Mobile World Congress 2014

Tech's biggest showcase: Mobile World Congress

Brad Quick

It might not be the biggest show in the tech world; CES— which hosted about 150,000 attendees in Las Vegas this year—holds that title. But the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, is certainly one of the most important industry gatherings of the year.

The event has become known as a place where deals get done ... or at least a place where deals get announced. And this year's conference has been no exception, with major announcements coming from WhatsApp, Samsung, Nokia and BlackBerry just to name a few.

A man checks a mobile device during the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 26, 2014
Josep Lago | AFP | Getty Images

Facebook made headlines the week before MWC with its $16 billion purchase of WhatsApp. It was back on the front page Monday after CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social media giant plans to partner with three to five companies this year as part of Facebook's initiative, which aims to increase Internet access in the developing world.

During his keynote Monday night, Zuckerberg told the audience: "Our vision is not to connect one-seventh of the world, it's to connect all the world. To do that we need to form partnerships because no one company can change the way the Internet works by itself."

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Smartphones in Barcelona

And forming partnerships is what MWC is all about. Case in point? Mobile payments.

While credit card titans Visa and MasterCard might not seem like the most likely names to attend a mobile conference, the companies are both big players this week in Barcelona.

VimpelCom CEO Jo Lunder, head of the world's sixth-largest carrier by subscribers, told CNBC that he sees mobile payment as an area ripe for innovation, and expects growth in that area to stem from some of the partnerships made at the conference.

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"One of the real interesting growth pockets attractive to customers and operators is e-commerce," Lunder said. "You will again see partnerships and different solutions for different markets. We will play an active role. You might even see the smartphone be the preferred digit for ATM machines and credit cards."

Who stole the limelight at Mobile World Congress?

But with IBM CEO Virginia Rometty set to deliver the conference's final keynote, Wednesday's focus has shifted to monetizing big data.

Klaus Oestermann, group vice president of cloud networking for Citrix, said that the companies that can figure out how to deal with the huge amounts of data generated by the mobile industry stand to see huge profits.

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"Big data analyzing, mining that, and then figuring out how to monetize that is really top of the agenda for most telco's these days," said Oestermann, "in particular the mobile network operators."

And if "Big Blue" is looking to use its expertise in big data to lure in partners from the mobile industry, then it definitely came to the right place.

By CNBC's Brad Quick. Follow him on Twitter @bquick83