Mobility Spoken Here (Part 1)

Barcelona may best be known for its Gaudi architecture, contemporary art museums and exceptional seafood, but for one week each year, the Catalonian city transforms itself into the hub of the mobile universe.

Mobile World Congress brings together thousands of industry leaders – device manufacturers, telecommunications companies, software vendors, reporters, analysts and more – to engage in dialogue about the future of global mobility.

Even before the official start of the conference, I read about dozens of smartphone and tablet launches. State of the art devices, equipped with everything from projectors to lightning-fast cameras, dominated the first day’s conversations here in Spain.

Since I just got back to the U.S., let me take a few minutes to summarize my take on the event. It’s always hard to do so because Mobile World Congress is such a rich brew of carriers, handset vendors, OEMs, application developers, infrastructure vendors and vertical solutions providers, but I’ll take a stab at it anyway!  Feel free to comment or add your own thoughts on MWC 2012.

1)    Infrastructure: This had to be the year of 4G/LTE on the network side. I also noticed an increased industry-wide focus on managing the spectrum shortage through small cells (a new term for describing anything smaller than a traditional cell site, including femtocell, pico cells and metro cells), Wi-Fi offload, compression and every conceivable solution to help global carriers deal with the pincers of the data tsunami, video explosion and the reality of needing to free up spectrum to unleash innovation.

2)    Handset/OS: The undeniable star of this category continued to be Android – the little green robot was everywhere and the Android booth was hopping even as staff was packing up on Thursday afternoon!

3)    Applications/Software: Applications platforms, mobile device management and messaging solutions were omnipresent. The world is beginning to realize that the post-PC world is a multi-polar OS environment in which writing to frameworks, working with HTLML 5 and looking for cross-OS and cross-carrier mobile device management is inevitable! Platforms that deliver “write once and run anywhere” applications dazzled, while on the other side, the seductive HTML5 promised to liberate the masses from the lock-ins of popular mobile operating systems. Mobile Device Management providers hung out the idea of making all devices – not just one or two – capable of performing at the enterprise level.

4)    Vertical/Horizontal Solutions: Near Field Communications (NFC) and mobile payments technology certainly made their mark at the conference. There’s a sense of déjà vu as last year’s event set the expectation for widespread rollouts in 2012, but it’s clear that we are still early in the evolution. I would say the mobile payments breakthrough is still a couple of years away, as a critical mass of merchants starts to convert. One thing I can say for sure is that the payments space is set for upheaval. It’s also evident that NFC is not just about payments – the mobile marketing and context-sensitive promotional opportunities are what make it really exciting! The other area where there was a lot of interest and focus was mHealth, with participation from both developed countries with a focus on curtailing runaway costs and driving patient engagement and from developing markets with a focus on extending doctor reach.

5)    Enterprise Takeaway: I sensed from more than a dozen meetings with AT&T customers and other enterprises that – without a doubt – mobile is rapidly transforming from a side show to the main show for businesses. Mobile device management, mobile security, mobile application, mobile remote access (can you say “mobile” any more times?) were front and center in their conversations. Most exciting: the beginnings of movement from a transactional approach to mobility to acceptance that we are living in a mobile-centric decade that will reshape the entire IT stack within companies from top to bottom! Clearly I’m biased, but personally, I have never seen a more transformative revolution sweeping the enterprise. I believe that, in time, we will look back upon this era as even more transformational than the change from mainframe to miniframe to PC. Mobile is the ultimate democratization of technology – enough power in your pocket to launch another Apollo space program or bring a multinational company to its knees.

Did you catch any of the Mobile World Congress coverage or make it to the event yourself? What insights did you take away from Barcelona this year? Check back soon for Part 2 of my wrap-up on MWC 2012.
Abhi Ingle Big Data and Advanced Solutions Senior Vice President AT&T About Abhi