The growing importance of mobility in society means that each year the mobile industry's top show achieves greater prominence in the business calendar.February 25, 2014
In today's connected world it seems hard to believe that the first GSM phone call happened as recently as 1991. As the 28th GSMA Mobile World Congress rolls into Barcelona, Spain, the mobile industry boasts almost 7 billion connections, equivalent to more than 96 percent of the human population. Mobile has becoming one of the defining technologies of our time; the chances are you are reading this on a mobile device. And it is a measure of the industry's success that the industry's premier event is capable of drawing some of the biggest names in business and technology.
Organizers are expecting to break attendance records with a 75,000-strong turnout at the event, which runs from February 24 to 27 and has been held in Barcelona, Spain, since 2006. But apart from A-list industry speakers, what will they be looking out for?
Top of the list for many will be the perennial problem of how mobile service operators can continue to make money out of an industry that is constantly evolving.
This year's event agenda contains a healthy sprinkling of operator-related topics, such as the opportunities of mobile video, customer loyalty and retention strategies, and the future of voice communications.
Mobile operator bosses no doubt paid attention to Zuckerberg's speech on Monday given Facebook's increasing weight as a mobile player. Recent figures show more than half of social traffic from Facebook now consists of mobile referrals.
"Players such as Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Yahoo! have increasingly mobile-first strategies," notes John Strand of Strand Consult. "Classic Internet services on a computer are old school. New services are conceived entirely from the perspective of a mobile phone."
Alongside the search for new operator business models and opportunities, a major focus at Mobile World Congress this year is the effect of mobile technology on other areas of work and life.
Mobile is playing an increasingly significant role in industries such as retail, banking, and healthcare. And equally important is the part played by mobile technologies in the development of machine-to-machine communications, smart cities, and the Internet of Everything.
According to some recent research from MachNation: "The industrial Internet may not be as sexy as the latest smart watch, but there's a huge amount of money to make from devices, applications, connectivity, and services."
For those who do want something sexy, there are always the latest offerings from the world's handset manufacturers.
The buzz at Mobile World Congress this year is around larger screens on smaller phones, continuing the trend set last year by Sony with its five-inch, high-definition display-packing Xperia Z1.
Many new models are expected to incorporate biometric identification methods such as fingerprint or iris scans. And the development of mobile video capabilities is set to continue with 4K resolution and advanced editing features on this year's product launches.
Plus this year should see a growing range of wearable mobile devices. The GSMA has even tied up with Fitbit, a leader in wearable health and fitness technology, in a challenge to see which show attendees can burn off the most calories while pacing the showroom floor.
Last but not least, expect to see plenty of discussion of mobile technologies that extend beyond traditional operator networks. Near field communication (NFC) is tipped to be a big topic this year, and not just in the conference sessions.
"The 2014 Mobile World Congress NFC Experience has been expanded to provide an even greater range of mobile services for attendees with NFC-enabled devices, such as venue access, catering and networking," says the GSMA.
But one thing that will not change compared to previous years is an underlying focus on new ideas.
Michael O'Hara, the GSMA's chief marketing officer, says: "Innovation is at the heart of our industry. At this event we won't just be talking about the future. We'll be bringing it to life."
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