MWC18 5G could, er, bring an end to populism, said Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive during his keynote address at this year’s Mobile World Congress.
"We need as an industry to engage to make sure we build a better future for people.
"5G combined with IoT really gives us a great opportunity to create alliances of governments, operators, academics and startups to improve the deal society gives citizens."
Colao said that the biggest concern for the future was not machine learning, AI or fake news, but growing concern about job security and general quality of life. The answer? 5G, apparently.
Colao’s presentation was light on detail as to how this would happen, but went over the usual use cases like eHealth, connected cars and IoT.
Meanwhile, GSMA director general Mats Granryd presented a new app that means it has never been easier to pre-order a Subway sandwich. It uses "AI", because of course it does.
Loosen up, regulators...
Otherwise, the refrain at the opening keynotes at this year’s MWC was: "Better Future". How this would be reached involves stripping away regulatory barriers, placing more radio spectrum into the hands of the mobile industry and "relaxing" data laws, said senior industry figures.
The heads of Vodafone, Telefónica and Telia called for a level playing field between over-the-top providers and mobile operators on data sharing and their interaction with governments.
Telefónica chief José María Álvarez-Pallete urged policymakers to recognise the mobile industry's contribution to the European economy. "In order to efficiently enable our contribution, we need an efficient regulatory framework," he said.
Colao was more explicit, saying that current discussions on the new European Electronic Communications code were heading the wrong way on the length of radio spectrum licences. Operators wanted 25-year minimum terms but look unlikely to get them, he said.
A subtle pivot away from 5G toward AI was evident in Granryd's address. This might not be too surprising given that the GSMA's largest benefactor is Huawei, which is pushing its new Atlas AI platform at this year's conference.
But with no business case for robotics and machine learning in sight, the use cases presented by operators today were underwhelming.
Granryd's keynote featured a personal assistant that appeared on screen and looked like a friendly cartoon character but sounded like it was voiced by James Earl Jones.
The assistant was able to tell Mats how many connections were currently being used and where the shortest lunch queue was to be found – he must have more access to data than GCHQ.
Marie Ehrlling, chair of the board at Finnish operator Telia, said that "understanding and harnessing data in a trustworthy way opens many doors" but raises "many questions".
Telefónica is also understood to be figuring out a way to pitch total data harvesting of customers' home lives as "empowerment", rather than surveillance.
"Do customers feel that the use of data is happening to them or with them? If you are unsure what the answer is, you are already falling behind," she said. ®