September 22, 2023
Attendees at the DTW 2023 event seemed to appreciate the emphasis on quality over quantity.
Covering trade shows is one of the more challenging assignments for us trade hacks. We strive to summarise an event that can consist of thousands of people having millions of interactions and distil all of it into one overarching theme.
Many people we have spoken to about Mobile World Congress agree that, while it’s almost mandatory for telecoms professionals, it’s hard to get much done amid the chaos of such a large gathering. Equally it would be impossible for even an army of journalists to speak to everyone there, let alone synthesize those conversations into a useful, coherent narrative. Conversely, that task is much easier at smaller, more focused events.
The sense we got from our own experience and from speaking to other attendees is that DTW 2023, with a few thousand attendees and no component of the show more than a couple of minutes walk away, is a good size. The venue is a distinct upgrade from the Nice Acropolis and Copenhagen is a charming city, so it will be a shame if the organisers feel the need to move it again.
Many people we spoke to compared DTW favourably to MWC with respect to the quality, if not quantity, of the meetings they had. There was also the sense that, for all the GSMA’s grandiose schemes, workshops like the TM Forum’s catalyst programme seem to do more to practically address some of the telecoms industry’s technological challenges.
The dominant technological theme of this year’s show was artificial intelligence, which is so broad and fluid a concept that we heard it described as a kind of Rorschach Test that means something slightly different to every individual. On top of the AI we have been talking about for years, which is handy for things like automation and network management, we now have generative AI that is either great news for productivity or the death of most job functions, depending on who you speak to.
How best to harness the many flavours of AI to the benefit of the telecoms industry has quickly made its way towards the top of the TM Forum’s to-do list. With that in mind, its decision to so openly embrace the big public cloud players and their vast computing resources at last year’s event feels especially prescient. Concerns about over-reliance on them remain but their desire for a healthy and prosperous telecoms customer base means it should be in their interests to play nice.
“This year, DTW has been especially relevant to the industry,” Ari Banerjee, SVP of Strategy at telecoms software vendor Netcracker, said when we met at the show. “We are hearing real-world stories of operators’ digital transformations and getting a peek behind the curtain on the enabling technologies they are relying on such as generative AI, and also the day-to-day priorities such as creating a new corporate culture and commitment to achieving their goals.”
As you can see from the comments section of our initial report from the show, it was not universally received in the spirit it was meant, which was a spot of tough love for an industry that that talks a good game but sometimes struggles to convert those words into meaningful action. We were able to catch up with Andy Tiller, EVP of Products and Services at TM Forum, after that piece was published, and shared our concerns.
“We kicked off DTW23 – Ignite by underlining the urgency of the situation facing CSPs,” said Tiller. “We believe our industry has three years to get fit for growth – to simplify, modernize and automate our networks and businesses. This requires monumental transformation and we’ve seen dozens of CSPs share the progress they’ve made, and are making, this week. The week has demonstrated that this is an industry that is truly getting fit to reignite growth. There’s real momentum, hard evidence and we’re genuinely optimistic for the future.”
Tiller was especially keen to highlight a couple of announcements made by the TM Forum at the show. The first was the progress of its Open Digital Architecture, which seeks to standardise telecoms software in the cloud. In the 20 months since its launch it recently hit a milestone of having a billion subscribers served by operators running ODA. The second was the launch of an Autonomous Networks Manifesto, which is designed to accelerate their adoption and has the commitment of 30 major operators and vendors.
Since so much of what it does is necessarily arcane and technical, the TM Forum has its work cut out communicating that work in an easily digestible form, especially when it comes to real-world proof-points. But the size of the DTW show, which increased attendance by 20% this year to 3,700, suggests it must be getting a fair bit done. It has been rescheduled to June next year, so we look forward to being able to make qualitative comparisons with MWC still relatively fresh in the memory.
One thing we’re confident about is that it will win the catering and entertainment battle. The TM Forum put on a decent quality hot and cold buffet for everyone at lunch each day, including our own little one in the press area, and then provided free beers and wine later on. This generosity culminated in a free bar at a few venues around a cute square in central Copenhagen on Wednesday evening, which was a great way to round things off. Other events, please take note.
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