If, like me, you’re a regular attendee of Mobile World Congress (MWC), you probably devoted a lot of time and energy to set up meetings for MWC 2020, only to see it all evaporate before your eyes over the course of a couple of days.
Now, MWC is finally back. Things were a bit different this year, of course. Here are my top four takeaways from the return of the world’s biggest telco event.
1. Attendance was (relatively) low but enthusiasm was high
Attendance at MWC this year was understandably low and about half the size of previous years—ie, merely ‘overwhelming’, as opposed to ‘panic-attack inducing’. It’s not that the halls were empty, but there was more unused internal space and a notable reduction in the number of stands with extra floors.
The good news is that the people who were there were highly motivated and eager to chat about business opportunities—perhaps to make up for some lost “in-person” time? So, overall, not as many people showed up but the ones who did were ready to do business—great to see!
MWC attendees stroll the notably less crowded (compared to previous years) event floor.
2. Telco industry people are simultaneously curious and wary of public cloud deployments
We also had a number of interesting conversations with customers and prospects and ‘moving to public cloud’ came up several times. There are voices out there proclaiming public cloud is the only way to go and that legacy vendors that don’t move to cloud-only offerings are all doomed. But from what I can tell, people just aren’t buying this.
Public cloud is incredibly useful, but people I spoke with appeared to be leary of it for a few reasons:
- What we heard is that what matters is not whether the vendor likes it, but whether the customers like it. And the customers are ambivalent. For smaller, tier- 3 or tier-2 operators in places like Ireland (where I live) with many data centers, it might make sense. But larger operators have to consider the political ramifications of creating a dependency on what is usually a foreign-owned enterprise or possibly even running their phone network through a foreign-located data center.
- There are legitimate questions about meeting requirements for both latency and high availability in the public cloud.
- Last but not least, the economics of the public cloud isn’t fully proven. While everyone can understand the costs of CPU-per-hour, you get a lot of costs related to network traffic, ingress, and egress that can be hard to predict and lead to sticker shock. In particular, geo-replication could prove to be really expensive.
The general sense I was left with is that when it comes to telco, the people who actually write the checks are further behind the people who evangelize public cloud than you’d realize.
3. 5G is really here—and so is…fixed wireless access?
5G was of course a major topic of conversion. The general consensus was that yes, it’s really here, but how can we actually optimize its potential?
Overall, there was less talk of fantasy use cases and a realization that fixed wireless access (FWA) is a huge area for growth. A 5G phone can outperform a cable modem, especially if you’re using home WiFi and far from the router. FWA is clearly going to be a huge, but unsexy use case. So can we please end the fixation on magic 5G use cases (ie, ‘5G VR Flying Brain Surgery Drones’) and start paying attention to the FWA use cases that will devour this bandwidth?
4. Our new name has been well-received
Finally, we were elated to see telco industry people fully “getting” our name change to Volt Active Data, announced last month, and loving it. The new name helped people immediately understand what we’re all about: taking full advantage of your data before it loses any value. We’re the only data platform capable of ingest-to-action in under 10 milliseconds, and in the age of 5G, IoT, and edge computing, this means Volt can future-proof your applications and give you that RFP advantage.
And that’s it. I have to say it was great to be back to an in-person event and we also had great discussions with customers—face to face! We’re coming out of a challenging time, as far as the pandemic, but also entering into a very exciting time, as far as 5G and everything 5G is going to make possible for the companies with the right kind of technology to handle it.