In Barcelona, ​​technology promises a “tsunami of innovation” in the face of a slowdown in the sector

BARCELONA: “Technology” experts gathered at the Barcelona Mobile World Fair (MWC), promising a “tsunami of innovation” on Monday, at a time when difficulties are piling up in the sector, between smartphone sales at half-mast and waves of layoffs.

“The past year was not easy,” admitted José María Álvarez Pallet, CEO of Telefonica Group and President of the Global Association of Telecom Operators (GSMA), opening discussions on this annual high-profile block of communications and new technologies.

He added, “I think we are at the gates of a new era” that will require “radical development” in the face of the difficulties facing the sector, saying that he is nevertheless optimistic about the telecommunications industry, which was characterized by a “tsunami” of innovation.

According to the specialized agency IDC, global smartphone sales fell by 11.3% last year, to 1.21 billion units, which is “the lowest number since 2013”. And the outlook remains bleak for 2023, with a further 4% decline expected for phones, tablets and PCs according to Gartner.

“The sector is going through a complex moment,” admits Thomas Howson, an analyst at Forrester, citing the climate of uncertainty created by the war in Ukraine, which has fueled rising inflation and eroding household purchasing power, but also factors in the economy.

“In certain regions like Western Europe, the rate for individual equipment is around 90%: so we’re in mature markets. And the renewal rate is increasing because people are keeping their phones for longer,” he recalls.

80 thousand visitors

Faced with these difficulties – exacerbated by waves of job cuts announced in recent weeks by “tech” giants such as Alphabet, Microsoft and Ericsson – the Barcelona Motor Show intends to showcase its resilience.

The goal for current professionals is to figure out how best to “get through” this “challenging period,” by exposing themselves to the “inevitable return of growth” and progress associated with “innovation,” asserts Ben Wood, of CCS Insight.

According to the GSMA, an organization of nearly 750 manufacturers and telecom operators that organizes the fair, 80,000 professionals and 2,000 companies are taking part in the MWC, whose eight pavilions are occupied for the first time since the pandemic.

This attendance is still far from the 2019 record, when nearly 110,000 people made the trip, but it is a third higher than the 60,000 visitors at the 2022 edition, affected by continued restrictions linked to Covid-19.

“We are well on our way” to a return to normal, GSMA Executive Director John Hoffman asserted, attributing this dynamic to the strong return of Chinese groups following the reopening of borders announced by Beijing at the end of December.

Huawei is valid

Among the companies present are telecom giants (Samsung, Xiaomi, Ericsson, Orange, Deutsche Telekom …) but also “tech” and industrial heavyweights, such as Qualcomm, Airbus and Microsoft. MWC has expanded its audience in recent years.

The largest exhibitor is Huawei Group, a leading Chinese telecom company, with an area of ​​11,000 square meters — a record in the show’s history, according to the GSMA.

Thomas Howson contends that the equipment giant’s opportunity is to show that US sanctions, which have greatly weakened its telephone branch, have not killed its “capacity for innovation” nor its ambitions.

Along with innovation, this 17th edition of the Mobile World Expo will allow operators and tech giants to address the sensitive issue of financing infrastructure, especially for 5G networks, into which pharaonic sums have been pumped.

Operators have long advocated the contribution of Internet giants, such as Netflix or Amazon, which are big consumers of bandwidth. But they strongly oppose it.

Orange Group CEO Christel Heidemann insisted on Monday that the situation was not “sustainable”, welcoming an initiative launched last week by the European Commission, which wants a “fair contribution” from internet giants to fund the EU’s telecoms infrastructure. .

He never s’agit pas d’un “choix binaire” ou d’une bataille entre l’industrie des telecoms et la tech, a toutefois souligné lundi le European commissaire à l’Industrie Thierry Breton, he voulant rassurant face aux inquiétudes manifestées par sector.

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