Reflections from Mobile World Congress 2024: Key takeaways from MWC 2024 and insights into The Mobile Century ‘Digital Generation’ publication.

May 3, 2024



Candace Johnson

GTWN Founding President

Sheena Jacob

Partner CMS Singapore

Dr. Astrid Roesener

Partner, CMS Rechtsanwältin

The GTWN and CMS are very proud to provide the transcript and recording of the recent GTWN/CMS webinar reflecting on the findings and insights of the Mobile World Congress as well as those written about in our flagship Mobile Century publication premiered at the Mobile World Congress, “Digital Generation’.

Candace: Welcome everyone to the GTWN / CMS webinar. This is part of a series that we host around every two to three months on the topics that are most pressing. Just one month ago, we were at the Mobile World Congress where everyone came from around the world to showcase their services, their products, to discuss trends, not only in telecoms but also in tech, in data and increasingly having in mind the geopolitical situation that we are living in today.

The Mobile World Congress this year focused on four key areas, but against this backdrop of the geopolitical reality that we are living in. Those four areas were AI, sustainability, inclusion, and for me who has spent most of her professional life in space, satellites, which was a lot of fun.

Sheena, if I may, you are of course an expert in intellectual property, and as such you need to be on the cutting edge, if not even sometimes the bleeding edge of technology. It’s something you live and breathe so I just wanted to ask you what was your take on the machine learning and AI featured at MWC this year? Considering that now we have generative AI and how this is affecting our world, our society, our economy, and actually even our own industry.

Sheena: Thank you, Candace. I think we can all safely say that 2024 is the year of AI. AI has of course been around for quite some time in terms of some of the predictive and analytical functions of AI. ChatGPT sort of took everyone by storm in 2023 so now AI is something, that your grandmother or a young child would also be able to talk about. I think that this is really, in that sense, what made it a game changer. At MWC, it was quite evident that this was a big area of focus for tech companies, the telcos, users, app developers. We really saw a lot of focus and attention on AI.

I think it’s a great question that you asked, Candace, because a lot of times when we’re thinking about AI, a lot of people do think only of generative AI, which is what ChatGPT is. But as you said, there are a number of iterations of how AI systems can operate. I think it is particularly when you put a predictive model and an analytical model together with  generative AI that that makes it very interesting from a use case perspective. And that’s a very interesting point.

At MWC, I was quite interested to look at what the business use cases for AI actually were. To me, the most interesting one was personalised medicine. That’s something that I think each of us can relate to. Imagine a pharmaceutical drug or a treatment that is created and developed and tailored specifically to work for you. I think we can all see huge benefits from AI being used in that context.

There were other examples as well, just talking about how you manage energy savings automation, probably more run of the mill, but something we all face, which is cyber-attacks and cyber threats. There was a presentation about how you can use AI to even predict what are the security threats that your organization is going to face today. That is actually going to help us make ourselves more safe and secure. So I do think there are going to be a lot of interesting developments, new technologies that are going to be developed and that we’re going to see new businesses that are going to come out from this. I’m quite sure that we will have new apps and new tools that we will be using, perhaps even for a webinar like this in the future. 

Candace: I love it. I’m going to come back to you about this. But Astrid, you’re based in Germany. You work in M&A which of course is very, very interesting in the context of AI, because so many of these companies, if I may say even kind of legacy companies, need to acquire very quickly this ability to integrate the processes of AI into their companies. So what are you experiencing now in your specific expertise area of M&A and AI?

Astrid: Thank you, Candace. It is really interesting that what they most focus on is getting a grasp of the deep technology use cases they can make of it. So going beyond the buzzword of generative AI and really understanding where the benefits are, how generative AI can help their businesses and how you can make money out of it. That is something that was really interesting when you listened to the panel discussions that the general understanding is still a bit surface level at the moment, even at MWC. People are talking a lot and trying to get to the core of what really is the difference between the AI we already know and kind of feel comfortable with in technical terms and generative AI to see what the real difference is and how they can incorporate that in their business model and how it can be used. 

