Will this be the last year Mobile World Congress (MWC) stays in its current format as the pace of technology forces organisers to widen the event’s scope by unveiling hi-tech homes and cars?
Event organisers the GSMA claim this year’s show will be the biggest ever with up to 60,000 people expected to attend across the four days and around 1,400 exhibitors. There’s also the promise of some of the sleekest, most innovative devices ever.
Competition will be fierce as exhibitors show off the products they claim will revolutionise the industry. And that, in turn, could revolutionise the future look of MWC. For example, for the first time ever car manufacturer Ford is unveiling a hi-tech vehicle, the B-Max, which has been touted as the most technologically advanced small car. And the GSMA Connected House is out to demonstrate how everyone and everything will benefit from intelligent wireless connections.
Also, with convergence on the rise, web-based products will be eating up more space and time at MWC, leading to questions over whether future events will be quite so mobile-centric. With the likes of Google and Facebook coming to the fore, there could be fundamental changes. Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor are due to make keynote speeches at the trade show.
As the event approaches, speculation over which phones and tablets will be unveiled intensifies. However, we already know that HTC, LG, Sony and Microsoft will be behind some of the major product launches. HTC has already indicated that it’s ready to unveil its new ‘hero’ product and LG’s significant research and development investment points to a competitive new handset.
Although Samsung has been unerringly quiet since confirming the much-anticipated Galaxy S III will not be unveiled at MWC, it may be worth not reading too much into the proposed summer launch date. CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber said: ‘Samsung will probably launch a range of mid- to low-end products. Nokia has already announced a number of Windows-based devices and Apple is not going to be present [at the show].’
Many of the products on show will demonstrate the underlying platforms of quad-core processors and power consumption. However, behind the plethora of product launches some key themes will dominate MWC.
Paul Bultema, executive director, UK & Ireland strategy lead for the communications, media and technology operation group of Accenture told Mobile: ‘MWC will be happening at a very exciting time for the UK, but also at a very disruptive time. There will probably be more changes in the next three years than in the last 20 years.
‘Some of this will be driven by LTE – offering innovative platforms to consumers. There will also be structural consideration to be taken into account – different business models will start appearing.
Telecoms is still a very inefficient industry and to combat this there will be innovation around network equipment and also on the handset front.’
Bultema insisted that MWC was still a fantastic forum and said the hunger for it will remain as more adjacent industries, such as machine-to-machine (M2M), play a major role in the future.
Consumerisation, mobile payments, regulation around spectrum, the proliferation of devices and maintaining the quality of 2G and 3G products are likely to be issues at the forefront of future discussions.
Other themes likely to permeate the event include the monitoring and measuring of the customer experience, the pricing of 4G services and Ethernet and fibre development – all prerequisites for 4G.
Bultema added: ‘The industry has to be honest with itself. Operators will have to take a closer look at what is core and what is not core to their business. They’ll be looking into network sharing and optimisation to save on costs and for overall profitability. There will be more focus on the Android, iOS and Windows platforms.’
Aggressive pricing from the Chinese could have an impact on the sustainability of such platforms, which will be good for the consumer but not so great for the operators, who will also come under greater pressure from Google and Facebook.
Meanwhile, mobile payments could be an area worth $240bn, according to Juniper Research.
The GSMA’s chief marketing officer Michael O’Hara said: ‘Embedding mobile in every device will be a big theme for us. We estimate that 24 billion devices will be connected by 2020. We expect everything in life to be connected and the demonstration of the Connected House will reveal how our lives will be dominated by connections.
‘NFC will also be a big theme, and we estimate that between 2012-2016 there will be 1.5 billion handsets with NFC technology embedded in them.
‘And of course, applications will continue to flourish. We have 12,000 developers attending this year’s Congress.
‘LTE and voice services will also dominate the show. There’s just a general broader eco-system now at the Congress.’
O’Hara also revealed that as of next year the event will be moving to Gran Via, just 10 minutes from its current location. ‘We’ve been here for the last five years but now we’ve just run out of space,’ he said.
On the threatened transport strike, O’Hara said the GSMA was working closely with the municipal authorities in Barcelona and was ‘hopeful’ that a resolution would be found in time.
GSMA officials also warned those attending to make sure they secured all valuables as the event was an opportune environment for theft.
GfK research shows mobile market in rude health
In 2011, demand for mobile phones increased across Europe. This was largely down to the growing popularity of smartphones, according to new research from market analyst GfK. The study revealed that mobile phones sales were up 3.2% in 2011, with smartphone sales increasing by 67%.
Last year, 258 million handsets were purchased by European consumers, a 3.2% increase on 2010.
Meanwhile, a simple, integrated user experience is driving consumers’ brand loyalty and the more apps and services they use on a device, the less likely they are to switch brands, according to GfK. The study also found that the tipping point for brand loyalty is when a consumer uses seven or more services on their device.
According to GfK, nearly one in five (19%) consumers who own both an iPad and an iPhone believe that changing their brand of smartphone is more difficult than changing bank accounts or gas or electricity providers.
A key innovation set to stimulate the growth of smartphones is Near Field Communications (NFC). Operators are hopeful this technology will eventually transform the mobile phone from an ordinary communication device to a product that enhances everyday life.
In 2011, tablets were one of the hottest and most talked about products in the IT industry.
Along with notebooks and netbooks, these devices helped expand the marketplace. Currently, tablets are positioned between netbooks and smartphones, largely because of their screen size and the benefits they bring to the consumer. One of the major selling points of tablets is that they address the mobile experience more effectively than either notebooks or netbooks.
While their range of functions is not as broad, their attractive screen sizes and usability are excellent for surfing the internet, viewing photos and videos, checking emails and playing games on the move.
In Western Europe last year tablet sales experienced robust growth. According to the latest retail sales data, the best performing country in 2011 (January to November) was the UK, followed by Germany and France. GfK predicts that tablets will continue to have a big impact on the industry throughout 2012.