Mobile World Congress offered a study in contrasting revolutions


Coming to Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress is a journey into contrasting worlds.

One is an island of 70,500 square metres, next to Plaça Espanya in the centre of the city and below the beautiful mountain Montjuïc, where the magnificent museum Museu Nacional d´Art de Catalunya is looking down at the islanders.

The island is inhabited by 67,000 delegates (a new record, up 11% from last year), from 205 countries around the world; 3,300 journalists; and another couple of thousand local workers who attend the Mobile World Congress.

Within the borders of the tiny little island, it’s a world of its own. Everything gets higher, bigger, and better. Higher expectations and adoption, better bandwidth, bigger investments and revenues. Even the smartphones get bigger. (Remember the Stone Age when new phones got smaller and smaller!?) A 4.3-inch screen is now a must-have in order to enjoy video, games, and apps – in HD, of course, and soon in 3-D, as well.

The world outside that bubble is looking grim to the average Spanish citizen. The economy is expected to shrink 1.7% in 2012, and unemployment will continue to grow to a staggering 24.3%.

Even as an outsider, you could actually see and be affected by the Spanish crisis. I had to book a new plane ticket because the Catalonian airline, Spanair, went out of business in late January. On Saturday, right before the Congress started, one of the major Spanish newspapers, Público, closed down. Spanish public television, RTVE, is facing a 17% cutback of its budget, which will severely reduce programming (i.e. drama, big game shows and sports) and hence audience. And it wasn’t until Sunday evening before the threat of a major strike among workers in the public bus system was avoided.

The startling contrast was never clearer than on Wednesday night, when all of the inhabitants of Planet Mobile had to be ushered out the back door because 60,000 students were protesting at the main entrance of the Congress venue, causing violent riots that resulted in 12 people wounded and another 12 arrested.

Welcome to Barcelona, official Mobile World Capital.

Looking back at last week’s mega event, here are some reflections from the expectations I raised in my previous blog post, ("A look ahead at what's in store for Mobile World Congress.")

Mobile World Capital

Given the context of the Spanish economy, Barcelona being selected Mobile World Capital from 2012 to 2018 is an infrastructural project that should help revitalise the regional economy. Hosting the MWC for four days has already added €300 million to Barcelona’s economy.

Some interesting early projects:

The creation of Mobile World Hub, a center for research and development, that itself will immediately create 100 to 150 new jobs and, hopefully, hundreds more in the future.

Rapid implementation of contactless mobile payments in shops, museums, and taxis with the help of NFC (Near Field Communication). The project is called Tap and Go and should enable payments of less than €20 without anything more complicated than holding the smartphone (one that has an NFC-chip embedded, of course) close to the merchant’s terminal.

A deal with Cisco, which will invest €5 million, to help Barcelona evolve as one of the Smart Cities, (a theme I will come back to regarding newsmedia’s role in that future scenario).

And the smart move to strike a deal with the football club FC Barcelona as partner. With almost 28 million fans on Facebook and worldwide recognition, you have an outstanding ambassador in FC Barcelona to put Mobile World Capital on the map.

Innovative apps and services

The winners of the Global Mobile Awards were announced, and the good news was a newspaper company was among the winners. Financial Times was awarded Best Mobile Innovation for Publishing for their Web app.

I sat down with Rob Grimshaw, the managing director of, to hear from him about the brave decision they made leaving the App Store just as everyone else was rushing into it.

The lesson learned is that going against the stream is risky, takes guts, but certainly has its rewards if you do it right. is now better off — both financially and from a customer relationship perspective — than before, when Apple set the rules.

Connected world

Last year, the global population reached 7 billion people, and mobile connections exceeded 6 billion. The mobile industry generates revenues of US$1.5 trillion and employs 8 million people. Figures like that can easily leave you flabbergasted and prone to think that we’re already at the zenith of the mobile revolution. We’re not. We are only in the beginning of a big change.

More figures to give some perspective:

Of the 6 billion mobile connections, only 1.3 are mobile broadband, about one-fifth. The world population is 7 billion people, but the population of the World Wide Web is only about 2 billion, less than one-third. Only 12% of all handsets are smartphones, but they generate 82% of the data traffic.

“The digital revolution has not arrived yet,” Google’s Eric Schmidt stated in his keynote speech at MWC. “But every revolution starts with a small group of people, like us …. Imagine how much better the World Wide Web would be with another five billion people. More innovation, more creativity, more opportunity.”

“The ultimate vision of this future is that technology actually disappears,” he concluded. “It will be like electricity. Always there.”

Mobile payments

Much like the connected world, there are contradictions swarming mobile payments. More than US$30 trillion is spent in retail every year, but a mere 5% cent online. Only 15%, when asked, say they want a mobile wallet.

 “I think it will be years, not months before you will see NFC deployed in most large retailers,” John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, said in a Q&A. So why should mobile payments happen any sooner?

From another point of view the statements above could be contradicted:

More than 50% of retail decisions are already influenced online. When asked, 70% of people say they want a safe way to handle their valuables. And eBay owns Paypal, so Donahoe is biased. Bill Gajda, global head of Visa Mobile, said NFC has been evolving for 10 years, but now the ecosystem is coming together to make it happen.

Michael Abbott, CEO of the mobile payment venture ISIS, put it this way: “Five years ago, less than 5% had a smartphone. In five years, few will have a wallet. But just like you can bring a wallet when you change your pants you will need to bring your mobile wallet when you change device, operator, operating system.”


This year’s sessions on advertising were thoughtful, realistic, and filled with visions for the future. But I’ll elaborate on that in a coming post.

The big surprise

Surprisingly, there was no big surprise in the 2012 edition of Mobile World Congress. So, instead, here are some memorable things said:

“We can now connect dirt to the Internet. For irrigation purposes.” — Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility.

“HTML5 will kill native apps.” — Rob Grimshaw, managing director of

“In emerging markets, the first dollar people earn goes to food. The second dollar goes to communication.”—Santiago Fernández Valbuena, CEO of Telefónica Latin America.

“Mobile is a game changer in developed countries. It´s a life changer in developing countries.” — Sunil Mittal, chairman and MD of Bharti Airtel.

“In a revolution – learn fast or get out of the way.” —Don Callahan, chief pperations and technology officer, Citi.

“Change will never be this slow again.” — Per Sundin, managing director, Universal Music.


By continuing to browse or by clicking ‘I ACCEPT,’ you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.