

Janice noted that after a fantastic 20 years of subscriber growth and very profitable growth with voice, text, and roaming, in many countries the growth curve has started to flatten out. There is fantastic growth in M2M and IoT, but the amounts of revenue from these services at the moment is very, very small.

There’s also a new generation of services, such as video and social media, which use the mobile network infrastructure but don’t necessary pay fully for it. The network is seen as free. If you have Amazon or Netflix, which generates the major part of video traffic in the U.S., is Netflix paying for that network? Is there a fair deal? It will break at some point. It cant go on as it is. The costs are going up and revenue and profitability for mobile operators aren’t.


An audience member who had spent 25 years working at several operators suggested that government is not very responsible when issuing licenses. In the UK, the 3G license auction took £22 billion out of the industry and brought cash-rich companies like BT to their knees. There was a knock-on effect with smaller companies. Government has a huge responsibility.



You talked about how mobile can play a role in the SDGs. Was there any talk at MWC about the role of sustainability within the industry itself? If not, is this a topic that would be interesting for 2018?

Mike said energy has been a constant theme for the industry, starting with standardization. There’s ongoing work to reduce the energy cost of a base station, make sure handsets move into sleep mode, extend battery life and make recharging more fruitful. There’s quite a lot of discussion around energy.

The recycling story needs more attention.

From the sustainability perspective there are quite a few prevention schemes coming around. The industry needs to do more with health care, to look at prevention of diseases, or providing alerts on vital sign.

And regarding innovation: there aren’t many industries that can point to give generations of services or products in less than 30 years. And not many industries have growth to eight billion customers in 25 years. Sometimes the assumption is that the operators are just running networks. But they have other key assets; building systems have innovated, customer care systems have innovated, distribution channels have innovated. There’s been a lot of innovation way beyond the network.

John felt the spectrum auction point was a good one. He recently looked at the price of spectrum. With 4G, the average price has gone up 250%. That’s a huge amount of money to go out before operators even invest in the network. Spectrum is a national resource and we should have to pay to use it. But we should also remember that the original purpose of auctioning spectrum was to get away from governments making prejudicial decisions, favoring one player over another. Auctions are not just about the right commercial price; they’re also about who values the resource most and who will put it to best use? A high cost of the spectrum will either mean less network investment or higher consumer prices. Governments also need to think of the benefits of having more people and services connected.

And on sustainability, the GSMA is very pleased it could pull the industry together; in fact mobile was the first industry to announce its commitment to the SDGs, more than a year ago. And we can challenge ourselves to do more. We can bridge gender and equality gaps, expand financial inclusion, address issues of energy and climate. We need to keep the pressure on ourselves to make sure we’re doing as much as we can to make sure we in the industry are sustainable.

With that, the panel discussion closed.

WiTT would like to thank the GSMA for hosting this event.

Chair and Panelist biographies

Panel Chair
Annette Nabavi
Board Director, Maintel; WiTT

Annette has a broad range of public and private board experience and currently holds a number of Directorships. She is a Non-Executive Director on the board of Maintel Holdings plc, an AIM listed unified communications services business. She also serves as the Chairman of Maintel’s Remuneration Committee and is a member of the Audit Committee. She is on the Advisory Board of the National Media Museum, part of the Science Museum Group, and a Director of Women in Telecoms and Technology (WiTT) Ltd.

Annette has a broad range of public and private board experience and currently holds a number of Directorships. She is a Non-Executive Director on the board of Maintel Holdings plc, an AIM listed unified communications services business.

She also serves as the Chairman of Maintel’s Remuneration Committee and is a member of the Audit Committee. She is on the Advisory Board of the National Media Museum, part of the Science Museum Group, and a Director of WiTT.

Annette is a Partner with AHV Associates, a firm of corporate finance advisors specializing in Mergers and Acquisitions, Capital Raising, Structured Finance and Derivatives Advisory work for privately owned businesses. She specializes in corporate finance projects for small and medium privately owned enterprises in the IT, technology, telecoms and media sectors.

Annette previously held the position of Head of Telecoms Global Business Development for Corporate Finance at ING Barings where she gained significant experience in M&A, private equity, structured debt and public equity transactions. She later became the founding director and CEO of XchangePoint Holdings Ltd, a Venture Capital backed Internet Interconnect company providing broadband metro peering services to ISPs and network operators.

Her early years were spent with the PA Consulting Group where she specialized in strategic partnerships, business planning and marketing strategy. She became a Senior Partner with PA before moving to Barings. Annette holds an MA from Oxford University and a Doctorate from the University of Dijon.


