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MWC: Mobile Technology Madness

BARCELONA, Spain — An estimated 70,000 people — mobile executives, analysts, app developers, tech geeks, and industry watchers — have descended again on Mobile World Congress here to Barcelona for a few days to talk shop and wheel-and-deal. They're also trying to figure out — in this very noisy environment — what it all means.

Similar to previous years, there's a mix of product news and vision-sharing happening at booths (spread over eight humongous halls in this year's new venue site), during the keynotes and in the breakout rooms.

On the device front, there was, of course, phone and tablet news from the likely big-name brands, including Nokia, Samsung, Huawei, Lenovo, and even Mozilla.

Big rollouts
Nokia introduced two low-priced basic phones and two lower-priced versions of its Lumia Windows smartphone: the Lumia 720, Lumia 520, Nokia 301, and Nokia 105.

Samsung, which had a massive presence on the show floor and even set up a small product display booth outside the venue in the underground tunnel to catch the eyes of attendees heading to the local trains, announced its eight-inch Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet.

Huawei is bringing to market its Ascend P2, a quad-core phone with a 4.3-inch HD display that the company is calling the world's fastest 4G LTE smartphone.

Going underground: Samsung set up a small product display booth  outside the venue -- for its eight-inch Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet -- to catch the eyes of attendees heading to the local trains.  (Source: Jennifer Baljko)

Going underground: Samsung set up a small product display booth
outside the venue — for its eight-inch Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet — to catch the eyes of attendees heading to the local trains.
(Source: Jennifer Baljko)

Lenovo told the MWC crowd that it would add a trio of new Android tablets to its portfolio, which will be available starting in the second quarter of this year.

And, Mozilla grabbed attention with an announcement that it is partnering with 21 companies (including 17 operators) to bring its Firefox OS to the mobile world. Alcatel One Touch, LG, and ZTE will be the first companies to bring Firefox-powered devices to market, with Huawei soon to follow.

What's it all mean, really?
Shiny gadgets are nice, but the chatter between executives is both optimistically confident and noticeably vague. For instance, during Tuesday's keynote about connecting the next billion people to the Internet, a discussion focused primarily on getting people (particularly young people) in the world's fastest-growing emerging markets and other developing countries connected to the web via mobile devices, some of the industry's well-known executives said things like this:

“The lessons learned in the developed market don't apply to these new growth areas. These places need a new road map,” said Stephen Elop, Nokia's president and CEO. “When you talk about the Internet to many people, they will say 'Oh that's for Facebook,' but we know the Internet is much more than that.”

Gary Kovacs, CEO at Mozilla, said:

At the heart of everything mobile is simply people — you and I. Everyone wants to express ourselves in our own voices. People want a simple way to connect to the Internet. They want what the Web already delivers. Much of what is on the web can be delivered to the mobile device. It's not another ecosystem or another platform; it's just the Web and we're just taking it to mobile.

Challenges ahead
All of the four panelists — which in addition to Elop and Kovacs including operator executives Manoj Kohli CEO Bharti Airtel and Nasser Marafih, group CEO of Ooredoo (the new rebranded identity of Qtel announced this week, too) — noted similar challenges in achieving the next wave of scale and potential.

Sound and fury: 70,000 people are attending Mobile World Congress, some wondering what the tech announcements signify going forward.  (Source: Jennifer Baljko)

Sound and fury: 70,000 people are attending Mobile World Congress, some wondering what the tech announcements signify going forward.
(Source: Jennifer Baljko)

The most obvious barriers to making mobile web more accessible, they said, are:

  • Making mobile devices, services and apps affordable to the people in emerging areas.
  • Providing customized, locally relevant, and meaningful content and services.
  • Helping users — especially new ones who are new to the Internet — better navigate and discover what's out there via easy-to-use apps and interfaces.
  • Migrating mobile networks, infrastructure capacity and operator business models from voice-only to voice/data to full data communication capability.

Panelists, however, were less definitive in saying how they would actually overcome these challenges.

Cross-ecosystem collaboration among device and component makers, network providers, and operators was the starting point many talked about as was government policies that would increase bandwidth and soften end-user communications taxes. The conversation, though, didn't go much deeper than that.

In whatever way this takes shapes, the impact will be felt all down the electronics supply chain.

How are you preparing for this next wave of mobile growth globally?

4 comments on “MWC: Mobile Technology Madness

  1. FreeBird
    February 27, 2013

    As a passive watcher of news releases coming out of the MWC, it is difficult to pin down a specific trend. For example: “Nokia rolls out feature phones” (an actual headline). Whoa–stop the presses! “BlackBerry reveals new device.” That buries the lead–it is at least 10 months too late. Anyway, good luck culling through the news. It's clear that there is a lot of excitement and opportunity being channeled at MWC, but as you said, no real breakthroughs on the problems dogging the market.

  2. FLYINGSCOT
    February 28, 2013

    I found it interesting that Nokia is rolling out cheaper versions of their Lumia range.  I liked the Lumia phone when I tried it and if they can retain the best features at a lower prioce point then we could see Nokia regaining some market share.  It is also ominous to watch the behemoth Huawei forge ahead in yet another large market segment.  This is a company to watch for many reasons.

  3. Jennifer Baljko
    March 1, 2013

    FreeBird – There was some news trickling in, but not nearly the scope of what's been seen in past years. Part of the issue — as with all tradeshows — is that MWC gets bigger every year, and some of the big name companies either choose to announce before MWC (at CES, say) or after, or what's common now, is at their own events. Still, it's the star event for mobile, and I can only imagine the amount of schoomzing, handshaking and  business being done on and off the show floor. 

  4. Jennifer Baljko
    March 1, 2013

    FlyingScot – Yes on Huawei. They probably won't reach Apple or Samsun soon, but they are a legit contender/competitor for the other handset makers. Nokia's lower cost Lumina could be a interesting thing to watch – emerging markets and people live tehre need smartphones to come done to below $50 to hit their price points. The price won't get there too soon across the board, but Nokia's news (along with other show rumblings) seems to suggest that trend.

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