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Top 3 Takeaways from Mobile World Congress Americas

The inaugural Mobile World Congress Americas event debuted last week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, with more than 21,000 attendees from 110 countries and 1,000 exhibitors. With inspiring keynotes and dozens of partner and customer meetings, I left energized about the opportunities ahead -- the promises of 5G, innovations underway in artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), and the use of bots, as demonstrated inside Innovation City. Our industry clearly has the opportunity to create tremendous value -- but getting there will take some work.

Here are a few of my top takeaways from the show.

The Battle for 5G Wages On -- Without a doubt, the battle for 5G continues to be a hot topic, and for good reason. Right now, the U.S. maintains a leadership position. Around half of North America's connections will be on 5G by 2025 -- a far greater share than other key 5G global regions, according to a report released by the Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA). I believe we will see commercial 5G in fixed wireless deployments in 2019.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who serves as Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) chairman, warned that the U.S. risks losing its first-mover advantage on 5G in the face of government obstacles. U.S. operators are expected to invest a combined $275 billion to build 5G networks, which could create 3 million new jobs and add $500 billion to the U.S. GDP. Permitting issues and other government barriers that create excessive costs and delays are putting those benefits at risk, Claure explained.

It's difficult to project the cost of losing that leadership position. The stakes are high though, and might be comparable to what we just saw at the US Open Tennis Championships -- the prize money for the runner up is less than half the size of the winner's.

Digital Inclusion Comes Into Focus -- According to the GSMA's report, 5 billion people are connected to mobile networks, which is about two thirds of the human population globally. Going from 4 billion and 5 billion took four years, but connecting the next billion is expected to take even longer.

The report also notes that industry excitement around 5G overlooks the fact that 4G still has plenty of room for future growth. Experts forecast 4G to account for two thirds of global mobile connections by 2025, driven by increasing 4G adoption in major emerging markets such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia.

Carlos Slim Domit, chairman of America Movil, shared that creating a digitally inclusive society for all is one of the biggest challenges facing the mobile industry in Latin America. He acknowledged progress will be made as the region moves to 4.5G, improves cloud-based solutions, rolls out narrowband IoT, and provides integrated vertical solutions.

4G will coexist with 5G and will continue to be around for many years to come. Each technology has strengths and weaknesses, but the goal should be to create a completely seamless experience for customers.

Enterprises Must Prep for the Fourth Industrial Revolution -- The idea of a new, technological "Fourth Industrial Revolution," driven by the Internet of Things (IoT) and the digitization of massive amounts of data, echoed throughout the week. The scale and complexity is expected to be unprecedented. To prepare for a revolution, and support a fundamental shift, enterprises clearly must put connectivity and mobility first.

The GSMA's report points out that a paradigm shift in network architecture is required to support the shift to 5G and IoT. In the emerging "Connected Enterprise," the network will extend well beyond brick-and-mortar boundaries, spanning the Internet and connecting everything from kiosks, sensors, and cameras to digital signage, vehicles, and people. To support the dynamic and dispersed needs of an organization, new networks must be much more scalable, secure, reliable, automated, and elastic.

From the battle for 5G to digital inclusion, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, these are few things that resonated with me at the show. I'd love to hear your comments, and look forward to attending next year's Mobile World Congress Americas in Los Angeles.