If I was parachuted into the halls of MWC at Barcelona this week and not told what this event is all about, I could just as easily conclude it to be a motor show or a medical conference rather than a mobile world congress. There are almost as many cars on show this week as there are mobile phones, a few homes, classrooms, hospital beds, and even a basketball court at the GSMA’s Connected City.
Why a basketball court? Well, because the players wear sensorised vests which monitor their heart rate, sweat factor and other health indices while they play, uploading the data over a wireless network and using integrated IT and mobile technologies to sync the data into medical records systems. I spent a half hour looking at a Volvo today on the Ericsson stand which even allows you to remotely unlock your car so that a grocery delivery man can put shopping bags into your boot while you are away from your vehicle!
What I like about MWC is how practical it is becoming. Many of the stands are a contrast from those of yesteryear where all we saw were mobile phones, network gear and computer screens, with handouts of memory sticks to thank you for visiting.
Now that we have entered the digital world where mobility is empowering the transformation of many industries, the themes and activities are going way beyond mobile and into all sorts of other extensions of it. The Top 5 themes in Barcelona this year are:
- Wearable Technology: focused on the increasing numbers of devices which we can wear connected to a mobile network, for example part of mHealth initiatives.
- Operating Systems: addressing the question of whether iOS or Android will win out, and whether any other operating system can ever make sense out of being in third place.
- Devices: with all eyes on Samsung to see when they will launch the awaited S5
- Connected cars and homes: showcasing in full strength the power of mobile-enabling our favourite and valued gadgets and dwellings.
- Connecting the next 5 billion: how mobile should play a role in enabling large numbers of people have access to the internet.
For the first time this year we had keynotes from Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of facebook and Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM. Social Media and IT with keynotes illustrated in another way how the boundaries between adjacent industries are blurring. Zuckerberg’s presence spiked the already heated debate over how much investment can be expected from social media businesses into the networks they depend on to carry the traffic they generate.
How was my Congress this year? In a word, busy! 35 meetings in 3 days including 5 CEOs, 3 National Telecom Regulators, 4 Telecom Ministers, a Development Agency and a former First Lady who now campaigns for mobile technology to empower women, plus running a panel at a Ministerial meeting and a bit of stand duty at my own firm’s booth! Just when people say mobile industry is being replaced by over-the-top players, MWC reminds us how important telecom remains to the emergence of the digital economy, and how this is the show to see and be seen at.