The mobile industry turns its attentions to Barcelona this weekend as Mobile World Congress gets underway in its new home of the Fira Gran Via. The European showpiece event is expecting some 70,000 people ruining shoe leather by trudging through the halls over four days.
But there is a fear that the event could lack buzz as some manufacturers choose to hold their own showpiece events to launch high stakes handsets. BlackBerry launched its BB10 operating system across synchronised global events last month. Sony’s flagship Xperia Z device was launched at Mobile World Congress’ US rival CES. Samsung is expected to hold a high profile launch for its eagerly awaited follow-up to the Galaxy S III before the summer. And Apple? Well, it is doing its own thing, as ever.
How much of this is a concern to the fair’s organisers? While manufacturers will be using the fair to cut deals and show off their new devices, several of them are avoiding using it to launch showstoppers. It could be argued that the biggest headlines that came out of last year’s fair were not device-based, but Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao arguing with EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes about regulation. So if it is not about killer, headline-catching smartphone launches, then what is it for?
Michael O’Hara, chief marketing officer at MWC organisers GSMA, argues the fair reflects the changing nature of the industry and the launch cycle usually ebbs and flows. ‘The fair has gone through various iterations. People were using CES but I feel that definitely died off this year. It was a little less full of noise.’ He says the trend has been towards Sunday launches at MWC, with Mozilla and Huawei being the main draws this year.
He says the fair will show off where the industry is going, whether it is the Connected City showing off how connected devices work in a specially built hotel, department store and car showroom or NFC payment enabled taxis encouraging mobile payments. With the UK finally getting 4G across its four operators this year, O’Hara says LTE will also be a key area of discussion. The operating system field is set to get more crowded, with new entrants set to join Apple, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. O’Hara says: ‘What also is interesting is the emergence of new OS, whether it’s Mozilla, Tizen or Ubuntu.’
Behind closed doors
Manufacturer sources told Mobile it is the private discussions and networking that are most beneficial for them at the Congress. O’Hara says the fair also provides an independent private forum for operators to meet with government figures, with 140 government delegates set to attend this year. Given the discussions about pan-European network share and the operators clamouring for greater freedom to take over companies, this is likely to be a key talking point behind closed doors.
O’Hara says: ‘From the mobile side we are always looking for an environment to maximise the return on investment that is being made. The industry is putting as much infrastructure in there to drive economic growth...Europe is a challenge at the moment but if you look across the world, mobile operators’ revenues are only showing modest growth.’
But if the meat of the fair happens in private, what gives the fair a buzz? O’Hara shrugs off the increasing trend of manufacturers handling launches ‘the Apple way’, adding that he expects ‘healthy’ announcements from LG and Samsung, among others.
He says: ‘Given the mass media we will get, there will be a healthy balance of launches at the show. I’m not overly worried. We still see ourselves as a b2b show.’
Author: Graeme Neill