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Making sense of the 2013 Mobile World Congress

28 Feb 2013  | Jennifer Baljko, EBN

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The 2013 Mobile World Congress expects around 70,000 mobile executives, journalists, analysts and tech geeks to attend the event in Barcelona, Spain. With all these people in one place to wheel and deal or talk shop, what will it all mean for everyone?

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.

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.

2013 Mobile World Congress

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

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.

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 customised, 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?

Related content:

Qualcomm targets mobiles with 4G LTE chipset

Broadcom demos 4G LTE modem

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