What a difference 10 years makes

It’s been ten years since the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) event moved from Nice to a much larger venue in Barcelona, and a lot has changed since then. Consider that back in 2005 the iPhone hadn’t even been invented yet – that happened in 2007, followed quickly by wearables, smart watches and tablets.


Mobile coverageThe way we are communicating is changing dramatically: Ten years ago, mobile service providers were still concentrating on voice and SMS services and were worried about the launch of new voice over IP services such as Skype taking away much of their cherished voice and messaging revenue; today, it is all about providing mobile data, connected services, and the security and privacy that underpins it all. 


43 percent have access to a mobile phone


The change the industry has gone through was nicely summed up by Jon Fredrik Baksaas, Chairman, GSMA and President and CEO, Telenor, who explained that Telenor has gone from 24 million customers in 2006 to more than 190 million today, while Etisalat has seen an equally astonishing rise in the number of subscribers from 4 million to 170 million worldwide.

Today there are nearly 3.8 billion unique mobile subscribers, and 43 percent of the world’s population now has access to mobile and telecommunication services. But the debates operators are having are still very similar to those back in 2005, on “affordability, rollout and efficiency of technology,” according to Baksaas. It is, however, the change in the technology and the challenges and opportunities it enables that are the key differentiators.

A question of speed

The development of mobile broadband and the way in which end users consume data has changed the game. Data rates are doubling year on year, and by 2020 there are going to be an estimated 10 billion mobile devices. The increase in the consumption of mobile data also raises the question of speed.

I shared a taxi Monday morning with Radhika Venkatraman, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Network & Technology, Verizon, and the issue came up. She was discussing how consumers at the very least expect their service providers to deliver the mobile data speeds to which they have grown accustomed. But then she asked: How can service providers keep investing in expensive technologies to increase speed and services without having a level playing field with over-the-top (OTT) providers like Google?

In the wake of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s landmark order last week protecting net neutrality, the level playing-field argument and the need for new regulation dominated the discussion of the keynotes Monday morning. César Alierta, Executive Chairman and CEO, Telefonica, said that policy-makers need to realize that there should not be any discrimination between digital players. This would, in his opinion “guarantee a safer and better internet experience – good for the economy, consumers and citizens.”

Timotheus Hoettges, CEO, Deutsche Telekom, echoed Alierta’s thoughts saying, “Regulation needs to keep pace with market realities.” Telcos and OTT providers need a coherent regulatory framework, which needs to be made mandatory, he added.


Security and privacy are top concerns


Security and privacy was understandably also at the top of everybody’s agenda, especially with so many recent security breaches, from the hack of a supposedly ‘foolproof’ technology giant like Sony Pictures Entertainment and the leaking of some rather intimate celebrity pictures to the leaking of credit card details of millions of customers from insurance giant Anthem.


Vittorio Colao, CEO, Vodafone Group, gave a customer-centric view, sharing the results of Vodafone’s latest customer study, which shows that security and privacy tops the list of what customers want most from their service provider. Colao said European regulation is needed to increase security and privacy and that it can help protect European citizens, as well as serving as a global framework.


Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions, also said that security is a number one priority, while Alierta stressed the need for trust and digital confidence saying it “is important to increase transparency especially around privacy.”


The privacy and security issue is definitely here to stay, and it great to see that it is at the top of operators’ priority lists. It’s a high priority for the Forum as well, so look forward to many interesting discussions to come.