Barcelona buzzes with talk of broadband data pricing

BARCELONA, Spain--If you are one of the tens of thousands of wireless industry executives that flocked to Barcelona this week for the Mobile World Congress confab you might have experienced first-hand the crowds of people on the show floor and in the keynote sessions.

Although the GSMA has not released any official numbers, I've heard from a couple of GSMA board members that pre-registrations topped 60,000 and the trade group was expecting this to be one of the best-attended Mobile World Congress events ever.

Judging from the sometimes aggressive battles over seating in the media center, I'm guessing that press registrations were also up this year.

I had predicted that the 2011 Mobile World Congress would be dominated by discussions about Android devices and LTE deployments. And while those topics certainly were on everyone's radar, most of the mobile broadband discussions were focused on pricing and making mobile data profitable, which I think is a sign of the evolution of the marketplace. During the keynote session on Tuesday, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao talked about the need for operators to find a way to monetize their high-usage customers without having the low-usage subscribers subsidize them.

Likewise, during a one-on-one interview I had with Starhub CEO Neil Montefiore, he said that he believes one way operators will monetize their investment in their networks and in data is to get more revenue from applications--particularly data-intensive apps such as video. "We have to analyze what our customers are doing and charge them," he said. According to Accenture senior executive Miguel Myhrer, tiered data pricing will eventually become more common worldwide because operators have to align consumer behavior with profitable growth. That sentiment was echoed during a luncheon panel on broadband data pricing, hosted by FierceWireless. On the panel, Susan Welsh de Grimaldo, director of mobile broadband opportunities with Strategy Analytics, said that while tiered pricing will become more prevalent, she doesn't expect unlimited pricing to go away--at least not completely. However, she does expect that as operators become more knowledgeable about how their consumers use their data, they will start to bundle their unlimited data plans with certain devices--devices that likely won't be used to consume huge amounts of data.

Aside from the discussions on data pricing, Near Field Communications and cloud computing were also buzzwords that were being peppered in panel sessions and on the show floor. But perhaps the biggest topic that everyone wanted to weigh in on was Nokia's recently announced deal with Microsoft. Most of the people I spoke with were worried that Nokia's innovation would be hindered by the link up with Microsoft.  

If you are in Barcelona this week, send me a note sharing your thoughts on the key themes from the show. If you'd like to hear more on the key themes from conference, register for our "Behind the Scenes at Mobile World Congress" webinar that will take place Thursday Feb. 24. I'll be joined by panelists Peter Jarich of Current Analysis, Chris Pearson of 4G Americas and John Jackson of CCS Insights.  Register here. --Sue