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MWC Shanghai: Spectrum pricing and the bowl of soup theory 

Some high(ish)lights from last week's Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

Repeat storyline of the week

The event kicked off with some determined messaging about spectrum auctions.

GSMA chairman Sunil Bharti led the way, suggesting the industry would be better off without the “large amount of money” tipped into spectrum. Ericsson chief Börje Ekholm followed up on the same theme.

Geographically speaking they were in the wrong room. Asian heavyweights China, Japan and Korea have adopted the habit of allocating spectrum to those who already have it.

Apart from affirming a GSMA policy, Bharti was also airing a strongly-felt view in his home market, where operators have forked over of billions for frequencies in the last decade and look set to be hit up one again for 5G.

As is his style, Bharti had plenty of praise for the host nation. While not as effusive as last year, when he halted mid-speech to call for a round of applause for China’s 5G efforts, he reminded us that Chinese operators had more resources for network kit because they weren’t pressed into buying spectrum.

“No wonder China has become one of the leading countries to provide mobile internet services,” he said. 

Striking another favoured GSMA theme, Bharti called for network sharing to be expanded from towers to include other equipment and spectrum resources.

Ekholm was totally on-board with the need for “reasonable” spectrum prices, but skipped the bit about more sharing. 

Metaphor of the week

The big change in China in the past nine months has been the discount war led by freshly cashed-up China Unicom, leading to customers churning or adding an extra SIM as well as this analogy, courtesy of China Telecom president Liu Aili.

"It's like pouring soup from one bowl to another, each time losing some of the soup and each time shrinking industry value," he said in a keynote.

As for users with two SIMs - "they're like two people sharing the same bowl.”

GSMA's AI vision

Burn of the week

Huawei chairman Eric Xu on Senator Marco Rubio and other Congress members who lobbying to shut down Huawei’s campus research partnerships: “...closed-minded and ill-informed... their bodies are in the information age but their minds are still in the agrarian age.”

Stat of the week

Operator spending on opex as percentage of revenue has gone from 62% to 75% since 2005. Capex has fallen from 17% to 12% (Huawei figures)

Non-quote of the week

On the Kazakh Telecom stand, where China’s ambitious but elusive Belt-Road project came up in discussion.

Q: Are you involved in any of those projects? 

Exec (rapidly nodding head): Yes, they’re very important to us.

Q: What is it you are doing specifically?

Exec: Er....

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