The GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the mobile industry’s biggest global event, attracting organisations and visitors from across the globe. It’s an opportunity for companies of all sizes to show off their latest and greatest developments to thousands of visitors, and for the industry as a whole to take stock, review emerging trends and technologies, and consider how our increasingly mobile society is developing, and how best to address our needs.
MWC’s home is in Barcelona, Spain, which proudly declares itself the Mobile World Capital, and the show is certainly embraced by its population, who extend a warm welcome each year to attendees. It’s perhaps not surprising, though, given that the event is estimated to bring in an extra €300m in revenues for the city each year – and the eye-watering hotel prices show that perhaps the welcome extended to visitors isn’t entirely from the heart.
The show itself is held at the sprawling Fira Gran Via centre to the west of the city, and fills up all of the halls and venues across the 1.2km-long complex.
Most of those lucky enough to get inside entered through the gates on the left, but a smaller set of gates on the right offered Fast Track access for those trialling the NFC Badge this year – you can find out more about that in our overview of NFC from Mobile World Congress.
While the biggest headlines to come out of MWC relate to major product announcements – like those of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0 and the Nokia Lumia 720 and 520 – these are only a very small part of what the event is all about. Once you get past security and into the complex, you’ll see show stands…
…from companies across the mobile industry…
…stretching off in every direction, almost as far as the eye can see.
The largest mobile brands, of course, have the largest and most magnificent stands and tend to bring in the most visitors. You can find out a bit more about what was on show on Samsung’s stand in our photo walk-through.
But it’s not just device manufacturers that flock to MWC to talk up their offerings. You’ll also find mobile network operators of all sizes, such as China Mobile…
…and software providers like Opera, all vying for the attentions of show-goers.
Of course, device manufacturers generally bring in the largest crowds. On the ZTE stand, many visitors seemed interested in the V98…
…the company’s new thin and light Windows 8 tablet with integrated 3G and 4G LTE support.
But what really got the attention of visitors was the ZTE Open, the world’s first Firefox OS handset…
…an entry-level device with big ambitions. No matter what time of day I went past the ZTE stand, there was always a big bunch of people eager to get a look at it. You can find out more about the ZTE Open in our launch coverage.
Once upon a time, Sony would have us believe that it was “like.no.other”. These days, Sony’s tagline is “make.believe”, and while its show stand was far from a fairy tale dreamland, it was certainly magnificent to behold.
Visitors eagerly gathered round to get their hands on two of Sony’s latest and greatest additions to its Android line up, the Xperia Z and Xperia Tablet Z.
Neowin’s very own Tim Schiesser has already delivered an excellent in-depth hands-on preview of the Xperia Z, which I encourage you to read. In my brief time with it, I found it to be astonishingly beautiful to behold, with a stunning minimalist design, lovely screen and some pretty snappy performance, in a fantastically light package.
The Xperia Tablet Z is equally beautiful in the flesh, with a gorgeous display and a similarly understated – but no less remarkable – aesthetic to its little brother.
Sony was also showing off its new convertible Windows 8 device, the Vaio Duo 11. From a conventional tablet form factor, its screen slides and props up to reveal a backlit keyboard which is pretty comfortable to type on, though some may lament the absence of a trackpad.
Having announced two new more affordable additions to its Lumia Windows Phone range at MWC, Nokia also maintained a sizeable presence at the show, with a large display area showing off its products…
…and a huge hospitality zone. The Nokia area was always crammed full of people eager to see the manufacturer’s full Windows Phone 8 line-up, and with media representatives and analysts all chatting eagerly amongst themselves, and gratefully lapping up the complimentary drinks and snacks.
Nokia also announced its new 105 handset, an ultra-affordable device with an astonishing one-month standby time, and a built-in flashlight at the top. It represents a significant step in the manufacturer’s efforts to help those in emerging markets to connect with the wider world. You can find out more about what Nokia had on show at MWC in our photo tour.
You might never have heard of Kyocera, but they were among many manufacturers who launched devices at MWC. Their two new handsets feature the company’s proprietary Smart Sonic Receiver technology.
The devices feature no outward speakers, and instead transmit vibrations through the facial tissue and directly to the ear drum. The manufacturer claims that this technology makes it possible to easily hear a phone call in even the noisiest environments. At least one Kyocera device featuring the new technology will launch on Sprint in the US this year.