Candace: It’s very interesting. I’m on the board of a company called Vusion and we are the world’s largest electronic shelf labeling company but what is interesting is indeed this use case. We use AI to be able to understand what the consumer preferences are, what they are looking for etc. in stores, and then also combining it with the e-commerce data that we are getting and to be able to create these omni-channel marketing platforms, which are very, very important. BUT,  I am also seeing the CEO — and I think CEOs across the spectrum —  are looking and seeing how can they incorporate and integrate the processes brought about by Generative AI and Machine Learning into their daily operations, their selling, their logistics, their financials, etc.   So this is something that is very beneficial.

One of the things I know that we’ve been speaking about is the whole idea of ethics and how this comes into the whole topic of Generative AI and ML and how this plays a role. A lot of people have been focusing on the negative aspects of AI.  And yet, certainly when you were there at the Mobile World Congress, when you saw all of the use cases it became very clear that this is a tool. Just like technology has always been a tool and you can say, okay, we’re going to ignore it or we’re going to try and use it to make the world better. So, Sheena, in that kind of focus, I just wanted to come back to you and see if you had any other use cases that you thought were particularly interesting.

Sheena: I think sometimes, as you say, AI is just, it is a tool. It is just a form of technology and at the end of the day, it is up to the businesses to look at how it can be used. In terms of use cases, there’s a whole myriad of cases. It can be used in to create images, to create works, to do lots of interesting things. At the same time for companies, if you’re going to base the future of your business on AI systems, you need to make sure that they comply with certain frameworks. The companies must be mindful of transparency, fairness, and ensuring that at the same time, the AI is not going to provide misinformation because then you’re obviously going to have to, as a company, deal with the liability that can arise if the AI systems operate unlawfully. So I think that is the balance that the companies have to strike and to ensure that what they’re doing is not only ethical, but that it also is transparent, that they understand where the data is coming from.

I’m sure Astrid’s going to talk about the European AI Act, but there are already in place in many countries around the world, very good frameworks and principles that you can use.

For example, in Singapore, we do have an AI framework. And these are, I guess, our guardrails. It’s quite important that we look to them, whatever the system is that we’re developing. To be honest, also for companies who are just users, and using AI in their operations, they still need to ensure that they are following these guidelines and frameworks. I think if the companies do that, then in the future, when their technology is adopted, they’re not going to run into huge legal issues, which can obviously undermine companies valuation if it’s determined, for example, that they either don’t own the rights or that the system is one that cannot be used in other countries. I do think it’s quite important to balance that risk and not just plunge headfirst into using AI at any cost. So that’s something important to bear in mind.

Candace: Thank you. It’s very, very important. Astrid, did you want to just say a few words about the regulation and the EU AI Act?

Astrid: Yes, very happy to. That was also a big question from the legal side that was discussed at MWC because it’s new, it’s what we’ve all been waiting for. Still we have the big challenge that any legal framework is basically two to three years behind because it takes so long to be set up, discussed, resolved and brought into the world. This was also highlighted in the latest issue of the Mobile Century, The Digital Generation, and there’s a whole article about this topic as you just have to understand that any regulation needs to strike that balance between addressing the overall issues and allowing for the further development that will surely take place even in the time between discussing the regulation, processing and thinking ahead when you make those regulations.

I think users and also businesses have to keep that in mind when they see the regulations and have to comply with them. The world has already changed again and has taken a different direction. What is really important especially in this field is to be in constant conversation about what changes make sense and how the law can be more closely adapted to the reality of technology on the market and the challenges that arise from it. What I was honestly relieved to see at the fair was that this approach already seems ingrained in everybody’s mind. There was a lot of talk about enhancing human potential. This aspect of it being a tool rather than taking over the world is very much at the forefront of people’s minds. And maybe it also helps to make the technology better understood considering that even the big players focus on this aspect so much. It’s a lot of energy went into addressing those fears.

Candace: Absolutely. I remember 10-15 years ago, it was very popular to say that the AI algorithms were biased and all of this. However, I think that we’ve come beyond that now. We’ve addressed that, we’ve come beyond it, and we are really working to make it be this human centric tool. Thank you also so much for mentioning The Mobile Century publication and the last edition which we launched at the Mobile World Congress 2024 and of which the GTWN and CMS can be very proud of.