Janice Hughes
Founding Director, Redshift Strategy

Janice Hughes is a founding Director of Redshift Strategy. She created Spectrum Strategy a global management consultancy with over 100 consultants in 9 countries. Prior to that she led the European TMT Practice for Booz Allen and was the MD of the Economists Advisory Group. She has advised major companies across the telecoms and media sectors and has advised Government Ministers in Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the UK and Europe. Janice was part of the Creative Industries Taskforce with Richard Branson and Lord Puttnam, and, has written several books. She graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Economics and Statistics.
She has specialised in the mobile, fixed, radio spectrum, entertainment, sports and retail sectors. She has led billion dollar acquisitions such as the CCPIB purchase of Arqiva and smaller transactions in the £20m to £100m range and listed below are a number of her key projects:-
She has recently worked for a global mobile “Internet of Things” apps provider on their market roll-out for solutions for smart stadia and facilities management in Asia and Europe
She has advised a global video film provider on their Asian market and investment strategy
For the largest film studio producer in Europe she has analysed the options for investing $100m in high end drama and mini-series for platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Sky and HBO
For a global music legend, she has worked on his diversification strategy into film, live musicals and TV drama and focused on the funding of this business
She’s worked for Sony Music in New York on a 6 month strategy involving investment in new live entertainment centres in Asia, the Middle East and South America
She’s just completed a review of a content strategy for a mobile broadband operator, looking at different scenarios for reselling offers such as Netflix or a more involved entry into high-end drama and TV production and distribution.
She’s worked on convergence in the 470-694MHz bands in France, Italy, Sweden and the UK. This involved analysing new modulation and compression technologies, SFNs, IP platforms, hybrid converged networks and estimates of network switching costs
Janice was recently involved in a factual and counterfactual review of the deployment of White Space and shared spectrum as part of a European initiative to bring 500MHz of radio spectrum into the commercial environment.

Dr Mike Short, CBE FREng FIET
Vice President of Public Affairs, Telefonica

Mike’s career spans over 40 years in Electronics and Telecommunications, covering Technology, Innovation and Public policy, particularly in mobile communications. After running design and manufacturing for subsidiaries of Philips Industries, and Toshiba (then called Landis and Gyr), he  joined BT in 1983 and was appointed in 1989 as a Director of O2 UK (now part of Telefónica but originally called Cellnet) to launch Digital 2G (or GSM) mobile networks. He later went on to run the 3G business case and launch 3G in the UK.

He has served as a member of the UK Government committees on Internet and Broadband access, Ofcom Spectrum policy board; UK TI ICT Sector Trade advice, and advisory committees on London 2012. He was elected Chairman – global GSM Association in 1995 and then a Board member until 2002; and chaired the UK Mobile Data Association responsible for the launch of texting and charity text (1998 – 2008).

From 2007/13 he was a Board member of UK Council for Child Internet Safety and an IET Trustee (elected IET President 2011/2012). He was also elected to the Board of ETSI for 3 years 2011/14 and Chaired the TSB backed ICT KTN 2007/14.Since 2014 he has been an active member of EM3 LEP Board which covers most of Surrey and Hampshire.

Mike’s Telefónica focus today is on European public policy that relates to innovation, whether research or new business development. This includes a focus on advanced mobile services and data applications including Mobile TV, Mobile learning, Smart Metering, Transport Telematics and Digital Healthcare, Emergency services and “5G” Research. He is a Visiting Professor at Surrey, Coventry, Leeds, and Lancaster Universities and a Board Governor of Coventry University and Ravensbourne, Greenwich; a member of the Smart London Board; a Board member of EM3 LEP; and a Fellow of IET/BCS/RGS/ Royal Academy of Engineering. During 2014 he was a REF 2014 University Research “Impact” assessor, and remains as an assessor for the Biomedical catalyst (MRC / Innovate).

Mike was honoured with a CBE by the Her Majesty the Queen in June 2012 for services to the Mobile industry after 25 years Mobile experience, and holds Honorary Doctorates from Staffordshire, Brunel and Kingston Universities.


Andrea Sommer
Co-Founder & CEO, Hiver

Andrea is an experienced strategist with background in disruptive technology and innovation, corporate development, change management, digital, data science, and marketing. She is the founder and CEO of Hiver, an early stage start-up that uses data and geo-location technology to fundamentally transform the networking experience during events.

Andrea also consults for Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft, where she spearheads strategic initiatives for their European operations. Andrea is a Brazil-born German who spent 10 years in the US and now lives and works in London. She is a trained psychologist and holds an executive MBA from London Business School.


John Giusti
Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA

As Chief Regulatory Officer of the GSMA, John is responsible for overseeing the association’s full range of advocacy activities, including securing critical spectrum resources for mobile, promoting best practice in areas such as regulation, taxation and privacy, and fostering digital empowerment for citizens globally through the GSMA Foundation and the GSMA Mobile for Development programmes.

Prior to joining the GSMA, John worked at the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), most recently serving as chief of staff and senior policy advisor to Commissioner Michael Copps. He also ran the FCC’s International Bureau, where he managed the agency’s relationships with foreign counterparts and served as its chief negotiator at international and regional organisations. John holds a Juris Doctorate from the Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Science in Telecommunications from the University of Florida.