A Mobile View of Mobile World Congress

Mobile is everything….

Must be so…as that was the theme line for MWC (Mobile World Congress) in Barcelona with over 100,000 attendees (largest crowd ever) viewing some 2,200 exhibitors covering 110,000 net square meters – which is huge – I know, I walked it all…

And here I thought it was digital…how old-school…Luddite that I am…

Which BTW should not be confused with “digital is everything” — the leitmotif of CES (Consumer Electronic Show).

All of which, dear reader, causes me to paraphrase a favorite mantra…mobile is everything…but not everything is mobile…

Frankly it’s all digital (with the same everything caveat)…and digital allows for true kick-ass mobility…a point which was powerfully brought home to me at a dinner discussion I participated in where mobile operators and others waxed eloquent about digital data capture; digital ad serving; digital video; digital commerce…all of which is great for mobile but not dependent on it (and please don’t knee-jerk me on geolocation), and frankly were less enthusiastic about true mobility – that is, actually walking around and doing all those things and more.

A topic for another time…but do cogitate on the notion – Mobile and Mobility are not the same.

Back to MWC.

A tough show to navigate, as a manufacturer of glass protectors for your device is wedged in between a data-capture company, and a selfie-stick developer with the latest, greatest ad-serving technology is across the aisle.

Talk about dizzy.

And in my opinion, the best part of the show was 4YFN – Four Years From Now – the pavilion that housed start-ups…little companies with an idea and a dream, and the bet is that we will see some of them in the big halls in four years or less. Worth your time to peruse.

But back to the main tent…

Much like CES, which touted its leading-edge “innovation” and ultimately sold screens…a look at the Global Mobile Awards, for best-in-show, awarded by GSMA, the producer of Mobile World Congress, will give you a sense of what was really at the center of it all – and clearly there is, in fact, more to life than Apple…

Here are some highlights:

I was glad to see a few awards focused on what I believe is the true power of Mobile/Mobility…

  • Best Mobile Innovation for Health (within the Connected Life category) awarded to Etisalat for deploying special-purpose drones designed to transport polio vaccine to the most remote locations. The system recharges cold boxes and drone batteries at the GSM base stations while ensuring temperature control and flight route management through GSM and satellite networks…

Noteworthy that this is real development as opposed to the pinnacle fiction of delivering a single box of cereal…

  • Best Innovation for Education awarded to Worldreader Mobile, a mobile reading application optimized for inexpensive mobile phones to provide children, families and young adults with a library of digital books via phones they already own.

And oh to the notion that much of the world does not own an iPhone or galaxy…

These did not steal the spotlight (neither in the booths nor in the buzz), but glad to see there is momentum. More on this later.

And, of course when you look at what was trending, battery life is as important as virtual reality…maybe more so….he says as he watches his battery drain…wondering if a drone will deliver a new one….

And do pay attention to Sony and think about the Apple Watch as you read…

Sony introduced three new smartphones and a range of accessories including:

Xperia Ear – a wireless ear-piece that offers useful information such as schedule, weather and the latest news to keep a user up-to-date on the go; Xperia Eye – a wearable wide-angle lens camera that can be attached to clothing or worn around the neck; Xperia Projector – will allow interactive interface projection on any clear surface; Xperia Agent – a personalized assistant and it will respond to voice and gesture.

Here’s how it will work:

Navigation will be conversational so you’ll say “Take me to..” and Voice Agent will ask how you’re travelling then immediately launch Google Maps directions without the need for you to say anything else..

And in Big News…LG surpassed Samsung…read on…

Let’s be clear. It’s a fun show. Lots to see. Lots to absorb. But I was disappointed. Greatly.

Disappointed not by the toys – there were some cool ones I will definitely get; not by the apps – I took more cards than I can count; not by the peripherals – I’m already using a new holder device for my car….

No, I was disappointed because the true gravitas of Mobile and Mobility was missing…the very notion that we can and some are already changing the world – really changing the world – not with marketing or advertising so-called Disruption but by using this amazing technology – digital and otherwise – to make an impactful difference in people’s lives.

And I emphasize digital and otherwise as we are jaded – not everyone in the world has the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy – in fact, there are places where a village shares one simple feature phone and others where there are none at all because there is not even basic service.

In fact, the State of Broadband, produced by the UN Broadband Commission reveals that 57 percent of the world’s people remain offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the Internet can offer.

Check out Mark Zuckerberg’s view on this and make your own conclusion as to his and Facebook’s motives.

It’s disappointing, this idea that 4G was about a good experience and 5G is about things. That’s important; making sure devices are connected is good, but…we’ll be sitting here in 2020 and instead of just 4 billion offline there will still be 3 billion…. I hope the folks here will focus on both priorities, bandwidth and but also making sure people finish this job and people have access. — TechCrunch

Here are some examples of the contribution that Mobile/Mobility is making, and I hope you will find and share more because there are many across Africa and Asia in particular.

  • Vodafone Turkey’s “Between Us” app allows women suffering from domestic abuse to access quick help without jeopardizing their safety.
  • Rethink Education in South Africa presents educational subject matters to kids via text message.
  • Be My Eyes app connects blind people to people with sight to help identify what they are seeing (if the milk is spoiled, for example).
  • AgroMarket Day helps Ugandan farmers buy and sell produce.
  • SMS SOS in Mexico turns people’s mobile phones into live-saving tools.

What began as an untethered phone has become a powerful tool that adds tremendous value to our lives, but also has addicted us in many terrible ways…and like just about everything that technology allows, its power is in our hands for good and bad…

So folks – bottom line…

Mobile is everything as is digital…but not everything is either one of them –

People first…always.

Listen to what drove the founders of M-KOPA, the Kenyan “pay as you go” solar company based on SIM card payment…and winner of one of the Mobile Awards mentioned above:

Hughes and Moore had three criteria for the company they wanted to build: It had to involve mobile technology, an area in which they both had experience; it had to solve what they called “a massive pain point” for the very poor; and they had to believe it would one day become a billion-dollar business.

There you have it…the impact of mobile is significant world change and profitability…

What do you think?

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