MWC22 is over. Wired: 4YFN, health tech, sports tech, Ukraine, data and young people. Tired: old guys and metaverse-washing.
MWC22 was probably the best MWC event for years. Over ten years ago, MWC was an important technology event, when telcos, network vendors and feature phones were really driving the tech business. But then it became a very crowded mobile phone show dominated by a few big companies, and the most important one – Apple – never even came. But now MWC is back with many interesting technology areas, more new companies and innovations – and new audiences too.
I admit I was very skeptical about 4YFN when it started at MWC eight years ago – it felt to me like MWC just wanted to capitalize on the startup wave.
But they have done good consistent work, and it now has more interesting presentations and panels than the main event, featuring discussions on relevant emerging tech areas such as health tech, sports tech, ed-tech and a lot of AI.
Perhaps one silver lining of the pandemic is that it resulted in 4YFN being moved from the sidelines to the main venue in Fira Gran Via. I would now say 4YFN has played in a key role to make MWC22 relevant again.
One very interesting emerging area at MWC22 is definitely health tech, which is highly linked to digitization and data too. Sport tech actually overlaps with health tech in some areas. Education tech is also more visible in the show now. At the same time, sustainability and diversity in tech – themes that are relevant for all companies – were also important topics in the show.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic era has accelerated health tech development. Healthcare companies have been forced to offer more digital services, and also to better utilize data. Like fintech, healthcare is also a very regulated business, so it’s mandatory for new solutions to adhere with regulatory requirements, and even go beyond what the regulations require, as well as think about the ethical aspects. The use of individual data and AI functionality are both areas where regulatory and ethical aspects are becoming very important.
It’s mainly larger corporations, hospitals and national health care organizations that work with traditional health records, patient data and related services. Consequently, discussions at MWC22 concluded that those are areas where it is very difficult for startups or other parties to introduce innovations. The big changes will probably happen through other routes – for example, figuring out what kinds of services can be offered directly to consumers and how consumers can utilize their personal data better – not just biometric data from wearables, but also health records they can download. This area is developing rapidly.
One interesting concept in MWC22 discussions was digital twins for wellness and health care. If you have all your biometric data and health records, as well as public data from diseases and treatments, you can actually simulate how different factors can have an impact on your health. I have written earlier how wearables can measure more and more data, and now there are even some new devices to measure your brain activity and create a ‘neuro twin’ from your brains. All these things are not yet ready for the mass market, but they are definitely coming.
Sports tech includes two fast developing areas: (1) how data can be better utilized in training and coaching, and (2) how sports can be offered in new ways to audiences. The utilization of data in these areas has a lot of similarities to health tech and wellness services – the basic objective is to better collect biometric and wearable data and optimize training for each individual. Meanwhile, new digital business models are becoming more important for sports, as linear TV loses viewers and revenue from traditional TV deals goes down. Sports leagues need to find new business models and also better engage younger audiences.
Of course there were still also the old mobile industry guys at MWC22 – Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE, Microsoft, Qualcomm, system integrators, etc.
Huawei and ZTE had interesting stands, featuring not just consumer products, but also practical demos for fast developing areas like Industry 4.0, logistics and smart homes. As usual, Nokia and Ericsson were still not open to ordinary visitors – visiting their stands was by invitation only.
I understand they want to focus on paying customers. But the world doesn’t work like that anymore. For example, the show had a lot of startup people and developers. Nokia and Ericsson should be relevant for them too, and be more open about how different parties could cooperate with them and develop things on their platforms. But their stand gave an impression that they are not really open to discuss with just anyone who drops by. Compare that with companies like Qualcomm and Microsoft, who had interesting demos and new concepts for anyone who wanted to visit at their stand.
Meanwhile, the country pavilions remain a fixture of MWC, which has long served as a major opportunity for countries to send their local companies to find customers and partners. Unfortunately, sometimes it looks like people on those pavilions are not really motivated. It is even hard to get their attention when they are busy playing with their mobile, chatting with their colleagues, or falling asleep. Maybe some of them feel that it is a free trip to see Barcelona and they are not really motivated to get business and contacts there. Maybe many of those trips are subsidized by governments and regions.
Obviously, the country most talked about at MWC22 was Ukraine. Some speakers made their own comments about the situation. For example, Vodafone’s, Nokia’s and Telefónica’s CEOs made nice comments stating their solidarity with Ukraine and reminding us that companies must remember the societies around them.
On the other hand, it’s a sensitive topic that requires you to think carefully about what you want to say and how to say it. One speaker from BT talking about AI wanted to mention the war in Ukraine in her talk. So, after mentioning that the UK had cut troops to stretch its defense budget, she said this is not a problem when AI can replace troops, adding that there are also new opportunities for AI in the military.
This is probably true, and I have written about AI’s emerging role in the military. But her comment didn’t go down so well when the news is showing us Ukrainian civilians training to use a rifle or making Molotov cocktails. They have no time to think how AI can replace them one day.
What was the most used hype word in the event? I would say ‘metaverse’ – not least because it was not really the startups talking about metaverses, but the big old guys who wanted to sound trendy. I stopped to look at Accenture’s stand where they made some fancy metaverse statements, but didn’t want to ask more. Honestly, I don’t even want to listen to all the jargon about system integrators’ metaverse visions.
New and improved
As a whole, I think MWC22 made a strong comeback after the pandemic. It is once again a very relevant tech event, probably one of the most global. It attracted new and younger audiences to come and discuss the future of technology, innovations and business, and it’s a better show for it.
Even with the continuous sad news from Ukraine looming in the background, the event was still motivating and inspiring for attendees to explore and discuss new visions of the future.