Mobile World Congress, or just a Mobile Congress?

As tradition calls for, in couple of weeks the Mobile World Congress will gather the mobile industry in Barcelona for a traditional celebration of past achievements and stimulating discussions about the future. In all its splendor and thousands of mobile executives and experts, this time it will however be obvious that something is missing in the room. It’s fair to believe that particular attention will be placed on applications this year, but the world’s leading distributor of mobile applications and “re-inventor” of the mobile phone, Apple, is not participating. Similarly, the world’s largest mobile devices company, with the largest base of apps-ready smartphones, Nokia Mobile Phones, will also not participate in the event. Is this an indication that mobile device and apps leaders seek fortunes and new revenue streams parallel to the mobile operators?

Apple, having transformed the mobile phone playing field with its iPhone, has demonstrated its capability to disrupt and change a prevailing ecosystem. In 18 months the App Store has become a large operator-independent sales channel for innovative mobile software. Nokia, a broader mobile device innovator with overwhelming success in bringing affordable mobile phones to the masses of the world, is pursuing a similar path of independence from the mobile operator community e.g. through its Ovi Store.

Whether or not the iPhone (or its mobile apps store) has replaced sliced bread in the hyperbole could be discussed but the next mobile innovation is likely to again come from Silicon Valley, and Apple’s iPad appears as yet another example. On the other hand, irrespective of whether or not Nokia Life Tools or Nokia Money will build the middle classes of Africa and India, Silicon Valley is unlikely to produce the alternative, rather Nokia is set to continue dominating the volume business of mobile phones for the masses.

But, both fancy smartphones and native phone applications need connectivity. Honor to those who honor should receive; HSPA+, LTE, shared networks, capacity wholesale, backhaul optimization, energy-saving access and transport solutions etc. are all big leaps for the telecom industry that make way for more traffic, higher data rates, less expensive bits, more cost-efficient network operations and service provisioning, etc. That’s where telecom operators and suppliers have their key roles, where they will prevail and should focus.  The product of their great work is a giant platform for innovation, unleashed creativity and business entrepreneurship of mobile device manufacturers, internet online service providers, media companies and new start-ups that in turn will generate new ecosystems, new gold mines and new ways of thinking and using mobile access to communication networks.

This is the field of the new breed of ‘mobile telecom players’, enriched from a perspective where users were put in the first room, and where market principles of trial and error apply. In many ways those perspectives are synonymous to the internet revolution, and largely California – its universities, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. The Googles, Twitters and Apples of the world is a blessing for the mobile industry’s continued growth. Without new services, new thinking, new use cases and new paradigm shifts in the user plane there will not be enough returns from growing networks, capacity and capabilities.

We will miss you at the party, please come next year.

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