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Handsets Rule Mobile World Congress

Sometimes when you are sent out to cover very large events, they feel so fragmented that a poor ground journalist is left scrambling for a common thread. Not the case in Barcelona.

AP

Day one of the Mobile World Congress 2008 got off to a flying start, though of course only after the team spent six hours Sunday getting security passes to enter the grounds at a very early hour (security passes which haven't worked so far.)

The guards are needed though. Where you have smartypants expensive technology on show, you can expect sticky fingers.

There is a lot more focus on the handset manufacturers than on the operators this year. In the past, there has been an almost even split, but, maybe because of the much-needed upgrades from the operators, handsets rule this year.

It's disappointing to see that there isn't an Apple booth. In fact, there is no Apple presence at all. You would think that they might send a person or two -- especially as iPhone sales have been very poor in Europe and many retailers are sitting on unsold stock.

But while Apple hasn't sent a delegation, they have influence. The vast majority of mobile devices on display at the event look like the iPhone. Large crystal clear screens and touch screen features. Not all of them user friendly, but they're working on it.

Jockeying for Position

I should have brought my wrestling gear. The Samsung stand was a mosh pit at one point, and, once I elbowed my way through (becoming a mosher myself), I saw what the hype was about. HAPTICS. This is where you touch the screen, and it vibrates to tell you that it has recognized your command. Brilliant.

It will be a big surprise if Google launches a phone. Personally, I don't think they will do it at this event. They announced Android last November (open software used by handset manufacturers), and the first Google Android prototypes will hit the market later this year. Of course, now that Yahoo has rejected the Microsoft bid, Google might be busy with a few phone calls on that front too.

Motorola

Hard to think Motorola , which pretty much pioneered the mobile phone in the US, now is considering getting rid of its mobile unit. It is definitely the elephant trying to hide in the china cupboard at this event, and it throws up questions of how you value a loss-making unit. Potential buyers are aware of the success stories like the merger to create Sony-Ericsson, but they are also very aware of the risks associated with a troubled unit.

Remember BenQ? A year after it bought the loss-making Siemens handset unit it was bankrupt. The President of Samsung and the CEO of Ericsson both indicated to me that they were not seriously considering buying the Motorola unit.

LTE (Long Term Evolution)

According to the smart people, wireless technologies are our future. Broadband must continue to grow and there are two technologies worth following: The well known WiMax is being further developed and standardized, and has received a lot of attention in the U.S. (especially as Sprint has said they will use it). But don't ignore LTE, as it's gaining momentum. Verizon

has said they would use it for 4G, AT&T have indicated they might use it too, and the GSM Association has recently backed it.

Voice still generates the most money for operators, but texting takes second place and is a hugely important business. Operators are faced with the daunting task of how you slow down the churn of subscribers. The CEO of Acision told me that the texting business operators spend $800 million on capital expenditure. But they take in around $74 billion in revenue. Keeping average revenue per user up is a priority when you look at the differences in these two figures.

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