Skip to main content

MWC review: huge crowds return to focus on identity, eSIM, 5G and IoT

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The first ‘no-restrictions’ Mobile World Congress in four years was an absolutely knock out. Delegates returned in their thousands. The buzz was back. Let’s review the key themes…

Would the crowds ever return to Mobile World Congress?

In 2019, the total attendance for the global telecoms expo surpassed 110,000. Then came COVID. Mobile execs switched to video calls and online conferences. They became used to virtual meetings.

Would they want to go back to air travel, expensive stands and bustling crowds – even after pandemic restrictions were completely removed?

Now we know. They couldn't wait to get back. GSMA expected 75,000 to attend its first no-restrictions MWC in four years. It got over 88,000

Obviously, telecoms execs value the opportunity to see new products and discuss the big topics of the day. They also want to make new connections with representatives from a variety of verticals. And according to GSMA, 56 percent of MWC 2023 attendees were from industries adjacent to the core mobile ecosystem

At MWC 2023, some of the key areas under discussion were 5G, eSIM, mobile identity and IoT. All of them were heavily represented by Thales, which hosted demos of exciting products relating to these areas.

Let's review these topics and re-visit how they were reflected on the Thales stand...

Mobile identity

The issue of identity is critical in a world that's moving to virtual trade. When you cannot see the person you are transacting with, how can you trust them? The world has tried passwords, but they are not really up to the challenge.

The mobile phone has a crucial role to play in solving this problem. Virtually everyone has a smartphone. These devices typically contain a secure enclave for safely storing sensitive credentials. They also usually support biometric authentication via face, voice or fingerprint.

Indeed, the EU is already working on a European Digital Identity (EUDI) Wallet Solution, which will give its citizens access to a range of verifiable credentials inside a mobile wallet. Just days before MWC, the EU published its Architecture Reference Framework (ARF) v1.0.0 for the project.

The mobile industry is also defining its part in the race to digital identity. On day one of the conference, the GSMA announced a new industry-wide initiative called GSMA Open Gateway. This is a framework of universal APIs that developers can use to access telco resources. 

Mats Granryd (pictured), Director General of GSMA, believes Open Gateway has the power to harmonise digital services in a similar way to voice roaming in the 80s. And he includes identity in these services. He said: “By applying the concept of interconnection for operators to the API economy, developers can utilise technology once, for services such as identity, cybersecurity or billing. This is a profound change in the way we design and deliver services."

Specialists such as Thales are leading this drive towards secure digital identity. We are developing strong products based around a combination of secure facial authentication, document reading and encrypted tokens.

Thales demonstrated many identity related products, such as an airport-based kiosk that lets travellers purchase a local mobile subscription. The kiosk uses document-reading tech and facial authentication to completely digitise the process. 


After many years of development, the eSIM form factor is finally breaking through into the mainstream. The eSIM was first introduced in 2010 as an alternative to the manually inserted physical plastic SIM card. It has obvious advantages such as:

•    It can store multiple operator profiles 
•    It can be remotely provisioned (so users can seamlessly switch carriers without physically swiping out the card)
•    It is smaller and more resilient to heat and vibration than a physical card (which makes it good for IoT use cases)
•    eSIM enables a high level of secure cryptographic features for storing credentials
•    It makes possible end-to-end digitisation - so MNOs can streamline customer acquisition and onboarding
•    The form factor has environmental benefits by reducing plastic waste and carbon emissions. 

Now, thanks to high profile adoption by phone makers, eSIM deployments are soaring. On the eve of MWC, Juniper Research said the value of the global eSIM market is expected increase from $4.7bn in 2023 to $16.3bn by 2027. It expects the global number of IoT connections using eSIM technology to reach 195 million by 2026, from just 22 million in 2023. 

And during the event there were further eSIM announcements. Qualcomm and Thales confirmed the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform as the first GSMA certified Integrated SIM (iSIM) to integrate the functionality of a SIM within a smartphone’s main processor. The iSIM gives device makers the chance to save space and reduce cost while maintaining best-in-class security level.

Meanwhile Google announced it is bringing a new eSIM transfer capability to Android that lets users quickly and securely transfer a mobile plan to a new device, without having to swap a physical SIM card.

