5G Takes Center Stage

The theme of this week’s Mobile World Congress is “intelligent connectivity.” The subtext is the need to hasten global adoption of 5G.



Not unlike the World Economic Forum in Davos or the TED conference, the annual Mobile World Congress has reached the point where it has outgrown its original purpose. It is no longer a place simply to showcase the latest smartphone or talk about the next IoT breakthrough. And rightly so—mobile technology has become an all-encompassing part of life around the globe. 

“It’s about so much more than just communications and mobility now,” says Peter Cave-Gibbs, senior client partner for global technology with Korn Ferry, referring to MWC’s origins. “Automotive, aerospace, home, all of that is predicated upon mobile networks.”

The focus of this year’s Mobile World Congress, which takes place this week in Barcelona, is on intelligent connectivity, defined as “a new era of highly contextualized and personalized experiences, delivered when and where you want them.” Key themes and programs focus on immersive content, digital wellness, and digital trust, among others. Underlying the promise of intelligent connectivity, of course, is the global adoption of 5G technology, which promises more speed, larger bandwidths, and better connectivity at a cheaper cost. “Everyone is frothing at the mouth waiting for 5G to really take off,” says Cave-Gibbs. “It’s the missing piece to unlock a new world in terms of automation, artificial intelligence, and more.”

Put another way, innovation depends on 5G—and the importance of innovation for companies and countries has never been higher. Political and trade tensions between the United States and China are owed in part to the race between the two countries to be the worldwide leader in 5G. In fact, the charges brought by the US Department of Justice against Chinese handset manufacturer Huawei is expected to be a major topic of conversation at this year’s MWC, at least among the business and government leaders in the hallways if not the official program. The DOJ alleges Huawei, the largest maker of switching gear for mobile phones, violated trade sanctions and, more importantly, stole trade secrets. As recently as last week, however, reports said the US is considering dropping the criminal charges against Huawei as part of a potential trade deal with China. 

Cave-Gibbs says the situation underscores the “overall heightened concern leaders have about the risks associated with cybersecurity breaches.” According to the latest Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum, 82% of leaders expect cyberattacks that lead to financial theft or data fraud to increase this year, citing the “deepening integration of digital technologies into every aspect of life.”

That’s why Cave-Gibbs also says one topic of conversation leaders need to be having at MWC is around the talent implications for their organizations to implement intelligent connectivity. “If organizations want to create deeply personal experiences on a massive global scale utilizing AI and machine learning, they are going to need people with the right skills to actually do that,” he says.