So, then, to Barcelona for the 2010 Mobile World Congress
from the GSMA. This is the industry's annual gathering and people flocked from around the world, not to mention from Etail Towers, to hear the industry's great and good give their views on 2010, industry trends and to showcase new developments.
While your humble editor was chained to a desk, surrounded by roadworks and knee-deep in snow, InternetRetailing's Publisher was allowed to visit on condition that he gave his views on proceedings. You can see a summary of the event, the speakers and the 1300+ exhibitors linked from this page: http://www.mobileworldcongress.com/conference/event_highlights.htm
, but we asked our Publisher to cast an 'enthusiastic yet skeptical' eye over proceedings and see what warmed the cockles of his flint-like, bloodless heart... Here are his musings:
The keynote speakers at the opening conference, some of the top CEO from the likes of VodaFone and Alcatel-Lucent and Research in motion, were all heralding the dawn of a new golden age for mobile similar to the early nineties and this era is to be driven by
- mobile broadband everywhere (or 4G as it is called in the Telco world), and
- and the innovations by applications developers for the smart phones.
Openness and innovation
There was much discussion on the podium and in the halls of the need for 'openness' as an enabler for a market in applications in particular. Clearly, such a drive to openness is not as a result of an outpouring or liberal sensibilities, but rather a recognition that there needs to be a concerted effort to build a critical mass of developers attracted to work other than on Apple's AppStore.
It was interesting therefore that the delegates voted a special award to Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple.
The focus on apps was underlined by Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao's comments that smart phones now comprise 1 in 4 handsets on the Vodafone network - an increase of 40% from last year. With the growth continuing on an upward trend there's no-one in Barcelona who wants to be left without a way of participating in the smartphone/app money revolution...
The Innovation Hall exemplified this feeling and there was a real buzz to the space. For a traditionally silo-oriented industry there was a cross-disciplinary, partnership vibe... Is 2010 the mobile industry's 2000?
Software and internet giants feel the mobile love
No longer is mobile the preserve of telcos, manufacturers and the ringtone crowd: Google and Microsoft are feeling the mobile love.
Google were in Barcelona with a visible presence and talking of partnership with the Telco leaders. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, said in his keynote speech that mobile is at the heart of Google’s future and that all of his top developers were concentrating on mobile. I assume that's going to demotivate those working on Chrome, Buzz, Wave etc, but there was certainly no lacking in the sounds of commitment to mobile.
Microsoft have completely thrown out their old mobile operating systems and replaced them with Windows 7 for Mobile (I'm sure that there should be a 'TM' there somewhere...) and surprisingly the OS has had a warm reception, winning over some of the skeptics.
Speak it quietly...
It was not all love and hope in Barcelona in that a number of challenges and concerns were whispered in dark and private corners: the burgeoning data demands from smart phones on the overloaded network infrastructure shows there's a need for significant investment (some commentators are suggesting that it will surpass the 3G upgrade costs of $100 billion dollars spent in the early nineties).
On the face of it we are just one of the many business sectors the telecoms industry serves and walking the halls this was apparent in my discussions with exhibitors: we have no pride of place or first-amongst-equals status in their minds. However, there is some interest in retailing leading the charge to tempt customers to use the high-bandwidth services that will in turn make them willing to pay for top tier data services... This is of course a secondary level of consumption compared to mobile video and gaming, and also smells a little of a lack of inventiveness - back to the old models of "use more, pay more".
The retail sector could be a real driver behind the transition to broadband on the move. The question is at what price to retailers and how quickly will we get there? Meanwhile, the more inventive will be using the ubiquity and data-generating capabilities of mobile to fuel the less-obvious, but more profitable, opportunities arising from increased and persistent customer engagement.