Although the show has been going for many years, it is still the best place to be if you want to see what is happening in the mobile business, and have a chance to meet those that are making it happen.
We’ve been going to the Mobile World Congress for over 10 years now - even back when it was the GSM Conference in Cannes - and the nature of the show has definitely changed quite a bit over the years.
Whereas previously it was the place where many companies made their big new product announcements, this is less the case in recent years, with several major players make product announcements just prior to, or just after the show.
However, it is still the one location and the one time during the year where you can get an excellent view of what is important in the industry, what are the latest trends, and you can meet many of the people that are driving those trends.
Here are some of the most important topics from this year’s MWC.
Low price phones are coming
A move towards dramatically reducing the entry price points for phones was clearly evident, with the biggest news probably being the Nokia 105 at only €15 (and it has a one month charge!).
Two big trends seem to be driving the push towards less expensive phones:
NFC - still waiting
Once again NFC was pushed heavily at the Mobile World Congress by both vendors and the show organizers. And once again, the general conclusion seemed to be that it is still not a compelling customer experience, and still not likely to grow very quickly very soon. [for an entertaining but insightful report of the NFC at MWC, read Tim Green’s article]
It seems that operators are determined to keep pushing NFC technology in mobile phones for payments as they believe that it will give them a strong position in the payments value chain. Taking just a small percentage of the billions of dollars that are transacted in purchases could be a huge revenue stream, but in much of the world it is hard to see exactly how much value MNO’s can add. (this would be excluding locations such as Kenya where operator Safaricom, due to its unique position as a trusted organization was able to launch a payment service such as M-Pesa).
OTT (Over The Top) services
OTT services are services such as Viber or Skype or WhatsApp Messenger that provide, for example, voice calls or messaging over the mobile data channel without involving the mobile operator at all.
These OTT services have always been a huge threat to the MNO’s, as they cut the operators out of the value chain, and voice and messaging have been two fundamental revenue sources for the operators.
Strangely, up until this year there had not seemed to be very much discussion among operators about OTT. However this year OTT finally became a hot topic, with a lot of discussion around how operators could compete or cooperate with the OTT providers.
Mobile OS landscape - it may change
With Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android together having a market share well above 90% for smartphones, one might conclude that the battle of mobile operating system market is finished, and no other players should think about entering. However, there are a couple of recent entries which make us think there will still be some evolution in the OS marketplace.
ZTE has already launched a low cost device for Firefox, and several major operators have said they will launch Firefox devices this year. Further down is a chart of the partners listed on the Firefox OS website.
However, given the expected massive growth of low-end smartphones into some very large emerging markets over the next few years, perhaps a most likely possibility for additional smartphone OS would be one that has been particularly tailored to this market segment, and maybe even to a particular country.
M2M - Connected Life
Machine-to-machine applications were once again highlighted at the MWC. Under the branding of “Connected Life”, there were conference sessions and demonstrations at vendor stands that showcased applications such as connected automobiles, energy management, remote health, agriculture, etc. Smart Cities, much of it based on M2M communications, was another hot topic this year.
The GMSA also setup an entire “connected street” in one of the halls. According to the GSMA, “attendees could stop into a cafe, browse among a selection of vehicles, then visit their favorite shops. It was a great glimpse into the (very near) future!”
Many of these applications may take quite awhile to develop as they require quite a bit of infrastructure and impact some very big existing systems (eg city management). But there is definitely momentum building, and it seems clear that this will be a growth area of mobile over the next 10 years and more.
MWC’s new venue
And finally, this year the MWC was held in a new venue in Barcelona - the Fira Gran Via. While not as charming as the previous location (and unfortunately with much poorer transportation services!), the new venue was definitely better suited to an event of this size - better organized halls, better connected, and no need to walk outside to move from location to location.
The main difference is that there was much more room available for the exhibition, and so many of the vendors constructed enormous, very elaborate stands, much bigger than in any previous MWC. Here is a picture of just part of the Samsung stand.
For more pictures of the Mobile World Congress 2013, including some 360 degree panoramas, visit the MWC site.