Once again, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (February 24-27) shattered all previous records.
More than 85,000 visitors (up from 72,000 last year) from 201 countries attended. More than 1,800 companies (up from 1,700) showcased new technology and services across 98,000 square metres (up from 94,000) of exhibition space. And more than 3,800 representatives from international media (up from 3,400) reported on the event.
The four-day event brings in a whopping US$490 million (up from US$417 million) to the local economy, according to independent economic analysis.
The sheer size and growth, as well as the importance, of this colossus is overwhelming. Perhaps Juan Lopez-Valcarcel, senior vice president at Pearson, put the whole thing in perspective better than anyone:
“Our children will think going to a mobile conference is like going to a conference about electricity.”
I think the time has come to stop talking about mobile the way we do. It’s rather about mobility and connectivity.
This was the first MWC at which mobile phones were not the main attraction. Instead, attendees were flocking around a myriad of smartwatches, smartbands, connected cars — even a connected toothbrush that monitors your oral health.
In his keynote, Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges reminded us what technology guru Nicolas Negroponte said in 1995: “Everything that can be digitised, will be digitised.” What Negroponte didn’t see back then was that “everything that can be connected, will be connected,” as Höttges pointed out.
Let’s time-warp another quote from Negroponte in the ‘90s: “Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.” Like air and drinking water (and electricity, as well), being connected will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.
Another quote from MWC, underlined this trend:
“The Internet of everything changes everything.” — John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco.
When the term the “Internet of things” appeared a couple of years ago and Ericsson projected we’d have 50 billion connected devices by 2020, people frowned. A few years later, hardly an eyebrow is raised at the notion of “the Internet of everything.” That’s how self-evident connectivity has become.
Let me continue to walk you through the Mobile World Congress 2014 by sharing some of the most interesting sayings during the event.
“We think we’ll have the best voice product out there. It’ll use the least amount of bandwidth, and we’re going to optimise the hell out of it.” — Jan Koum, CEO of WhatsApp.
A sure sign of where the mobile (r)evolution is heading is that the kings of the Mobile World Congress are no longer coming from the telecom industry. And they are not wearing dark suits. They’re from Internet companies that provide consumer services, and they’re wearing T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers:
- Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, came, saw, and conquered most of the attention. His appearance was hardly jaw-dropping. But what he did before the conference was – when Facebook bought the messaging-service WhatsApp for a whopping US$19 billion.
With the previous acquisition of Instagram, it sends a clear message about the strategic ambition of Facebook: We’re going to be the ecosystem for social and communication.
- Jan Koum, now a multi-billionaire five years after founding his company, made the biggest splash at the conference, when he announced that WhatsApp is launching a voice service later this year. That sent shockwaves through the mobile industry.
With its 450 million users, growing rapidly, WhatsApp would suddenly be the biggest voice service out there, making Skype a distant second. And as you can see above, Koum was not shy about what they want to accomplish.
Two lessons to learn from the story of WhatsApp:
1. First and foremost: focus, focus, focus. In a world going digital, where everything is connected, the road to success is doing one or – maybe – two things really, really well. You excel at that, conquer, and then move on to the next thing.
Focus and simplicity was the undercurrent of the conference. World leading smartphone maker Samsung launched its new flagship, Galaxy S5, and the news was fewer (!) but better features.
To focus on a few things is not something traditional media companies are known for. Quite the opposite; a little of everything for everyone.
2. Traditional business models will be disrupted. The telecom industry is no exception.
With new players like WhatsApp, Skype, and Viber, Mats Granryd, CEO of Tele2, put it bluntly: “Voice and text will be free. We’re gearing up to be solely dependent on data.” Remember, not that many years ago, operators had 75% of the revenue coming from voice.
Jo Lunder, CEO of VimpelCom, added that “the telecoms industry has not succeeded in monetising data.”
Does that sound familiar to media companies?
“There isn’t anything for free. The moment something is free, you are the product.” — Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom.
In February 2012, Big Data first emerged as the talk of the town on Mobile World Congress. Since then it has become a buzz phrase everybody is throwing around, but few really grasp the complexity of.
Data was still big at MWC 2014, but it has a new name and a face – you. The big hitters were all talking about “personal data.”
Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM, called it “the world’s new natural resource” in her keynote. She exemplified that 80% of all data ever created has been created in the last two years. “I think we will look back at this time and see data as a resource that drove the 21st century,” she said.
Höttges pleaded that “privacy standards have to be set.” He stressed that operators and over-the-top (OTT) players like Facebook, Google, and WhatsApp have a responsibility to be clear and transparent in how information is used and how new business models are built on customer data.
Don’t you love his way of saying it in the quote above?
The next phase of Big Data is consumers becoming aware of the value of their personal data. I think news media companies have a huge responsibility in making people data-conscious – as well as using the data, of course in a responsible way, to develop the business.
“There is no wearable you want to wear, all of them are extremely ugly.” — Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of product management at Motorola.
Quite cocky to come from a company that hasn’t made anything spectacular in years, and that was recently brutally dumped by Google. Remember, less than two years after paying US$12.5 billion to acquire Motorola, Google sold the company to Lenovo, the Chinese product vendor, for US$2.91 billion, almost a tenth of the value.
Now Motorola is also getting into wearable technology, which Osterloh announced in Barcelona, getting attention by dissing the competition. He promised Motorola will “treat like jewelry” its product with emphasis on style.
Only one year after emerging as the buzzword of MWC 2013, everybody is into “wearables.” For the first time, as mentioned, mobile phones was not the main attraction at a mobile conference.
Every screen will eventually become a connected screen. What it will do for media companies is further challenge the multi-screen strategy. Wearables will require media to combine text, audio, pictures, graphics, and video in new ways.
“Right now we’re struggling to realise what wearable technology is. It will not be just on the body, but in the body.” — David O’Reilly, chief product officer at Proteus Digital Health.
OK, I realise this might sound like something kind of hard to digest right now – but you will probably swallow your future mobile device.
After the rise of wearables, the next frontier will be ingestible computing.
At the very last session on the last day of the Mobile World Congress, O’Reilly fgave a fascinating presentation about the advantages of eating a connected device.
He explained that during the course of an average day, a person makes 1,600 decisions, of which 320 are “meaningful health decisions” and 120 are “ingestion related decisions.”
By consuming an ingestible sensor, much like a pill, everything in your body will be monitored and transmitted as one big stream of data to your wearable or handheld computer. That way you’ll be able to make much better health decisions and get early alerts if something is wrong.
This might sound like science fiction, but the technology is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA).
I love the mission statement O’Reilly proclaimed: “At Proteus, we are digitising the ingestion decision.”
Eat that, folks!