The mobile industry’s flagship annual conference returned to Barcelona for 2024, with more than 100,000 in-person delegates attending Mobile World Congress 24. The themes of the conference spread right across the sphere of connectivity, but one topic dominated above all others – Artificial Intelligence.

The robots are coming: AI converges on mobile

You don’t need to have attended MWC24 to know that AI is everywhere. Since the launch of Chat GPT in November 2022, generative AI has been a hot topic for every industry, and naturally the mobile industry is no exception. Juniper Network’s CEO, Rami Rahim, summed up the current mood of excitement as part of his keynote, saying, “AI is the next big inflection point – definitely bigger than the internet inflection point which happened several decades ago.”

The consumer application of Generative AI has clear applications for mobile users, and it is forecast to have a substantial knock on effect for network traffic.

During the conference, GSMA Intelligence (GSMAi) announced their prediction that monthly global mobile data traffic per connection will grow from 12.8 GB in 2023 to 47.9 GB in 2030. That capacity is being built through investment in 5G infrastructure (more on that later), but GenAI is predicted to play a big part on the demand-side. More than half of operators (56%) are currently working on GenAI applications, so whether it’s content creation, customer service chatbots or AI-generated video and music content, customers will be demanding a mobile ecosystem that harnesses AI with seamless user experiences.

But when it comes to mobile technology, although generative AI like Chat GPT being embedded within software to improve user experience is part of the story, AI is making a clear impact on networks themselves.

A key announcement was the launch of the AI-RAN Alliance – a new collaborative initiative aimed at integrating artificial intelligence into cellular technology to further advance radio access network technology and mobile networks. AI can play a role in improving spectral efficiency, utilising infrastructure more effectively and generating new AI-driven revenue opportunities.

Combining AI with machine learning presents opportunities to tackle some of the most challenging issues the industry faces – optimising CapEx, planning capacity and predictively maintaining the network.

5G at a tipping point 

For all of the excitement about the growing role AI will play, there is no mobile industry without infrastructure. Another key takeaway from the conference speaks to both the present and the future – 5G is reaching maturity on a global scale.

New figures from GSMAi show 5G connections are expected to represent over half (51%) of mobile connections by 2029, rising to 56% by the end of the decade – making 5G the dominant connectivity technology. What’s more, 5G has been the fastest mobile generation rollout to date, surpassing one billion connections by the end of 2022, rising to 1.6 billion connections at the end of 2023 and 5.5 billion by 2030.

This is improving customer experiences, and creating new revenue opportunities. One announcement from Telstra showcased new 5G slicing technology which can create multiple virtual networks with different performance variables, delivering QoS on a per customer basis. This can guarantee minimum customer performance, with smart measurement and reporting to ensure each individual slice is working as intended.

IoT is of course a key use case for 5G – and more new GSMAi data shows connected devices are on the verge of a breakthrough for enterprise. The enterprise segment has now overtaken consumer usage, counting 10.7 billion IoT connections (versus 10.5 billion consumer connections). This momentum is expected to continue, with enterprise connections more than doubling to 38.5 billion by 2030, with smart buildings accounting for 34% and smart manufacturing 16% of the total.

5G’s progress comes against a backdrop of the growth of the

So, what comes after 5G? The prosaic answer is, of course, 6G – and, for some, thoughts are already turning in this direction. Could this next leap forward in speed, capacity and latency might be the rocket-fuel that AI (and drones and robotics) needs in order to unlock its full potential? It seems sure to be a hot topic at MWC25.