The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the biggest events of its kind, attracting over 70K people from all continents each year.  It is the perfect networking event with the majority of attendees being executives and CEOs, from large Telecom giants such as Vodafone and Orange, to device manufacturer (Nokia, Samsung, and HTC) and app builders.

Some of the hot topics at the MWC this year included:

  1. Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp
  2. Internet.org & connect everybody on the planet
  3. Digital identity & Open ID connect
  4. Firefox OS and mobile apps
  5. 4G getting mainstream (in some part of the world at least)
  6. MEducation
  7. Wearable devices
  8. Smart cities

Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp

One of the hottest topics of the conference was the purchase of WhatsApp.  The founder of Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg defended that the instant messaging app is worth much more than the incredible $19 Billion price tag, with currently some 500 million active user a month and growing.  WhatsApp just announced that it will soon launch a voice service, which might once again disrupt the current mobile ecosystem, especially for operators who are generating the majority of their revenues from voice calls.

Internet.org & connect everybody on the planet

Facebook and other founding members of the Internet.org organisation including Ericsson, Qualcomm and Samsung have big plans for the nearby feature with the goal to connect everybody on the planet.  The main strategy will be to reduce to only 1% of the current costs by make mobile technologies more affordable, using data more efficiently and developing new business models.

Interestingly, Mark mentioned that the Facebook experience on mobile is quite bad in developing countries due to the lack of proper infrastructure. To counter this, he is sending each new Product Manager to some of the world’s poorest countries so they may experience the situation first hand and help build better app afterwards, by using data in a smarter way or offer image only services for the illiterate.

Digital identity & Open ID connect

Another big topic of the conference is Digital identity services, which give users the ability to authenticate themselves securely via their mobile devices.  The current trend is to use third parties services such as Facebook and Google connect.  Some propose a different route with Mobile Connect which would enable the user to identify himself from a click of a button using their device.  Leading the way is Open ID connect which will launch in the next couple days, and will have excellent security and will be easy to implement.

Firefox OS and mobile apps

The Firefox OS which was revealed last year at the MWC 2013 is getting tractions especially in emerging countries such as Brazil.  Mozilla partnered with a variety of mobile manufacturer (LG, Alacatel, ZTE…) to launch devices with their Firefox OS running HTML5 mobile apps.  Most of the OS features are as smoothly as on iOS and android.  One of the devices, a full feature smartphone will be sold for only $25, which will be a game changer for newcomers and will help connect the next billion people.

4G getting mainstream (in some part of the world at least)

South Korea is leading the way when it comes to 4G connection, with 100% coverage and already over 50% of their mobile users with a LTE plan.  The data usage on LTE have double compared to users with 3G connection, and in many cases users are even skipping available wifi to guarantee an uninterrupted experience.

MEducation

Mobile education is transforming student’s life all over the world. Some cities like Dubai and Seoul are already offering their primary students mobile device to help them learn, collaborate and acquire some essential IT skills.

Wearable devices

Wearable devices have dominated many of the discussions at MWC.  Sony announced their Smartwear range with a variety of bracelets, joining other devices makers including LG, Samsung and Fitbit.  Samsung even won the best-in-show award with its Gear Fit smart band, showing the importance of those mobile gadgets for consumer.  Another start up called Immersion showcased the future of those wearable devices, where a simple watch could control lights, music, room temperature and other home/office equipment.

Smart cities

Smart cities, which are leveraging all sorts of data source to improve the life of their citizens, are appearing all over the globe. Out of the 31 indicators measured by the GSMA, the most important included:

  1. NFC POS : the number of Near-Field-Communication enabled points of sale in the city
  2. Mobile Feedback: the mechanism to give citizen the possibility to give feedback and suggestions in real time from their mobile device once being digitally identified
  3. Mobile apps: the volume and quality of apps  available for residents and tourists, which are either built or sponsored by the city
  4. Smart Surveillance: presence of real time video camera that feeds data in real  time to improve city traffic, safety and overall city efficiency
  5. Open Datasets: the degree of openness of the gathered data (with available APIs) so citizens, app developers and businesses can leverage it to build new apps or improve services
  6. Mobile Broadband: the percentage of citizens that have a 3G or LTE connection

As one might expect Barcelona is leading the way with a very high score with plenty of NFC POS, Smart Surveillance and available Open Datasets.  Other smart cities included, Singapore, Dubai and Amsterdam, but unfortunately London haven’t made the list yet.

They are currently many silos within a city (council, businesses, academia…) but real success can only be achieved when true collaboration will prevail between all those sectors.  Same thing on a global scale, as even though all cities are unique, they all share the same anatomy, and there is a lot we could learn from each other. Some propose a World league of smart cities, which could share data and knowledge, in order to make smarter, safer and more efficient urban destinations.