The topic was kind of a play on words, the Digital Generation, as in the youth of this world,  and also digital generation as in generative AI. There are many articles about ethics, about use cases et cetera. I would just like to mention one, which is also education. At the beginning, when we had generative AI, everybody’s saying, oh my gosh, they’re just going to be taking everybody’s content et cetera.

That is not the case at all. No, not at all. You know, the professors, the teachers are learning now how to use generative AI so that their pupils and their students can use it as a tool.

Another thing which I would like to bring up, but which is a bit sobering which we must address is that AI must always be human centric, particularly in war.   I have been involved in some,work on autonomous systems and autonomous weapons driven by AI. The interesting thing, which everybody agrees on, is that the final decision, do we launch a rocket, do we launch a missile, do we do anything, must remain in the hands of the human. This is just something for us to think about as we have this part of the sobering world in front of us.

Now, we’re still fighting a war on climate change and for quite some time, everybody quote unquote talked about sustainability. I think it really was this kind of greenwashing, but that has changed substantially and I wonder, going through the conference, going through the exhibition, just speaking with people, how you saw sustainability really permeating the Mobile World Congress? Astrid, do you wanna take the lead on that?

Astrid: Yes, thank you. It was absolutely visible throughout the whole exhibition. Starting with 4YFN (4 Years From Now), the startup fair at MWC, was a tech corner with other companies sprouting ideas about how to make tech more sustainable in the future. Then when you went to the main exhibition, you could see that everybody is really looking for ways to mitigate energy intake as well as finding ways to ensure what we need is as green as possible.

I think the key takeaway from the exhibition is that the tech industry as a whole will be one of the big catalysts for energy transformation because there have been technical efforts to reduce the energy intake, but even more so there is a focus on the source of energy and to make sure that is sustainable.

Candace: So, it has become much less of a PR exercise and much more of an opportunity to see how can we use energy? How can we conserve energy? How can we make our systems more energy efficient? Where are we getting our energy from? Are  data centres really being efficient? In space, we’re talking about space-based solar power, which we hope will be able to provide 20% of the world’s energy in 2040. This is not science fiction. This is real. We’re talking about putting, data centres on the moon.

But Sheena, how did you experience all of this at the MWC – not only greenwashing, but going deep.

Sheena: Thank you, Candace. I think that it was quite evident at MWC, but also I think in terms of just looking at the articles in The Mobile Century, there are a number of them that actually focus on sustainability and its importance. I think that in a way technology can help us to get there. We’re talking about putting data centres in space. Data centres obviously consume a large amount of energy. I think, when you’re talking about AI, just streaming and AI alone have increased the amount of data centres and the data that all of us are using. So of course, we have to build more and more data centres.

I think it is the technology companies who are trying to look at how the data centres themselves can be more sustainable in terms not just in relation to consumption of energy, but also actually ensure that they are self-sustainable, can they actually produce energy and design the data centres so that they are more energy efficient, even in the location. So I think companies are looking at where data centres are located. You don’t need to cool it if you put it in a data centres in a location where it would be cooled naturally, for example and manage. You also have to take into account electronic waste management that is created. All of these aspects will help towards sustainability.

We have to understand that as we continue to grow and develop all these technologies, we are using more and more of that space and data. It’s going to be a challenge to actually reduce that footprint just simply because of the fact that the demand for data centres and the use of technologies is only going to grow. So it is something that I think the ITU and the World Bank are actually looking at so that you can we can have not only digital transformation, but also sustainable digital transformation.  We need to look at the two issues together, how we are on the one hand trying to develop the technology and on the other hand, trying to mitigate the environmental footprint of what we are creating. So we have to appreciate that and try to look for the solutions.

It was good to see at the MWC that the ITU and the World Bank are actually working towards some of these solutions. I thought that was really important that these are addressed by governments, by nonprofits, and all the various stakeholders.

