A variety of keynotes officially opened the Mobile World Congress (MWC) here Tuesday morning, with CEOs talking about how mobile technology is transforming a variety of markets, and will have an even larger impact on advertising, communications and society in the years to come.
Executives of the GSMA, Vodafone, Alcatel-Lucent, and Research in Motion gave their perspectives, followed by an appeal from Queen Rania of Jordan to devote more resources to education.
Robert Conway, CEO of GSMA, the mobile industry group that produces MWC, opened the conference by talking about "the year of the developer." And while Apple may not have been at the show, it dominated the beginning of this keynote, with Conway talking about the growth in apps on Apple's platform, and in particular, the growth of free, ad-supported advertising.
Conway noted that Gartner predicts by 2013, there will be 1.82 billion smartphones vs. 1.78 billion PCs, and predicted that, by that point, mobile advertising will be growing at a tremendous rate, outstripping Internet advertising. He pushed GSMA's Mobile Media Metrics product, which gives information on mobile advertising customers in Britain.
Conway also pushed OneAPI, a method for developers to access the unique features of each network operator; as well as the Wholesale Applications Community, in which 24 leading operators are pushing to create a single platform for creating applications that would run on any platform.
Conway also talked about how LTE is positioned as the network technology of the future. China Telecom, KDDI, and Verizon Wireless have now joined the GSMA and have committed to LTE technology for future mobile broadband deployments. Seventy-four mobile operators are now committed to building LTE networks, Conway said.
Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone, pushed for a network that is "truly open, truly competitive, and truly sustainable." He talked about how Europe has not yet identified the telecom sector as the one that will reinvent society after that economic crisis; and said that things in the developing world were not improving as fast as he would like.
He said eventually all humans will have access to the digital world remotely, and at a cost that will just be a fraction of what they paid for voice alone a few years ago. In the past 12 months, wireless network speeds have moved up to 28.8 Mbps, data traffic has gone up 93 percent, smartphones are up 39 percent and are now 25 percent of shipments. There are now billions of applications and 20 million people sent mobile money transfers in the past year, Colao said.
Vodafone now has smartphones that start at under 130 euros, and just introduced the first unsubsidized phone that can sell for less than 10 euros. Colao talked about connecting smart cities and smart workplaces, including connecting up machines, and how this can redesign industries and society.
Colao said the industry needs an ecosystem with open platforms, competition, and profitable investments in infrastructure. He also pushed the OneAPI and Wholesale Applications Community.
Colao did talk about the need for move competition on several levels of the stack, including fixed or wired infrastructure companies and search and advertising. He thought that all players in the value chain should be open and reward entrepreneurship and investment.
He talked about the competition that already exists with wireless carriers, but said that in most markets, a single wired provider dominated, and he suggested that it should be opened, such as wireless providers allowing private network vendors over their networks. He said operators need to optimize the network for continued investments. He also suggested that applications and content providers should deal directly with network operators. And he promoted "net neutrality" in the sense of providing no discrimination between similar applications - if Vodafone has a VOIP application, it shouldn't treat it differently than another VOIP application. He also said that if a customer buys an application for one platform, it should be able to be moved to another platform.
In emerging markets, Colao said the priorities were for a more stable framework, more openness to innovations such as payments, and spectrum as a key enabler. He said there were too many rules in many of these markets inhibited innovation.
Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel Lucent, started by talking about how mobile phones were helping to distribute aid to places in crisis, like Darfur. He talked about how technology can change the world, but was disappointed that less than 5 percent of stimulus spending went toward technology. He also complained that the technology industry has not really played a role in addressing climate change.
Verwaayen said our industry should be embedded in many more places than it has been, in part because the industry has its own language. We need to move from "a market of words" to something that better reflects the reality of how people use the technology, he said.
Verwaayen said business models were designed for vertical stacks, but now everyone claims to be open. He pushed for the transformation of business models, driven by the new applications that are coming.
Verwaayen suggested that regulators may actually be ahead of consumers since they want high-speed access for everyone. Consumers are happy with where we are right now with "all you can eat" packages, but 5 percent of users are now using 80 percent of the bandwidth, and that doesn't fit with the "all you can eat package," he said.
He also said that instead of talking about speed and megabytes, the industry should be talking about services. He said there's no debate that LTE will be the next network, but there is a question of how fast we will get there and what we will do with it. In a platform market, there is no debate about what you build; while in the old vertical markets, you could make a city-by-city decision.
The business model should move from a view that is "consumer-centric" to one that is "society-centric," he said.
Verwaayen was followed by Mike Lazaridis of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, who introduced a new browser, servers, and the concept of "SuperApps." See this story for more details.
Finally, Queen Rania of Jordan talked about how a phone line was a lifeline in the developing world, helping people connect with doctors or reminding people to take medicine; enabling mobile commerce and payments; or just allowing communication. She talked about how phones had raised money for Haiti.
In education, however, the potential is untapped. She said 72 million children are now unschooled, and thus unable to join the modern world, get jobs, or even get medical care. She said that while the global community had committed to change this, it looks like 54 million children will still not have schools by 2015, because they can't raise the $16 billion needed. Therefore she pushed the 1Goal: Education for All plan, connected with the Fifa World Cup. GSMA just announced its support for the 1Goal campaign, which kicks off in April.
She also pushed for "m-learning" so people can learn wherever they are, not as a replacement for teachers, but as a way of reaching people that otherwise couldn't get an education.