MWC Barcelona Keynote 1 Recap: Connect the World, Protect the World

What will an increasingly connected world look like, not only for consumers but for the environment? In the opening keynote of MWC Barcelona, speakers from GSMA, Orange, Telefónica and Deutsche Telekom shared their views on how 5G, artificial intelligence and other technologies will change the world through:

  • Digital acceleration
  • Connecting the globe
  • Creating a better world (environmentally and economically)

Digital Acceleration

The pandemic accelerated the uptake of digital technologies, according to Telefónica Chairman and CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López.

“[2020 was] like traveling in a time machine five years ahead in terms of adoption of technology,” said Álvarez-Pallete.

This digital adoption is also driving economic growth. Yang Jie, Chairman of China Mobile, shared that the digital economy will make up over 50 percent of China’s GDP by 2025, up from 38.6 percent in 2020.

But not everyone will use the connectivity telecom companies provide in the same way.

“Data will be used to provide consumer services, individualized to the segment of one,” said Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges.

To provide value to consumers and enterprises, telecom companies will need to rethink how they offer services.

“The winners will [be those] delivering telco services as a software company,” said Höttges.

Connecting the World

Telecom companies have played an essential role in connecting the world throughout the pandemic.

“When we were most needed, we were there,” said Álvarez-Pallete.

For those without connectivity, there is still work to be done. GSMA Director General Mats Granryd noted that half of the world’s population is still not connected, largely because of the usage gap—people who live within the range of a mobile network but don’t or can’t connect.

“The 2020 pandemic brought into sharper focus how critical this [network] access can be,” said GSMA Chairman and Orange Group Chairman and CEO Stéphane Richard.

An opening video introducing Richard highlighted how Airtel and Tigo Vodacom are sharing infrastructure in Tanzania to connect more people and reduce the usage gap. Technologies like 5G are also poised to help, with estimates that 20 percent of the world’s population will be covered by 5G networks by the end of the year.

“It is our collective responsibility for future generations to spread the benefits of digitization and make sure that we do not leave anyone behind,” said Álvarez-Pallete.

A Better World

Speakers stressed how new technologies will have less of an environmental footprint than previous generations. For example, 5G uses half the energy of 4G, and fiber networks use three times less energy than copper.

“The positive impact of our networks brings a better life for all at a lower cost for the planet,” said Richard.

Efficient cloud computing can be up to 80 percent more environmentally efficient than decentralized computing, noted Höttges, and one year of mobile broadband can reduce extreme poverty by 4 percent, said Granryd.

In the past, technological progress only meant advancement at any cost, but the future can be different.

“Real progress comes when we move towards a just and equitable future, not when we just make shiny new things,” said Richard. “The benefits of technological progress for humanity depend not on the technology, but on what we do with it.”