Nick Read, CEO, Vodafone Group, delivered this keynote speech at Mobile World Congress 2022
Good morning – with the backdrop of the Ukraine war, it is conferences like this, that remind us of the importance of global sectors and communities like ours - working together to advance a better society. Our thoughts go out to all those affected by the war.
I last presented at the MWC in February 2019 - I had been CEO of Vodafone for about 5 months. At the time, I spoke about the need for a new social contract - the need for industry and governments to work together more collaboratively, so that telecom companies could support the whole of society, in their digital needs and ambitions.
Then came the pandemic. I am deeply proud of the work that our teams and colleagues around the world accomplished together. Our networks, our connectivity, and our services - kept hospitals, schools, businesses large and small, government services, and local communities connected. Looking back, our joint efforts truly captured the spirit of the new social contract, that I had been calling for.
Now looking forward - I am sure my colleagues on the stage today, will expand on the transformational powers of future technologies - including the metaverse, AI, cloud, edge computing and 5G. Digital infrastructure and technologies are at the cusp of transforming how our economies and societies function.
As such, digital will increasingly determine the competitiveness - of not only companies, but also nations and continents. Put simply - digital is becoming make or break.
Vodafone is a global company, with a scaled regional presence across Europe and Africa - but importantly - with strong local roots in every country we are proud to operate in. The challenge before Vodafone - and before many of us in the European and African telecom sector - is how we can support this digital shift, in an inclusive and environmentally sustainable way.
For me, we need to take our social contract to the next level: a social contract for regional competitiveness. I want to share my thoughts on what it takes to get there. I will focus on Europe and Africa, where we are the most active. And I will set out three essential ingredients to increase our chance of success:
Firstly - tackling the challenges head-on
Secondly - fully leveraging regional scale whilst nurturing local grassroots.
And finally - embracing a new approach…together.
Let’s start with the challenges. The most pressing issue is clearly the war in Ukraine. This adds to a world facing political, economic, social, and environmental turmoil - all at the same time. We are all, going to have to dig very deep, to help overcome these challenges. As an industry, it is our obligation to do our part, - and through our technologies - we also have a lot to offer. These last two years have clearly shown that the services we provide are critical – nationally and regionally.
Looking ahead - 5G in particular - is the catalyst for innovation, that will transform every industrial sector, and underpin the next phase of a digital society. Every country and region will try to maximise their chance to capture this opportunity for jobs and growth. Africa needs digital to accelerate development and diversify its economies. Europe needs to be digital to remain globally competitive and maintain its leadership role in key sectors such as automotive, aerospace, defence, and agriculture. The regions that have 5G first, will be the regions that innovate fastest.
Yet, at current rates, it will take until at least the end of the decade, for Europe to match the transformational “full 5G experience”, that China will already have achieved this year. If we look at 5G population coverage around the world - South Korea is over 90%, China 60%, USA 45%, and Europe under 10% - and with Africa hardly even at the starting line. Europe will only catch up if we reverse the ill-health and hyper-fragmentation of our sector. We must have local scale to close the investment gap. Otherwise, we will be the passive by-stander of the new tech order.
So, my first message here is simple. We all need to face this challenge head on and resolve it quickly, together. I am fully aware of the magnitude of the task ahead. Here’s how I see Vodafone playing a key role in making this happen.
First, scale. Local scale is needed to close the investment gap and ensure we can deploy 5G at pace. Regional scale is needed to close the digitalisation gap. The combination of local and regional scale ensures our economies and societies can enjoy the full benefits of digital innovation and industrialisation.
We have all seen the impact of global digital platforms. Platforms that change the way we conduct our daily lives. Vodafone continues to invest in regional platforms - let me just give you a few examples. In Europe we created our IoT platform which connects more than 140m devices, across 180 countries. The SIM based IoT market has tripled in the last five years, - and in the next 5 years, will hit 5bn connections. 62% of Europe’s leading automotive brands rely on Vodafone IOT. And with that scale, we are able to evolve from the “Internet of Things” to the “Economy of Things”.
From seamless connectivity, to seamless transactions between machines. We have just launched our Digital Asset Broker platform, - with the first user case being electric vehicle charging. Using our platform to link an authorised vehicle, with a pre-authorised digital wallet, to transact with the local charging infrastructure. Our vision is to enable all machines to transact with each other - securely through our platform, using the customers digital wallet - without the need for human intervention.
The transformation that IoT brings is not just industrial - it is also green. I encourage you to visit our stand in Hall 3, where you can see a range of green IoT solutions - from Smart Buildings, to Smart Agriculture, to Connected Forests.
Our platform development has been equally impressive in Africa. This year our M-Pesa platform celebrates its 15th anniversary, and is a great example of how a regional platform can evolve and grow:
From peer to peer money transfer
To payment of utility bills
To enabling the payroll of businesses
To financial services, such as micro loans
It is the region’s largest fintech platform, providing access to financial services for more than 50m people in a secure, affordable, and convenient way.
So, my second message - is that our scaled platforms ensure the digital transformation takes root through the whole of society - they become anchors for a growing local and regional ecosystem of new solutions and applications.
This leads me to my third point: If we are to be successful in the digital transformation - we all need to go faster, challenge the status quo – and “lean in” on co-creation.
Though our sector is highly competitive – importantly, to remain globally competitive - we also need to collaborate. OpenRAN is a great example of sector collaboration - and how we need to think like global challengers. The OpenRAN MOU we signed as a European sector, - shows how an industry can come together to drive transformation - and should be the blueprint for future collaboration.
Changing the mindset of the whole sector is a good thing. But to be truly successful - we need governments, policy makers and regulators to be on this journey with us.
I want to spend a few moments talking about the deep collaboration we’ve had with the Spanish government. Not because we’re in Spain, but for two important reasons. Firstly, because I believe it represents a blueprint that every government could adopt. And secondly, because it illustrates how the benefits of scaled technology strengthen the local competitiveness.
I would summarise the collaboration in 5 areas:
First, with Industry, the government developed a clear and bold digital plan.
Second, there was an honest assessment of the financial health of the telecoms sector – and as a result, significant policy reforms in relation to spectrum and tax have been made.
Third, the government’s digital plan was matched with a strong execution programme, - to ensure the right pace of transformation.
Fourth, last month, we proudly opened a pan-European R&D centre in Malaga - creating 700 skilled jobs.
And finally, Vodafone has created a European V-Hub service, to help SMEs digitalise their businesses. We want to create a Europe wide community of SMEs where they get free advice, share best practices, with the aim of helping them on the journey to become globally competitive.
And with inspiration from the Spanish government - we created our own SME digital toolkit - which we are now rolling out across our markets providing standardised solutions to help SMEs.
However, even with this support, it’s no secret that there is still more to be done to address market fragmentation. In Spain and across Europe, it will come down to the operators, government, and the European Commission, to find the right solution.
So, to conclude. Vodafone is committed to the long-term success of Europe and Africa. We will play our part to demonstrate leadership in our sector - as genuine partners. To our competitors, strategic partners, governments, and regulators - we ask you to lean in - together we can enable a digital Europe and Africa, that is truly competitive for the future.
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