Watching stars rise and shine, GSMA Innovation Forum shares insights into the development trend of the global mobile industry

For the GSMA and the mobile industry, 2022 is about getting back together to convene, collaborate and deliver value after two years of working from home and doing business online. The power of connectivity is now appreciated by more people who relied on it during the unprecedented disruptions posed by the pandemic.  

As we reflect on what the year 2022 has been, it’s an occasion like the GSMA Innovation Forum, held since 2017, that becomes even more important to collect insights, review progress, and identify emerging trends for the year ahead.   

The GSMA is the place where the mobile industry comes together to draw insights from leaders operating in markets across the globe and to help the industry look ahead to identify new opportunities and challenges and develop innovative solutions for the industry to go onwards and upwards. This year, we advanced the industry’s collective efforts including open APIs to deliver interoperable and federated networks for metaverse; engagement activities to ease the financial pressure on mobile operators to invest in the connectivity infrastructure that underpins services that consumers, businesses and governments increasingly depend on; and works to help address the mobile internet usage gap by working with governments and intergovernmental organisations through research and advocacy. 

With extensive research by GSMA Intelligence, we are also helping the industry to better understand pressing issues and gauge the biggest trends that are shaping future growth. Some global trends that stood out in 2022 from our analysis include: 

  • Governments proactively driving the market 

Governments around the world took bold moves to drive strategic industries while exerting pressure on ecosystem players in order to protect consumers and create level playing fields.  

  • Operators envision their future in the metaverse 

Mobile operators made it clear that they saw a role for themselves in the metaverse and many from across the globe signed up to take part in the Metaverse Standards Forum.  

  • Sustainability goes broad 

There are myriad ways in which operators are engaged in sustainability and decarbonization efforts alongside network energy efficiency extensions and device recycling efforts  

  • The 2nd wave of 5G begins: Global 5G connections are forecast to hit one billion; 2022 marks the year in which 5G began scaling to new, high-growth markets such as India, with plenty of growth yet to come. 

 Since Chinese operators commercialised their 5G services in 2019, there is no doubt that the industry in China is a major contributor to global development and in the leading pact on many topics. They have deployed the largest 5G standalone networks with more than 2 million 5G base stations, and are serving 65% of the global 5G subscriber base. At the GSMA, experts from Chinese companies are leading or co-leading nearly 20 technical working groups.  

Hence, this year’s GSMA innovation forum was very important even when circumstances were challenging due to changes in covid policies in China. It’s imperative to help bridge the industry in China and the international community to share best practices as China marches ahead so that the global industry can leverage learnings from China’s 5G development and seek opportunities to collaborate further with the Chinese stakeholders.  

This year’s forum was the best yet. We welcomed all the chairmen of mobile operators in China, GSMA’s board representatives in China as well as senior executives from the industry and ecosystem. We also heard from innovative entrepreneurs and KOL on emerging synergies to better utilise 5G and digital technologies. Echoing key global trends, the discussions at the forum enlightened us with some defining elements that propelled the industry’s development in 2022. 

  • Mobile operators are realising opportunities in the digital economy 

The four operator chairmen stressed the critical role that the mobile industry had to play and were investing significantly to provide the necessary digital infrastructure, including 5G, compute, and cloud, to support the growth of digital economy.  

The convergence of 5G and cloud in particular, are driving operator’s second growth curve by satisfying the fast-increasing demand on computing and connectivity capabilities, which strengthened the industry’s ability to go beyond a pure connectivity business model. This transformation is also propelling operator’s stronger market performance in 2022 and helping investors to better praise mobile operator’s market value, but this is dependent on operators’ investment to scale its own cloud capabilities instead of leasing 3rd party cloud providers’.  

  • Mobile infrastructure is key to digital economy and digital transformation 

Sustainable development of digital economy requires advanced digital infrastructure that is ubiquitous, safe, converged, agile and energy efficient which the mobile industry is best placed to provide and enhance.  

5G is no longer just a radio access technology, but presents an integrated capability to serve comprehensive digitalisation. Operators are therefore actively pursuing new propositions to offer integrated services, that consolidate capabilities from 5G, cloud, AI, edge computing, and big data, to meet the diverse demands of both consumer and industry customers.  

Network equipment and solutions are also evolving to provide operators the appropriate tools to expand their cloud and computing capabilities.  

  • 5G is a fundamental enabler to metaverse 

The focus on metaverse is shifting from immersive virtual experience to augmenting realities. 5G is best positioned to support the augmented experiences that metaverse applications hope to achieve, and the mobile industry can develop 5G at the same time to help scale the experience and practicability of metaverse use cases.  

  • AI, data, and decarbonisation present key opportunities for cross-sectoral and start-up innovation in the digital economy 

New growth opportunities in the digital economy can only be realised with more widespread cross-sectors innovation and global cooperation to drive greater economy of scale and global synergies, but are impacted by the flow and security of data as one of the key prerequisites for digital economy to scale.  

AI remains a key enabler to improve productivity and should be integrated deeper with computing and network capabilities to play a more foundational role to increase incremental value. These also present opportunities to be more energy efficient and contribute to climate actions, but leading enterprises in each sector and international organisations should play more pivotal roles to guide the sectors onto best practices and fundamentally transform the ways of doing business.  

5G IN start-up entrepreneurs are seizing the growth space that 5G is creating. Testimonials and commercial best practices have shown that they are utilisting 5G and digital technologies to expedite digital innovations in AI-cloud, digital health, metaverse platforms, network resilience, and fintech with significant improvements to automation, AI, digital twin, network efficiency, and data processing. 

  • Good policies can safeguard industry development:  

Productive policy levers and conducive policy environment in China facilitated the impressive growth of 5G and digital economy. More inclusive policy mindsets, whether in China or other regions, will be key to ensure that the private sector can leverage the resources and opportunities to expand internationally.  

Additional policy facilitation on cross-sectoral standardisation and regulation will help further drive the industry to scale innovations, especially for start-ups.  

  • 5G development is no longer a competition of technology but experience: 5G should progress beyond competition on technology and focus instead on experiences, especially experiences that define different scenarios. New business models can only succeed when the intrinsic value of each usage scenario is realised by the enablement of 5G.  

As we wrap up 2022, we hope these insights and learnings can help invoke new ideas to break bounds for novel opportunities in 2023.  

In the new year, we hope to reconvene our industry in China and internationally, bring together brights minds to spark new collaborations and new innovations. The GSMA looks forward to helping the industry grow further and better in 2023.