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MWC takes depart of actuality as guests pile again


There’s at all times an air of unreality about Cell World Congress (MWC), the annual telecom shindig in Barcelona that used to draw greater than 100,000 folks earlier than COVID-19 struck. Pre-pandemic, it had begun to occupy a parallel universe the place telecom is vibrant, 5G has cured society’s ills and Web firms are concurrently fascinating companions and predatory freeloaders. However this yr’s present was more unusual than ever.

First, on face masks. Spain has decreed that any masks will do indoors and is detachable when its wearer is consuming or ingesting (a crucial stipulation however one which makes a nonsense of the rule in any hospitality venue). Abnormal masks, nonetheless, weren’t adequate for the GSM Affiliation (GSMA), the occasion’s organizer, and woe betide any customer who tried to realize entry with out the much less forgiving FFP2. After a number of hours, you felt such as you have been respiratory via a moist, folded towel. Attempt to take away it for a sip of water and also you have been instantly disciplined by a member of the GSMA Youth, who prowled the halls and walkways looking out for any suspicious, unmasked habits.

MWC made a profitable comeback by way of customer numbers.
(Photograph by Fiona Graham)

Naturally, the very first thing anybody did in a gathering room was to tear off the snot-drenched rag and luxuriate in a number of lungfuls of unfiltered air. Sorry, GSMA, if it comes as a shock to study this observe was widespread, however the masks zealotry must go by MWC23 barring the emergence of a brand new and deadlier variant. No person had something optimistic to say about it.

As MWC’s 1000’s of male attendees and few dozen ladies masked up for cover towards a coronavirus, the true hazard (and information) was about 1,700 miles away, the place Russian rockets have been being fired into residential buildings. Whereas brownie factors should go to the GSMA for rapidly scrapping the Russia Pavilion, the invasion of Ukraine quickly overshadowed MWC updates about 5G community slicing.

MWC attendance through the years

(Source: GSMA)

(Supply: GSMA)

And never simply in some bleeding-heart, “MWC-is-so-meaningless” sense. The massive telecom information tales of the week had nothing to do with Barcelona. Ericsson and Nokia have been among the many firms that halted enterprise in Russia. Huawei was amongst those who didn’t, additional besmirching its identify within the West. An about-turn would cripple Russian telcos and make Huawei look unbiased from China – one thing it has at all times claimed to be. Proper now, it’s about as seemingly as a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.

Company malpractice that occurred 2,800 miles in a distinct route additionally hogged the telecom headlines. Whereas his staff confirmed off the most recent packing containers in Barcelona, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm was on a cellphone name with analysts and reporters, attempting to elucidate why his firm initially stored quiet in regards to the risk it might have paid Islamic State to make use of Iraqi roads.

The metaverse and the robotic homicide canine

Massive MWC themes have been tougher to pin down than they often are – partly as a result of none bar the metaverse sounded very new. Unsurprisingly, “metaverse” was emblazoned on a number of stands, proving that the place Web firms go telecom follows. No person might clarify why the metaverse is an efficient factor for operators, although. If it occurs (debatable), it might throw up a tidal wave of information that quickly overwhelms right now’s networks.

Cue tons extra debate about internet neutrality, the badly outlined precept that operators don’t cost content material firms for transport or provide preferential therapy to paying Web companies. “It can’t simply be the operators bearing the fee at no cost for metaverse suppliers,” mentioned Laurent Leboucher, the group chief know-how officer of France’s Orange.

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6G was conspicuous by its absence, in all probability as a result of the trade doesn’t need to discuss up a doubtlessly costly new technology earlier than it has made severe cash from its predecessor. The Worldwide Telecommunications Union is because of set a “imaginative and prescient” for 6G on the finish of this yr, although, and so MWC23 may very well be very completely different. Within the meantime, attendees acquired to listen to extra about slicing (yawn), latency (sigh) and 5G standalone (which some operators are sure to market because the “actual 5G” even when clients see no profit).

Extra robots have been on show than in earlier years. They included a barman too painfully sluggish for use wherever besides the remotest pub on this planet on the quietest evening of the yr. A number of robotic canines additionally trotted across the halls, terrifying anybody who noticed that episode of Black Mirror. Count on them to make sure compliance with FFP2 masks mandates in future.

The slowest barman on the planet. (Photo by Fiona Graham)

The slowest barman on the planet.
(Photograph by Fiona Graham)

The trade continued in Barcelona to wrestle with open RAN, a set of interfaces designed to enhance interoperability between distributors. As boring as that may sound, operator advocates say it is going to broaden alternative past Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, right now’s dominant RAN distributors. Telcos used to have much more alternative, in fact, earlier than the arrival of a price-cutting Huawei and a push for international economies of scale spurred consolidation. With open RAN, operators would possibly purchase software program and {hardware} individually. However market forces imply they may in all probability find yourself with the identical restricted variety of suppliers for every.

The one optimistic takeaway this yr was the return in customer numbers of MWC, after the damp face masks of a present that occurred final yr. Simply 20,000 folks turned up then, primarily from Spain, and the highlights included a Bon Jovi live performance and shrine to the general public cloud. This yr’s 61,000 was on the higher finish of the GSMA’s estimate and an indication that – for all of the babble in regards to the metaverse and prolonged actuality – folks like nothing greater than a get-together in the true world.

No substitute for a golden retriever. (Photo by Fiona Graham)

No substitute for a golden retriever.
(Photograph by Fiona Graham)

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— Iain Morris, Worldwide Editor, Mild Studying



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