Candace: This is absolutely fascinating. Looking at the chat, I see that we  have received a great question from Frankie Spagnola, and I will address that a little later. I was with, you know, Doreen Bogdan Martin, who’s the Secretary General of the ITU and also in Washington, DC, I’m very fortunate to know Ajay Banga, the CEO of the World Bank. When Ajay was the Chairman of the ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce, his big thing really was sustainability, but sustainability in terms of numbers and results and KPIs. The ITU, very interestingly, because also they have said that connectivity is their number one objective they don’t want anybody to be left behind in terms of connectivity. However that does bring with it challenges for sustainability throughout the world.

One of the things I’m very focused on is quantum and we have two articles on quantum in the Mobile Century publication. I do believe that slicing the cake another way really can bring about this energy computing and quantum data centres, if we get that right, then it can really be a solution. I believe that everybody is starting to realize that it could be a solution.

The question from Frankie Spagnola is, what were your thoughts about the various drones at the show specifically the Zephyr drones as it relates to those thoughts of autonomous weapons. So would anybody like to take that question? Sheena or Astrid?

Sheena: I think you’re right. There’s complete consensus that we need to make sure that a human is always the decision-maker. Thankfully, I think that is the global consensus, but I suppose the question will be as technology develops, will we be able to hold that line and maintain that?

I was actually reading the article that Dora Petranyi wrote on AI regulation together with Francesca Rossi, IBM fellow and AI Ethics Global Leader. Dora actually asked a question right at the end about whether we need a kill switch? I thought that was a really interesting question. Essentially, is that something you need or at the end of the day, do we just make sure that we have someone who can make that decision. I think if it was up to me, I would still want to have a kill switch just in case. Maybe that’s just me. But to get back to Frankie’s question, I think, in terms of the legal frameworks, at least as they stand, you do have to have that human centric AI.

Candace: Astrid, did you want to say something on this?

Astrid: I think Frankie’s question just attested again to the broad width of topics that were side by side at MWC. So you could see the drones, you could see the flying car, you could see them next to the robot dogs. To me that was a testament to the different topics that this huge fair covers. You have to address them in a very different way. The discussions around the drones, to me, appeared at the moment very technical and a bit removed from the rest of the exhibition.

Candace: I have been working with drones because obviously space and drones work very closely together as we transmit data to and from drones from satellites. I remember a friend of mine was just going to become the board member of UPS around seven years ago and I said, well, you’ll be using drones and he said, oh, no, Candace. I said, oh, yes, you will be using drones for delivery, et cetera. Now they are used for delivering medication, food, packages, etc.  

This leads us to our next topic as my dad was in telecommunications when it first started and people used to say, what does your dad do? I said, well, he’s in telecommunications. And they said, well, what’s that?  He always told me that we must use telecommunications to serve humans.  So, we are not at the mercy of technology. We are at the mercy of humans. And as we experience unfortunately tyranny and terrorism in our world, it is humans who have brought the evil and it is the humans who have brought the good. We just have to make certain that the good guys win.

So with that, I did want to touch on this broad spectrum that we experience at the Mobile World Congress. In preparation for this panel and this webinar, I had asked Astrid and Sheena, whether we should talk about diversity as perhaps this is getting a little bit old hat. Then Sheena, in her wisdom, really said, Candace, it’s much more than that. It really is about inclusion. And so, Sheena, I want to turn to you and have you expound on that a little bit, not only at the fair, but just in general.

Sheena: Thank you, Candace. I think inclusion is really important. And particularly when we are talking about technology because technology to me is the great leveler in many ways. If we can get technology in the hands of as many people as possible, no matter what their socioeconomic level, I think that really makes a huge difference. It will  actually accelerate progress and enable many people who may be living in either remote areas or just maybe not having access to technology to be able to close that gap. We’re always talking about that great divide between the haves and the have nots. To me, technology has always been the answer because that is probably the fastest way in which you would be able to enable people to actually get there.

I think when we look at the recent developments, whether AI and including focusing on this digital divide and really looking at inclusion, both in terms of gender and in terms of status and even in terms of where people may live just because of geography, I do think that we are now beginning to look at how technology can be used. I know it’s the next topic, but I know that one of the things that GTWN has done, which has been so wonderful, is in fact the satellite program for this very reason. I think that was certainly very striking to me.

