Best of MWC 2023: IoT, healthtech, data privacy and ethics

Best of MWC 2023: IoT, healthtech, data privacy and ethics
Image credit: GSMA

Standout topics at MWC 2023: IoT devices and sensors, healthtech, data ownership, privacy and AI ethics. (Also, VR glasses are hotter than smartphones.)

MWC 2023 is over – now it’s time to make sense of it. Like other huge events, MWC is a hectic week-long marathon overstuffed with people, companies, solutions and ideas. Consequently, one always comes away feeling overwhelmed – you ignore many things and forget much of whatever you gave your attention to. But it’s interesting to pause and take stock of what sticks in your head. For me, some areas were so remarkable and interesting that they definitely stuck in my mind and have motivated me to investigate more.

Here are my top four takeaways from MWC 2023:

  1. VR/AR glasses were among the most fascinating consumer hardware that MWC participants were willing to queue and try. Phones and watches, not so much.
  2. Data is coming to every aspect of our lives, and all companies must find ways to utilize it somehow; this also means that more data from IoT devices and sensors can be really utilized.
  3. Questions about data ownership, privacy and AI ethics are becoming really important.
  4. Healthtech is maybe the most interesting growing area, but it has many different categories, and most people agree there is a need for new solutions; however, it doesn’t mean it is an easy market.
Best of MWC 2023: IoT, healthtech, data privacy and ethics
Forget smartphones – people would rather queue up for VR demos. Image credit: Jouko Ahvenainen

The first item (and the above photo) speaks for itself, so I’ll spend the rest of this report expanding on the other three.

Booming sensor and IoT space

IoT was a big thing again at MWC. And finally, after many years, we’re starting to see that IoT can become something real and significant. We can say sensorization has really started to happen, partly because there are now more cheap and useful sensors and other IoT devices.

From the mobile network point of view, one bottleneck has been SIM cards. The industry has hoped eSIM could help with this, but adoption has been slow. Tata Communications is now pushing a cloudSIM solution that promises to make it more flexible to use IoT devices in cellular networks. But it is still hard to say if any of these SIM activities will really bring IoT to mobile networks, or if it is still easier to connect IoT via other wireless options (e.g. Wi-Fi). Anyway, the real challenge for IoT is to establish proper ecosystems to collect, combine and utilize the data.

Healthtech is one rapidly evolving area where IoT and sensors are already utilized. This means that there are wearables and sensors collecting data from our skin and clothes, which in turn means better devices for healthcare services can be offered using such data. Energy efficiency is really critical for many of these devices. Now there are a lot of expectations with Gallium Nitride-based sensors that could be small, stable and use less energy. But the key question for health services is how to build solutions that can use all data from the sensors as the basis for healthcare apps.

Ethical questions around data and privacy

Nowadays, data and AI are coming to all businesses and solutions. This raises questions about privacy, digital rights and AI ethics that came up at the conference in a number of ways. One way is companies that build solutions that protect privacy, help handle regulatory requirements, and give users control and benefits of their personal data.

We’re also starting to see a common understanding that it’s hard to sell products and services based only on privacy. They also have to enable consumers to get real value from their own data. This is not just a regulatory issue, although regulation is needed. One comment at a data and ethics panel was that “it is more important to protect people than regulate” – the point being that models under which consumers can have control of their data should support a kind of ‘private-by-default’ principle to make products and services.

Best of MWC 2023: IoT, healthtech, data privacy and ethics
Talking ethics at the Digital Future Society Summit. Image credit: Jouko Ahvenainen

Carissa Véliz, professor of philosophy and ethics at the University of Oxford, is a well-known expert and influencer in privacy and AI ethics issues. She emphasized during the panel discussion that the devil is really in the details – good intentions are not enough. We need solutions designed to protect people. In other words, privacy, data, and ethics must be part of the design process.

Professor Véliz said that new technology won’t solve issues if ethical aspects are not fundamental to the concept. She also reminded us that ethics is also good business – employees want to work for ethical companies, and consumers respect ethical products.

Paulius Jurcys, the legal expert on user-held data models at Prifina, emphasized that currently prevailing legal frameworks and business models will have to be adapted to a human-centric approach to data which will be the foundation of the new data economy.

Healthtech rules at MWC

As  mentioned earlier, healthtech was a big and important area at MWC – it is also an area very much linked to data and privacy. Data enables AI-based healthcare solutions; it is crucial in offering services that help patients, and a catalyst for taking a more factual approach to many health issues.

Ariadna Masó, founder and CEO of Sanno Health, commented that “70% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract, and its impact on our health is really significant.” Rafael Yuste, a professor at Columbia University, commented that brain-related issues are the biggest health issue in the world. In both areas, new technologies, digital services and data utilization are being developed to facilitate self-treatment and clinical trials.

Currently healthtech solutions can be divided into three categories: 1) new hardware and devices for clinical or personal use, 2) digital services for consumers, and 3) digital services for healthcare providers or insurance companies.

Some of the devices and services for consumers and healthcare organizations can be quite similar, but selling them is very different. For startups, it is very hard to sell to healthcare companies, especially if they happen to be in the public sector. It also takes a lot of resources to sell directly to consumers, but it can sometimes be easier to get consumers to accept new things than very slow-moving healthcare organizations.

Tip of the MWC iceberg

These observations are just the tip of the iceberg from such a big event as MWC 2023, and naturally, I am biased towards my personal interests too. Still, they illustrate the kinds of things that were hot topics in the discussions and stands I saw this year.

Of course, the traditional telecom solutions and products are also there, but as I wrote earlier, it is more behind closed doors. It’s these new areas are getting more visibility and attention.

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