Over on the LG stand, there was surprisingly little attention being lavished on the Nexus 4 – a device that I’m a big fan of, personally…
…but this gigantic TV – the first in the world to support the ability to wirelessly stream Ultra HD content – drew plenty of attention.
But the real star of the LG stand was this interactive surface (no, not that Surface…), which allowed users to interact with and manipulate elements floating across the display. Information bubbles could be dragged, flicked over to other users and resized…
…while placing one of the new LG Optimus devices on the surface opened up a halo of interaction points, offering further information to those that wanted to find out more. Sure, it’s not that different from what Microsoft did with the original Surface (the “big-ass table”) – and it wasn’t anywhere near as sleek and seamless to interact with as an original Surface or the new PixelSense – but it was still pretty damned cool.
Spare a thought, however, for this poor fellow – doomed to promote LG’s Optimus Vu II by wearing a silly hat. Of course, when there are tens of thousands of visitors to a show as large as MWC, you sometimes have to be willing to do something a bit different to draw the crowds.
HTC’s effort to bring in visitors was to put a rather bizarre acrobatics act at the heart of its show stand. With no disrespect intended to the performers, during the half-hour that I spent watching them, they never did anything particularly remarkable – beyond a few somersaults, some pull-ups and what appeared to be a spot of capoeira. Remarkable by my standards, perhaps - but then I've never been a serious contender for an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics or anything.
Still, the spectacle certainly attracted significant numbers to HTC’s stand, and when not watching the show, many were enthralled by the recently announced HTC One, the company’s stunning new Android flagship…
…which was unfortunately showing news of ZTE’s Grand Memo phablet via the new Blinkfeed feature integrated into HTC Sense 5.
While LG resorted to silly hats, and HTC to gymnastics, ZTE was promoting its Grand Memo tablet via the embarrassingly outdated and sexist method of using attractive young ladies to bring in the crowds. These ladies were also present at the ZTE launch event for the Grand Memo – performing no other function (such as, for example, talking knowledgeably about the product) besides being randomly scattered around the conference hall looking pretty.
Mascots of another kind were also out in force across MWC. While Google itself had no official presence at the event, many of its hardware and software partners released Android products – and this giant Android could be spotted milling around the venue, sharing the love and offering free hugs to show-goers.
The GSMA Connected City was a showcase for how mobile is changing the way we interact with the world around us.
This app, for example, can interact with your new Volvo car, allowing you to lock or unlock it, locate it and plan and log your journeys.
AT&T was promoting its Digital Life suite in the Connected City too. The company calls Digital Life its “comprehensive home monitoring and automation”, and the potential here is certainly exciting.
In one scenario, the Digital Life app alerts the family that Grandma’s medicine cabinet hasn’t been opened today, so you might need to give her a call or send her a message to remind her to take her pills. The app can also automate stuff like watering the plants while you’re away for a couple of days, and enable remote commands, such as unlocking the front door to allow a neighbour to go in and feed your pets if you have to stay late at work.
You can even hook up a connected fridge to your futuristic Digital Life home…
…although this one appeared to be having a few issues.
Hundreds of smaller brands also go to Mobile World Congress to talk up their latest offerings…
…but not all stands get lots of visitors. It’s hard work trying to attract people to your stand when there’s so much going on across the whole complex.
Many of those not exhibiting at MWC are there to discuss, analyse and plan for the future of the mobile industry, and each year there are dozens of conferences, seminars and working groups meeting to do just that.
MWC also offers a great opportunity to meet others in the industry, with many taking advantage of the numerous networking gardens to grab a spot of lunch and have a chat with industry peers.
Covering an event of this scale is an enormous undertaking for the media too. With hundreds of TV channels, radio stations, newspapers, journals and websites reporting from MWC, the Media Village is the hub where stories come together…
…and where journalists gather to tap away on their keyboards to file the stories that will eventually be shared with you through various media.
Ultimately, for all who attend, regardless of their background, MWC can be an overwhelming and exhausting experience, and it takes its toll on the best of us.
As the sun sets on Mobile World Congress for another year, it’s fair to say it’s been another exciting event – and a record-breaking one too, with over 72,000 visitors descending on the venue. But what happens in Barcelona every February only represents the beginning of each new chapter in the mobile industry – and if what we’ve seen at this year’s MWC is anything to go by, the year ahead will be a fascinating one indeed.