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Mobile World Congress: Caught in its own shadow?

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This week the entire mobile technology industry has decamped to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. If you had come here hoping to learn more about how mobile was going to aid your retail or omni-channel business you’d be disappointed. While one of the key Views this year is, in the show organiser’s own words, “democratizing and digitizing commerce”, practical solutions for retailers were very much not in evidence.

There is a tendency at MWC for the industry to get a bit caught up in its own shadow: 80,000 people in hand tooled brogues and too-tight jeans all congratulating themselves on how cool they now are, basking (wrongly) in the glow of Apple (which isn’t even here) and Google (which is).

The upshot of this is that MWC becomes something of industry cheerleading event where everyone basks in their own glory. But if you scratch the self-congratulatory surface you find very little here that would actually help anyone in any vertical market where mobile is of most interest.

The problem is that at events such as this everyone is looking for the next big thing. Connected cars, connected cities and connected homes are all biggies. Digitized commerce and payments are another one. Security a third and opening up the web to the developing world the fourth.

All these are potentially of great interest to any retailer out there looking for where his or her business is heading next. The trouble at MWC is that its long on how great this could be and very short on how to actually make it work.

And that is my fundamental problem with being at this show: the tech and ideas and ideals being preached (and whooped at by the audience: another reason to hate being here) never take into account the sad reality that mobile networks aren’t very good.

The fundamental technology that all this is meant to run on doesn’t deliver the bandwidth or speeds needed in bulk to make any of this work well. The demands of in store wifi – and especially the need to log in – also stop any of this working. The fundamentals don’t work and no one really addresses that.

Yes there is much being talked about here around 5G, but that is some way off. They’d be better engaged getting 4G working.

Tellingly, a survey published at the show by Sitecore and Vanson Bourne finds that consumers demand an excellent level of mobile engagement and experience from any brand that they interact with. More tellingly, a third will walk away never to return if that expectation isn’t met.

And that could well be down to how rubbish the network is rather than what you, the retailer, are trying to do. This is never addressed at this show.

What I find most interesting is that taking what I pick up here away and then attending Internet Retailing Expo a few short weeks later, you get an excellent view of the disconnect between what the mobile industry thinks it is doing for retailers and what retailers actually need them to do. I know which show I’d rather be at.

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