When I attended the GTWN Reception that was held on the first evening of MWC and we talked to different women who came from, for example Afghanistan, and talking about how to actually provide technology or resources so that lives can improve, I think you really see the reality and the impact of that. So I do think that it’s wonderful to see that GTWN is focused on that and inclusivity in terms of technology. That was something that really struck me during the conference, Candace.

Candace: I’m so happy to hear that as it’s something that we have been really doing for the last 32 years, since our inception. Starting with supporting girls in ICT, then doing Raspberry Pi in Lebanon, and then in Africa with Mamas for Mamas. And indeed then in Afghanistan, we had brought a lovely woman from Afghanistan  at our 30th Anniversary 2 years ago and she was telling all of the problems.  Then this year, that we were able to bring another absolutely fabulous woman who’s actually doing things with underground classes and using satellite technology. In fact, we are working with the Kacific Oceania Women’s Network Satellite System, (a GTWN initiative) do that.

Astrid, it was your first time at the Mobile World Congress and I think that you were a little bit surprised at this broad swath of the economy and society that was there.

Astrid: That’s right. And what I loved most about that was the positive and optimistic views that were expressed. Especially on projects like you just mentioned, it really seems that the energy projects and the technology projects go hand in hand. There are a lot of efforts to bring sustainable energy to countries where you don’t have the industrial setup that we have. Technology really comes on the back of that immediately. So people work together. People have that common goal in mind and they push together to get things done faster. So that’s one notion that I took away.

What I was really not expecting in that amount is the discussions on a global scale. The Ministerial programme that also takes place at MWC facilitates these discussions and allows different perspectives to be considered. One thing that stood out for me was the children’s perspective. You already mentioned education earlier. What they try to do, for example, at UNICEF is to bring children’s rights into the industry standards that form the basis for any products that go to market. I think that’s a really worthwhile effort because basically children’s rights do not differ that much from human rights and what benefits them usually benefits adults just as much. I think that was a really interesting perspective to have the younger generation at the table for these discussions and to have the perspective when we discuss the future of communications.

Candace: Yes, absolutely. When Sheena was talking about technology as the great leveler, I was also very much thinking, about education also as a great leveler. Today we can use technology to bring education.  In so many of these fora, the solution to almost all of the problems, be they health, be they energy, be they environment, be they climate, be they economic, is really education.

We have another question from Frankie. Thank you! The question is: “Considering the push towards 6G, how do you feel about the carriers decommissioning access to lower networks that could facilitate solutions that provide digital inclusion, especially in rural areas and emerging markets, with 4G just now fulfilling its ROI and 5G still in a nascent stage across 70% of the world is there regulation that could be crafted around the use of these networks for application and digital inclusion?”

So I have some thoughts on that, but Sheena, I’ll let you go first.

Sheena: Thanks, Candace. I think that at the end of the day, we’re probably looking at other solutions as well. So, with non terrestrial networks, I think,  satellites, as you know, is a solution. I think the good thing is that we now have more than one option, both in terms of terrestrial and non terrestrial. So thankfully we’re not just entirely reliant on the terrestrial networks. Whilst I’m no expert, I think it is important that there are alternatives to 3G, 4G, 5G, and 6G. In some ways, it’s less important that access is being removed as long as these carriers or providers are then focusing on other ways that they can compensate for that through other means.

Candace:  Sheena, this is a perfect segue to the next topic on our agenda.  I’m going to spend three minutes on the fourth topic at the Mobile World Congress which was indeed the realization finally by the mobile carriers, and also terrestrial carriers / fixed wire, that satellites can play a very, very important role in providing this inclusion and connectivity. I grew up with satellites. My dad did the first satellites in the United States Government. He did the world’s first private satellite systems. I was Co-Founder of SES, the world’s first private transborder satellite system. I did Iridium, the world’s first mobile system in 1994. I have always been aghast that people did not realize the power of connectivity with satellites. Now we are having a number of the mobile operators working with satellite systems to be able to provide connectivity, and we’re talking about narrowband connectivity, we’re talking about text, we may be talking about some voice. However, the most important thing is that we are using that connectivity, direct connectivity, to expand the mobile communication reach. This is very, very important. Another thing that the Kacific Oceania Women’s Network satellite has actually sponsored and invested in is that in the Pacific Islands, where it’s very difficult to get the mobile coverage, we are actually connecting 4G mobile towers. We are providing the mobile backhaul via satellite for this. So, you know, it’s always a mix. And I always tell everybody, it’s not just one thing, it’s a mix. And we have to use that.

