MWC 2021: No News is Just No News

In normal years, Mobile World Congress is a tsunami of information. Hundreds of companies, thousands of press releases, tens of thousands of people, endless hallway gossip. And then the real work begins at the evenings’ triple cocktail hours, double dinners, a party, and a late night glass of wine and a cigar catching up on true friendships forged over years of all of the above.

This year is not normal. All the news we have is virtual. All those virtual keynotes, when we have never attended an in-person keynote in 15+ years of attending the show. The big companies are aware of this dilemma. Even those who showed up are holding back many announcements to catch less crowded news cycles down the road. Nowhere is that more evident than in press releases put out by the major companies.

This week we have been trying to parse what announcements there have been. Yesterday we took a look at Qualcomm, which put up some interesting news. We then went looking at all the other leading companies… and found crickets.

We reviewed press releases from a dozen companies going back a week or two. There are usually so many press releases on the first day of the show that it sometimes make sense to announce things a week ahead. Even with that wide window the results were pretty meager: customer announcements and the odd new product.

We started with Ericsson. The top story on their press page concerns an IP licensing agreement with Samsung, not the kind of news to get the blood pumping. They also announced a record long-distance wireless signal. Interesting, but not at all commercial. And then over the preceding two weeks, they made various O-RAN deployment announcements. (More on that in a the future). Nokia for their part mostly put up press releases about various telco wins. Incrementally good, but not terribly interesting. Things were not much more interesting at Huawei (and no, their Chinese language news page had pretty much the same fare.) Their focus this year was firmly on environmental matters, but they also launched a new line of efficient 5G base stations. So at least they had some product news to report. Cisco and Juniper had one telco announcement each, F5 had nothing. Probably the most interesting company in the space, Cohere Technologies had some very interesting news out in the weeks prior to the show, they definitely have some very interesting work going on.

On the chip side, Skyworks put out a single press release in all of June. Both Ceva and Qorvo talked about the fledgling UWB standard which barely qualifies as a topic for MWC. Things start to get a bit better with the other chip makers. NXP had a press release with Indian carrier Jio, but also a new GAN chip which is important in so much as GAN is slowly, but steadily gaining steam. MediaTek was probably the best of the bunch. They announced a new chip platform that lets handset maker customers better customize the chips they get from MediaTek. This is mostly interesting in that many of MediaTek’s customers are looking to join the ranks of internal silicon projects. We find it odd that only MediaTek seems to be taking the threat of roll-your-own applications processors seriously. Arguably, they are less threatened by this trend than Qualcomm which focuses on larger, better capitalized customer more capable of building their own chips.

We wish there was more to report, but were not really expecting even this much. Such are the times.

There is some hope. Press releases are just one part of the show. Tomorrow we will look at coverage by intrepid members of the press who actually made it to Barcelona this year.

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