What we expect from MWC 2023
What we expect from MWC 2023
In a word: “telecom”. Network and enterprise have long played a key role in the great mobile show in Barcelona, but more than ever, these topics are going to play an outsized role at the event. The consumer element seems to be increasingly in retreat at the event, which kicks off in earnest next Monday.
The truth is, Mobile World Congress was never a mainstream tech show per se, but the participation of various smartphone makers turned it into a convenient launch pad. CES (held in January) is where every other category, from smart home and wearables to automotive and robotics, gets its time to shine, while MWC happily embraced the monitor of the large smartphone fair.
Of course, a lot has changed since 2019, when TechCrunch last attended the show in person, both for the industry and for the world. It seems like a million years ago now, we were all eagerly waiting for the GSMA to finally pull the plug on the 2020 show. That year’s CES had managed to sneak in, right under the wire (we can go on to debate the wisdom of this particular decision). As the weeks went on, however, it became increasingly clear that late February/early March was not the ideal time to host an international in-person tech event.
The show returned in 2021, albeit pushed back four months from its usual time. We weren’t there – or many people, for that matter. The show was apparently not in much danger of hitting its attendance cap imposed by the organization. The show provided some semblance of normalcy in 2022, when 60,000 people showed up, according to the GSMA (TechCrunch again not among them). Honestly, that’s not a bad performance, although it was (understandably) down significantly from 2019’s 109,000.
As I’m often prone to point out, the troubles in the smartphone industry predate the pandemic. The arrival of 5G had put some wind in its sails, but broader trends show that people are simply not buying smartphones like they used to. There were a lot of factors, including higher prices for high-end products, fewer breakthrough innovations, and the fact that mobile phones are simply better now, which slows down the standard upgrade cycle by two at three years old.
The pandemic made everything worse, of course. Suddenly, many people were unemployed or underemployed and couldn’t afford to splurge on non-essentials. For a while there, people just didn’t leave the house as often, shifting their spending to things like PCs and tablets. In many markets, 5G momentum has slowed. Ongoing supply chain issues have also created bottlenecks. And then, of course, there is inflation.
Towards the end of last year, it was hard to shake off the impression that most consumer electronics companies had become much more cautious with their release cadence. Probably not a bad thing, planet-wise, but probably more than a little unsettling for shareholders. We’re also currently sitting impatiently waiting to see what impact the massive layoffs at tech companies will have on the category.
Another key trend that predates the pandemic is the move away from major trade shows to flagship product launches. Almost all major companies have started to opt for their own events. Why share a projector when you can just make your own? The shift to virtual product launches during the pandemic has made the gap even more pronounced. Frankly, even for hardware devices, the template is still fine for most.
This year, the GSMA is expecting 75,000 attendees. It’s a modest number, compared to the sunny days, but there are still plenty of people at the Fira convention center in 2023. There are big names on the list of exhibitors, including Samsung, Oppo/OnePlus, Huawei and Xiaomi. Some, including Samsung and OnePlus, just has released some new flagships, so don’t expect a lot of fireworks there. Although the latter has teased a ‘concept’ device before – results will vary on whether it fits the definition of ‘news’.
Likewise, Qualcomm made its usual move by announcing the new flagship Snapdragon chip at its conference in Hawaii last year. We’re probably months away from the semi-annual refresh, though the company still seems to have one chip or another up its sleeve. However, I’m awaiting news from a number of major Chinese manufacturers, including the aforementioned Xiaomi, ZTE and Huawei budget offshoot, Honor.
Other notable exhibitors include IP licensor Nokia HMD and HTC, which effectively transferred all of its eggs to the Vive VR basket. VR/AR/MR/XR is of course interesting. Probably not a huge presence outside of HTC, but everyone is apparently contractually obligated to do so. something in space these days. That said, Meta/Facebook and Sony will not be present at this year’s show. Lenovo will, however. The company usually publishes a plot of devices at the shows it attends, and its subsidiary, Motorola, also seems to have something new on the horizon.
Looking at the speakers’ agenda, climate impact will (hopefully) be a topic. A lot of people still seem to be talking about the Metaverse, for what it’s worth. The GSMA has also directed a lot of resources towards sports for some reason, while Microsoft is preparing some cloud talks. AI doesn’t hog as much stage time as one might expect, and most of the smart home talk revolves around the introduction of Matter.
There’s also a panel with speakers from Samsung, ZTE and the European Space Agency titled “Ready to Talk 6G?” That’s a question I honestly don’t know the answer to.
For me, personally, this will be a great setting to sit down with some senior executives from these companies and ask some tough questions about where the industry is going.