Thales is a global leader in eSIM technology, management and provisioning. In the conference stream of the eSIM Summit during MWC, Benjamin Mazet, Product Line Manager of the On-Demand Connectivity vertical at Thales, spoke about innovative use cases

And on the MWC stand, we showcased products such as the Thales eSIM Generic Voucher, a service that make the activation of eSIMs easier for MNOs and customers. 

eSIM Generic Voucher provides a single and reusable eSIM QR code, which MNOs can use to activate multiple new subscriptions. This simplifies subscription management, and opens up new marketing options. MNOs can promote the QR codes via print media, posters and digital signage, for example.

For end customers, eSIM activation becomes a simple matter of scanning a QR code.


New standalone 5G network tech is not just a slight upgrade on 4G. Its represents a new kind of network – high speed, low latency and built on a cloud-based virtual core (as opposed to physical infrastructure). As such, 5G is set to be the driving force of new industries such as connected car, remote healthcare, cloud gaming, VR and more. 

This explains why MWC is no longer merely a phone show. Instead, visitors can wander around and check out drones, trucks and even a full sized hyper loop capsule fuselage.

And this revolution is already underway. Global 5G subs passed one billion in 2022 and GSMA expects this will increase to around 1.5 billion this year – before reaching two billion by the end 2025. It says 5G will be available in more than 30 countries this year. Around half will be 5G standalone networks. 

While 5G holds immense promise, it does carry a security threat. Thanks to private network slicing, enterprises can run their own mini-networks which transport vast quantities of sensitive data. This data must be protected. At MWC, Thales presented a trust model for securing the new networks from the edge to the core. 

The model helps organisations secure their data in motion, in use or at rest. And it does this wherever the data is located –  across networks, between users and IoT devices, to the edge or in the core network and data stores.

On the MWC stand, Thales also addressed the connection needs of private networks with the first showing of its eSIM as a Service online portal for private networks integrators. The portal provides a destination for integrators to order and manage SIM and eSIM cards in smaller quantities to better meet private network user demands.  

Thales is also helping to extend the reach of 5G. Our experts gave stand visitors and insight into 5G Non-Terrestrial Networks. NTN is a global standard for satellite systems that supports any orbit, any frequency band and any device. It ensures the integration of satellite components into 5G systems. 

Powering 5G connectivity from space makes it possible for telcos to bring 5G to the world's most remote regions. Thales Alenia Space is leading this 5G NTN journey.


As we stated above, MWC is no longer a phone show. Instead, it showcases any kind of connect device – from an agricultural sensor to an air taxi. 

This shift of emphasis makes sense. The Internet of Things is where the growth is. Experts predict 5.5 billion cellular IoT connections by 2027 (Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2022). Of course, reaching such a target will only be possible when companies find it easy to manage their devices – and keep them safe from cyber criminals.

On the Thales stand, we address the management part with our Thales Instant Connect solution. It provides enterprise customers with a single subscription solution for all devices – especially IoT. It lets enterprises wait until a device has been deployed before deciding which MNO to use. They can target all countries and markets with a single eSIM SKU, which speeds up the manufacturing process. 

To help enterprises manage and modify their connections post deployment, Thales offers its Adaptive Connect product. With TAC, an loT service provider can easily push subscriptions to a fleet of eSIM enabled IoT devices across any number of countries. The service can also remotely manage device configuration, activation and firmware updates. 

Adaptive Connect does this by integrating two key GSMA standards for eSIM: SGP.31 and SGP.32. Overall, it ensures IoT service providers get a simple way to connect their devices, regardless of network. The benefits?

•    Cost-effective – enterprise users avoid roaming charges and gets the best local IoT connectivity
•    Always-on - connectivity is available throughout IoT lifecycles
•    Streamlined logistics: a single eSIM SKU meets the requirements of all international markets
•    Simpler manufacturing: no need to preload any IoT connectivity at the manufacturing stage.

As for the security demands of IoT, the industry is working collaboratively to address this. The key initiative is the GSMA's IoT SAFE (IoT SIM Applet For Secure End-2-End Communication), of which Thales is a key supporter.

IoT SAFE offers a process for storing security credentials inside a secure place (a root of trust) in the device. The SIM is best suited for this role since it has advanced cryptographic features and is a fully standardised secure element.

IoT SAFE clarifies this standardisation. It gives device manufacturers and service providers a common mechanism (via APIs) to secure IoT data communications, rather than disjointed proprietary methods. 

Related content

A 5G progress report: launches, subscribers, devices & more

How first responders connect to 5G private networks

How Massive IoT is changing the world