Connect with us


What we expect from MWC 2023



In a word: “telecom.” Network and enterprise have long played a key part in Barcelona’s big mobile show, but more than ever, such topics are going to have an outsized role at the event. The consumer element appears to be taking an increasing back seat at the event, which kicks off in earnest next Monday.

The truth of the matter is that Mobile World Congress was never a consumer tech show, per se, but the participation of various smartphone makers transformed it into a handy launching pad. CES (held back in January) is the place where every other category, from smart home and wearables to automotive and robotics, gets their time to shine, while MWC happily adopted the monitor of the big smartphone show.

Of course, a lot has changed since 2019, the last time TechCrunch attended the show in person — both for the industry and the world. Seems a million years ago now that we were all waiting with bated breath for the GSMA to finally pull the plug on the 2020 show. That year’s CES had managed to squeeze in, just under the wire (we can continue to debate the wisdom of that particular decision). As the weeks pressed on, however, it was increasingly clear that late February/early March was not an ideal time to hold an in-person international tech event.

The show returned in 2021, albeit pushed back by four months from its usual time. We weren’t there — nor were many people, for that matter. The show seemingly wasn’t at much risk of hitting its org-enforced attendance cap. The show provided a semblance of normality in 2022, when 60,000 showed up, per the GSMA (TechCrunch once again not among them). Honestly, not a bad showing, even if it was (understandably) down significantly from 2019’s 109,000.

As I’m often inclined to point out, the smartphone industry’s struggles predated the pandemic. The arrival of 5G had put some wind in its sails, but broader trends show that people just aren’t buying smartphones the way they used to. There were a lot of factors, including increased pricing on premium products, fewer groundbreaking innovations and the fact that mobile phones are just better now, slowing down the standard two- to three-year upgrade cycle.

The pandemic compounded everything, of course. Suddenly a lot of people were un- or underemployed and didn’t have the means to splurge on nonessentials. For a while there, people just weren’t leaving the house as often, shifting spending to things like PCs and tablets. In many markets, 5G’s momentum has slowed. Ongoing supply chain issues have also created bottlenecks. And then, of course, there’s inflation.

Toward the end of last year, it was hard to shake the sense that most consumer electronics companies had grown far more cautious with their release cadence. Probably not a bad thing, in terms of the planet, but likely more than a little troubling for shareholders. We’re also currently sitting around, waiting to see how massive layoffs at tech companies will impact the category, looking forward.

Participants arrive to attend the first day of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on February 25, 2019. Phone makers will focus on foldable screens and the introduction of blazing fast 5G wireless networks at the world’s biggest mobile fair starting February 25 in Spain as they try to reverse a decline in sales of smartphones. Image Credits: JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

Another key trend that predates the pandemic is the move away from leveraging big trade shows to launch tentpole products. Nearly every big company began opting for its own events. Why share a spotlight when you can just make your own? The move toward virtual product launches during the pandemic made the gap even more pronounced. Frankly, even for hardware devices, the model is still perfectly fine for most.

This year, the GSMA expects 75,000 attendees. That’s a modest figure, compared to the halcyon days, but still a lot of people to stick in the Fira convention center in 2023. There are big names on the exhibitor list, including Samsung, Oppo/OnePlus, Huawei and Xiaomi. Some, including Samsung and OnePlus, just released new flagships, so don’t expect many fireworks there. Though the latter has already teased a “concept” device — results will vary on whether that rises to the definition of “news.”

Similarly, Qualcomm did its standard move of announcing the new flagship Snapdragon chip at its conference in Hawaii last year. We’re likely months away from the half-year refresh, though the company always seems to have some chip or other up its sleeve. I do, however, expect news from a number of the top Chinese manufacturers, including the aforementioned Xiaomi, ZTE and Huawei budget offshoot, Honor.

The Barcelona city sign in front of the main hall of the Mobile World Congress

View taken on February 24, 2018, of the Barcelona city sign in front of the main hall of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) ahead of the start of the world’s biggest mobile fair, held from February 26 to March 1, 2018, in Barcelona. Image Credits: PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

Other notable exhibitors include Nokia IP licenser HMD and HTC, which has effectively shifted all of its eggs into the Vive VR basket. VR/AR/MR/XR is an interesting one, of course. Probably not a huge presence outside of HTC, but everyone is seemingly contractually obligated to do something in the space these days. That said, Meta/Facebook and Sony won’t have a presence at this year’s show. Lenovo will, though.  The company habitually releases a lot of devices at the shows it attends, and its subsidiary, Motorola, also seems to have something new on the horizon.

Looking at the speaker agenda, climate impact will (thankfully) be a topic. Lots of people seem to still be talking about the metaverse, for what that’s worth. The GSMA has also pivoted a lot of resources to sports for some reason, while Microsoft is readying a couple of talks about the cloud. AI doesn’t monopolize as much stage time as you might expect, and most of the smart home talk revolves around the introduction of Matter.

There’s also a panel featuring speakers from Samsung, ZTE and the European Space Agency titled “Ready to Talk 6G?” It’s a question that I frankly don’t know how to answer.

For me, personally, it’s going to be a great setting to sit down with some top executives at these companies and ask some difficult questions about where the hell the industry is going.

Read more about MWC 2023 on TechCrunch


Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022



Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.

The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.

TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.

The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.

Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.

Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.

The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.

Continue Reading


Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development



Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.

It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.

In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.

Image credit: Stoke Space

“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”

While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.

Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.

Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.

“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”

Continue Reading


Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors



Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.

Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.

Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.

We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.

For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”

There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.

As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.

There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.

Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.

At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.

Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.

Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.

Continue Reading