Barcelona hosts the world’s telecoms companies for one week in February. At Mobile World Congress, amid the new handsets, infrastructure, and multi-storey displays, the industry talks about itself, its challenges, and its prospects for the future. Here’s what WARC learned.

Revenues

Telcos play in a space of colossal costs, high expectations, and a growing data traffic load. Speaking on the main stage, Vodafone CEO Nick Read, called telecoms “the sector of sectors” – one that will be responsible for enabling digital transformation in societies around the world. This is a privileged position. But they have struggled to find a way to monetise this position in developed markets, which have seen dramatically slowed revenue growth.

Looking exclusively at connectivity, there is a business problem in the sector. It has, according to Singtel CEO Chua Sock Koong, to do with the quantity of data that telcos will soon start processing as the Internet of Things (IoT) and faster, expensive network upgrades like 5G hit the mainstream. 5G alone, reckons Liberty Global CEO, Mark Fries, will cost $2.7 trillion to roll out. Nobody is yet sure of what the business model will look like.