McKinsey’s key takeaways from Mobile World Congress

| Podcast

This is a special, bonus episode of The McKinsey Podcast. McKinsey partner Ferry Grijpink joined host Roberta Fusaro from the annual Mobile World Congress [MWC] in Barcelona to share some immediate takeaways from the event.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

The McKinsey Podcast is hosted by Roberta Fusaro and Lucia Rahilly.

Roberta Fusaro: Ferry, what’s been the single-most-talked-about topic at Mobile World Congress this year?

Ferry Grijpink: The most exciting topic is what’s happening in 5G APIs. The most talked about, of course, is gen AI [generative AI].

Last year, gen AI was new and even though people were excited, there was no depth. This year, everybody is talking about how gen AI can help in call centers, in marketing, and in network performance. We went from AI just being exciting to it being used for real specific cases that can change the industry.

Roberta Fusaro: What’s the story on 5G? How is that evolving? Or are we already on to 6G?

Ferry Grijpink: Let’s not talk about 6G yet, because we first want to make some money out of 5G. The operators put about a trillion dollars into their infrastructure to get 5G, and they haven’t seen any return. The hope is that APIs will give them access to 5G’s capabilities and developers can build new applications. A profit will finally be made, which they can then use in five to ten years and invest in 6G.

An initiative called Open Gateway was announced last year. This year we all came back, and we asked, did they actually do something with it? And the answer is yes. They launched hundreds of APIs. A CEO of a bank explained that by using this API, he can stop fraud, specifically ATM fraud.

APIs deliver value. But it’s interesting. This is not happening in the US or in Europe. This has happened in Brazil, Sri Lanka, and in South Africa. It’s truly a global phenomenon.

Roberta Fusaro: Is there anything that you’re hearing or seeing on the ground that has surprised you?

Ferry Grijpink: There is a lot of activity regarding the industrial internet, which wasn’t sexy five, six, or seven years ago. Then it fell a little bit out of the hype cycle. Now you see a lot of manufacturers, people building drills, people with cars, people with heavy equipment who are using mobile networks to operate remotely or to monitor. What I thought was interesting was that it wasn’t talked about in the mainstream, but in the halls of the Mobile World Congress, with over 100,000 people, hundreds of exhibitors, and you suddenly see a manufacturer that you would not normally see here.

It’s interesting to see that the industrial internet is actually coming about and people see the real benefits of these technologies and their productivity.

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Roberta Fusaro: We’ve written a lot at McKinsey about tech talent and the need for it in telcos. I’m curious if there’s been any discussion about that or anything that you’ve heard about trends in tech talent or how things are changing?

Ferry Grijpink: The industry has a talent problem, because it’s an industry that is shrinking a bit from a labor force point of view. It’s also had a lot of government regulation around it, which means they have stopped hiring and there’s a talent deficit.

We want to do things in AI. We want to do things in digital. We want to do better marketing and the talent wasn’t there. A lot of telcos now are really rethinking the talent value proposition. The industry needs to work on diversity. It should be inclusive of different races and genders and younger people. If we want to transform, we need a different set of people and we must ask ourselves, how do you attract that? There are more people with mobile phones than people with electricity. We’re doing very exciting things and it often comes back to, how much money do we make from it? But consider the stories around homeschooling during COVID-19, working from home, and solving some of the crises of loneliness. These technologies can really help.

Slowly, people are pivoting to what this industry is doing. And if you actually look at the results, it’s quite exciting. We often get lost in 5G, 6G, and APIs instead of telling the story. We’re connecting people. We’re connecting things. We’re making it easier to be able to work remotely.

We give the consumer access to education. This is the story that needs to be told. We help people connect with their relatives. It’s a fascinating product we have, and sometimes it’s made too boring because we’re engineers, slightly older engineers.

The industry has a talent problem, because it’s an industry that is shrinking a bit from a labor force point of view.

Roberta Fusaro: This is what I love about this conference. It shines a spotlight on something that we all take for granted.

Ferry Grijpink: When I was young—and I’m close to 50 now—if you would have told me I could be anywhere in the world, pick up a phone, and take a video call with my mom, I would have thought you’re crazy. And now we take it for granted. I was in Rwanda and I FaceTimed my daughter to help her with mathematics.

We talk about bits and bytes, and we talk about money and ROIC [return on invested capital] and WACC [weighted average cost of capital]. What we deliver as an industry is truly absurd. You shouldn’t forget how cool it is what we're doing every day.

Roberta Fusaro: Any other thoughts about the event?

Ferry Grijpink: I think this was the first time after COVID-19 that the whole of Asia was there. This time it was a truly global event again, which was quite exciting.

Roberta Fusaro: What’s been your favorite meal at MWC?

Ferry Grijpink: We had a guy cutting jamón. He took a little piece off. He said, “This is the best piece,” and he gave it to me, and he was absolutely right. It was the best piece I ever had.

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