Mobile World Congress is back, but not with any kind of a bang. The mobile phone industry’s biggest annual event began in Barcelona today, and online, after Covid caused its cancellation last year.

Coronavirus has not gone away and the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, Google, Samsung and Sony have decided not to have a physical presence at MWC. There have been no major product announcements and Samsung’s big streamed event this evening concentrated on smartwatch software (see Tech Tools below).

5G is the obvious focus, with the organisers pointing out: “Since the industry last met in Barcelona in February 2019, the number of 5G networks increased from three in South Korea; to 165 networks in over 65 countries worldwide”.

However, we have yet to see the real fruits of 5G for business or consumers and the network providers have a long wait for a good return on their massive investments.

5G is creating new business models though for the industry, from providing private 5G networks for companies to enabling a new breed of operators. Nic Fildes has interviewed Charlie Ergen, co-founder and chairman of Dish, the satellite TV provider that is expanding into 5G in the US.

Earlier this year, it announced its intention to be the first telecoms company in the world to opt to run its service from the public cloud after striking a deal with Amazon to use its servers to control its 5G network. If it works, it could prove the case for a wholly different type of telecoms architecture.

Dish is also working with Nokia and software companies, including Mavenir, Altiostar, Matrixx, Ciena and Palo Alto Networks, to deliver a network that is being viewed as a potential pioneer for ‘open RAN’ ones around the world. ‘Open RAN’ represents a shift that enables telecoms hardware and software from different providers to work together, rather than relying on one large supplier such as Huawei.

If Dish proves that it can rapidly deploy a new 5G network at a much lower cost — because it will not have to build and run its own data centres — its launch could be a landmark event.

“To the extent we are successful, others will follow,” says Ergen.

1. China is a cyber decade behind USChina’s strengths as a cyber power are being undermined by poor security and weak intelligence analysis, says a study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. It predicts Beijing will be unable to match US cyber capabilities for at least a decade.

2. Chinese tech listings shrink in Q2The value of stock market listings by Chinese tech companies dropped more than 60 per cent in the second quarter, as regulators in Beijing broadened their crackdown on the sector. Since the start of April, initial public offerings by China’s tech groups on exchanges worldwide have raised just $6bn, down almost two-thirds from the first quarter, according to data from Dealogic.

Bar chart of Funds raised by Chinese companies from IPOs ($bn) showing China tech listings drop as regulators crack down

3. Crypto exchange Binance halted in UKIn another sign of regulators cracking down on cryptocurrencies, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority has ordered Binance to stop all regulated activities. The exchange has until Wednesday evening to confirm it has complied with the watchdog’s demands. Lex says the apparently hardline action loses its bite on closer inspection.

Column chart of Monthly crypto volumes in US dollar equivalent ($bn) showing Trading activity on Binance has surged this year

4. Danish media’s new idea for news paymentDenmark’s media are pioneering a bargaining tactic with Google and Facebook over payments for news, with newspapers, broadcasters and internet start-ups joining forces to negotiate with the tech groups as a copyright collective.

5. Robotic surgery boost, Crispr breakthroughUK robotics start-up CMR Surgical has raised $600m in what it says was a record private financing round for a medtech. The money will help commercialise its first product, Versius, which provides surgeons with multiple robotic arms to perform a wide range of keyhole operations. Lex says CMR’s 731 patent filings should help justify the big investment by SoftBank. Meanwhile, US start-up Intellia Therapeutics has successfully treated the first patients using a Crispr gene-editing therapy directed inside the body to an internal organ — a breakthrough, with the technology’s use previously restricted to editing cells outside the body or in the eye.

Tuesday: Ecommerce shopfront provider Shopify streams its annual developer conference Shopify Unite. Lawyers for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou will seek to persuade a Vancouver judge to allow them to bring into evidence documents obtained through a legal settlement with HSBC, which used to serve the Chinese telecoms equipment company.

Wednesday: Memory chipmaker Micron Technology reports third-quarter earnings and is expected to post a rise in revenues as a pandemic-driven uptick in the use of AI and 5G tech-supporting devices drove demand for its chips. Analysts will look out for commentary about chip shortages and pricing. Chinese ride-hailing operator Didi Chuxing will debut on the New York Stock Exchange after scaling back its IPO target to around $4bn due to a lack of investor support for the $100bn valuation it originally sought. At the new top end of the indicative share price range, the company would be valued at $67bn.

Thursday: Business software provider Micro Focus International reports interim results in the UK. July 1 is the day Google reduces the fee Google Play receives from developers globally for the sale of digital goods or services to 15 per cent (from 30 per cent) on the first $1m of revenue earned each year. LG Electronics and Canada’s Magna International will launch a joint venture to manufacture electric motors, inverters and electric drive systems as global automakers accelerate their shift to electric vehicles.

Samsung’s main announcement at MWC Barcelona today was new software for its smartwatches that provides better integration with its Galaxy phones and makes them more competitive with Apple Watch. One UI Watch will be available for Galaxy Watch on the new, unified platform Samsung built with Google, “bringing performance enhancements, a more seamless experience between the Watch and Android smartphones, and access to an even greater number of applications”. The software will first appear on a new watch being unveiled later this summer. Engadget says the Google Play Store will allow apps to be downloaded directly to your wearable. Some of the apps this brings include Couch25K, Facer, Adidas, GolfBuddy and Calm, as well as Google’s Maps, Messages, YouTube Music and more.