Author(s): Peter Bryer
Mobile World Congress, being held this week in Barcelona, has evolved since its inauguration as the GSM World Congress in 1987.
Back in '87, there were only a few million mobile subscribers around the globe, all running on various flavours of analogue cellular networks. It was a fragmented first-generation era, but work was underway to digitise and unify the industry with fewer specs and frequencies. This was especially true in Europe, which suffered from a mishmash of mobile technologies across the continent. The result was the standardisation of GSM — the most successful cellular standard to date and one that would put Europe in a technical leadership position.
The goal then was to connect everybody through the use of clear and secure voice services. Soon after this, basic messaging and some data throughput became part of operator offerings.
Mobile World Congress 2015 underscores the fantastic progress of the cellular industry, and the wide footprint of the cellular business is evident. Voice services, for example, are taken for granted and rarely discussed — the hot products at shows these days include virtual reality headsets and other wearables, tablets and the smart home. The event has become a global cross-industry collaboration as more things get a connection.
Devices are now complemented by advanced services and apps that are well-represented by top Internet brands. Third-party software has allowed subscribers to customise their devices as mobile hardware has migrated to one dominant form — the excitement of varied phone shapes has been replaced by payment, social and gaming options.
Among the most striking changes in the industry are the comings and goings of companies in the mobile thought leadership position. Names like Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and Siemens led the way in the early GSM days. Huawei, Lenovo, LG and Samsung now fill those seats. It's notable that European companies have faded from the handset lead, with hardware moving East and software moving West. Since 2007, the spirit of Apple has also haunted the show.
The array of products, services and companies at Mobile World Congress underlines the growing importance of connectivity across industries. Most consumer electronics and enterprise devices are affected by wireless communications. Everything's connected to the mobile industry in some way, and it's showing in Barcelona.