One thing I’m also absolutely delighted about is that there are emerging space-faring nations. Because of the decreases in the launch costs, because of the digitization and the miniaturization of components, satellites are getting smaller, launch vehicles are getting smaller, etc. They are getting also more performant and accessible. I’ve actually helped write the EBAN space manifesto for clean, safe, safe and accessible space for all. This of course includes all network operators, all citizens you know, throughout the world.

We have around five minutes remaining and one of the great joys of the GTWN, is that we really are a thought leadership body. We’ve always been kind of looking and saying, okay, what’s gonna be the next big trend? How is it going to affect our society, our economy, and also the geopolitical situation? And indeed one of our members was the first to point out five years ago that telecommunication networks, fixed line networks, even sometimes satellite and mobile networks were actually being used as a weapon themselves in terms of connectivity that was being denied to certain countries around the world. We need to think about this very seriously as today Geopolitics plays a very important role in enabling or denying Connectivity and the Digital Transformation.

But our greatest joy is indeed the fact that each of us International Board Members at the GTWN, all have P&L responsibility and we try to find absolutely fabulous mentees. It was not surprising this year that we had the Digital Generation, as I said, not only for generative AI, but for the digital generation. We had at least, half a dozen of our mentees at the GTWN reception and contributing to the Mobile Century publication. I would just like to know, Sheena and Astrid, how you felt about this? Astrid, you already mentioned your joy at being at 4YFN. So over to you.

Astrid: I thought it was an amazing insight. What you did was exactly bringing the younger generation to the table at a very early stage and letting them see that they have impact and that their opinions matter to the people in the industry and thus you give them a door opener to this world where they feel their voice is heard. So very very grateful that you do that amazing job with all your team, because I think it’s a real opportunity to get insights from their direction, but also to empower them to believe in what they can change and impact here.

This kind of responsibility that they are heard and that they on the other hand also have to actively do something to hold people accountable for what they do with technology is something that is evident in the pages of your Mobile Century publication. So I was really amazed reading it.

Sheena: It’s interesting because obviously I live in Asia and I think in many ways, it is different, obviously, from Europe and US but technology is just as pervasive, and mobile was adopted before people even had fixed lines. So you have many countries like Indonesia, which has very high mobile penetration because that was the first technology that most people had. It’s quite interesting to see how quickly that technology was able to spread and sort of enable people to have those transactions, make those small payments and small businesses have been able to operate using that. When I think of the digital generation, I do think of mentorship, but I also think of those opportunities where, in terms of mobile banking and payments, that’s really changed the situation for many people. Anyone can start a business now. You don’t need a huge amount of capital and you can actually get paid immediately. You don’t have to necessarily wait for the bank to send you the money at the end of the month, for example, or go through a complex invoicing process.

So I think that’s really developed and grown and enabled an entire generation of young people who will be able to be entrepreneurs, who will be able to do all these things because they have access to mobile phones. So I do feel that that’s really transformational and the more that we can do to have satellite technology and the more that we can have these networks all working together I think that’s really going to be a big shift in the next 10-15 years. I’m really excited about that and to see where that takes us.

Candace: Yeah! Absolutely. Sheena, thank you so much. Astrid, thank you so much. I don’t think that we could have ended on a better or a higher note, focusing on our next generation.

I’ve received an absolutely lovely email in the meantime from Vivian Reding, the former Vice President of the European Commission, the author of the GDPR, who is also very, very interested in AI. She said, “loved the themes of the webinar, food for thought and action”.

I think that’s a great way to end our webinar. Thank you so much. Thank you to all our wonderful participants around the world. Have a great day or an evening or a week and go and do something absolutely fabulous that’s gonna change the world for the better.

Thank you.

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