Barcelona becomes the center of the wireless universe beginning this weekend as more than 60,000 people descend upon the city for Mobile World Congress. Set within the atmospherics of a palace on a hill, the show is arguably the wireless industry's most important gathering of the year.
Organizers expect about 1,400 exhibitors, 12,000 app developers and executive headliners such as Google's Eric Schmidt, Cisco'sJohn Chambers, Nokia's Stephen Elop, and Ford Motor's William Clay Ford Jr. Facebook's chief technology officer Bret Taylor is also scheduled to speak.
"Embedding mobile in every aspect of your life is a key thing we see," says Michael O'Hara, the chief marketing officer of the GSMA, the association that runs the event. "There are about 6½ billion mobile connections in the world today — we're expecting to get to about 24 billion connected things or devices by 2020.
Wireless continues to penetrate fields like health care, appliances, cars, smart utilities, education and more. At a Connected House showcase planned at the show, Vodafone is expected to display a Social Media Vending Machine in partnership with Accenture that is supposed to offer a "sweeter" Facebook experience. AT&T is planning to show Exmobaby Connected Baby Pajamas, so parents or caregivers can keep tabs on sleeping tots. The PJs, by Exmovere, monitor skin temperature and movement and can transmit alerts to a PC or smartphone.
There will be a lot more discussion at the show about mobile payments and executing transactions through Near Field Communication technology. Expect to hear as well about the continuing rollout of high-speed wireless networks. As you can imagine there will also be a slew of new phones and tablets, some ever thinner, some with more robust quad-core innards. And Microsoft is expected to unveil the Consumer Preview for the Windows 8 operating system.
Not all the major industry players use MWC to spill the beans on future plans, so don't expect to hear much about Apple or an iPhone 5.
"They do attend the event in fairly significant numbers but do it in their own style," O'Hara says.
While all this is going on, there is one potentially disruptive shadow clouding this latest shindig, the specter of a transit strike. "From our side we've done everything we can to mitigate against that," O'Hara says. "We're confident we have a good plan but hopefully we won't have to use it."