The most important event in the world for mobile technology is the Mobile World Congress (MWC), organized annually by the collective telecom industry (GSMA). There simply are no technology events in the world greater in size than MWC. To learn about the direction mobile innovation (and security) is heading and to connect with all major players in this space, Paul and Rick from the KPMG Cyber Security team visited the congress in Barcelona. They share their experiences and impressions in this blog.
Visiting Mobile World Congress is a thrilling experience. The venue hosts thousands of technology vendors, ranging from the largest technology players to nimble and fresh start-ups, and is attended by over 100,000 visitors. New phones and devices by tech giants like Samsung, Huawei, Sony and Nokia are everywhere. And these are accompanied by innovate solutions from others in the mobile ecosystem, such as IBM, SAP, Ford and Philips, showcasing great new products and services related to for example smart homes/smart cities and connected cars. Influential talkers such as Reed Hastings (CEO, Netflix) give us a glimpse into the future of entertainment. An amazing event to be sure, even if you are (like us) 'just' a technology enthusiast.
5G and IoT
There was no mistake at MWC: the two main themes this year were 5G (or fifth generation) technology and Internet of Things (IoT). 5G is the name for the successor to our current "4G" mobile network technology. With it, the telecom industry is making an attempt to make internet access truly ubiquitous, with large increases in bandwidth and the amount of devices per square kilometre that can connect. Increasing these capacities is necessary to accommodate for the amount of traffic that will be generated by connected street lamps, refrigerators, sewage systems, smart cars and (this is an example from the show floor) tooth brushes – truly every future ‘thing’. This ubiquitous internet access by ordinary 'things' will lead to an internet of things, where most ‘things’ on the internet will be devices and sensors aiming to increase our quality of life.
This view of the future is both utopic and inevitable. The advantages of an ‘internet of things’ and this new networking technology are numerous in profound. There is enormous potential in this revolution for economy, environment and safety. Moreover, the transition to such a society is already happening.
Nevertheless, we found that a clear collective industry vision for 5G and IoT seemed lacking at MWC. Right now, the concept of “5G technology” is still on the drawing board. Talk on 5G technology was therefore occupied mostly by 'could-be' scenarios and not demonstrable technology. Similarly, the concept of IoT was interpreted in such a plethora of (often unspectacular) ways – mostly we saw decades-old technology now rebranded as ‘IoT’ to match the hype. Despite agreement on long-term goals and vision at this MWC, short-term implementation of this vision did not appear to be cohesive or earth-shattering.
Cyber security: important or not important?
GSMA published its Annual Industry Survey, for which it polled 3,100 telecom industry professionals about important challenges in the field. The largest proportion of respondents (37%) identified Security as the greatest challenge that the industry faces, with 90% of respondents indicating that security challenges are relevant. Interestingly, it remains unclear who should address this issue, with most participants opting for a ‘global (united) approach’ and only 24% stating each organization is responsible for its own security. In other words: organizations are pointing at each other or someone else, and only a small group is taking matters in their own hands.
These results resonate with our impression from the exhibition and congress. The proclaimed importance of the subject was clear from the amount of vendors that had ‘cyber security’ written somewhere in their marketing material, but often a clear security approach or offering appeared missing. Furthermore, only few cyber security or dedicated mobile security companies had significant presence on the exhibition floor.
At MWC 2017 the collective telecom industry did not leave a great impression about its short term approach to new technology, or relevant cyber security issues. This does not take away anything from the profound impact future network technology and the IoT revolution. It only shows that there is need for true leadership in the industry, not only to innovate with technologies in the 5G and IoT spaces, but also (maybe more importantly) to face the security challenges of the current and future mobile world.