Countdown to Barcelona: LTE, Android will dominate MWC

Sue Marek

In just five days nearly 50,000 mobile industry executives will descend on Barcelona, Spain, to attend the annual Mobile World Congress trade show. Despite overall economic turmoil, thousands of layoffs and a conservative outlook for the industry, the GSM Association believes that attendance at next week's event will be about 47,000--the same number that attended last year.

When I spoke with Michael O'Hara, chief marketing officer at the GSMA, late last week he said that registrations for the event are tracking positively, demand for exhibit space is up 4 percent and there will be more than 1,300 exhibitors at the event.  Although it has been widely publicized that key firms such as Nokia and LG will not be exhibiting this year, O'Hara shrugged it off, saying that Nokia is exhibiting through its joint venture Nokia Siemens Networks and that both LG and Nokia will be hosting hospitality suites off site. "We would like them to be on site, but their presence and their attendance will be high. Both companies are sending as many people as in previous years," O'Hara added.

Despite rumblings that the Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb. 14, will prevent many Asian executives from attending the conference, O'Hara said the GSMA is not anticipating a huge impact from that holiday. He pointed out that Lu Yimin, the CEO of China Unicom, will be giving a keynote address Tuesday, Feb. 16. "We have key speakers from China," O'Hara said.

But attendees at this year's conference will notice some fairly significant changes. Tuesday will feature an evening keynote address from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. O'Hara said that scheduling the keynote in the early evening was done to accommodate the U.S. audience, which likely will view the keynote via the portal and also because Schmidt prefers to speak later.

The GSMA's networking party will follow Schmidt's keynote. Instead of the annual, formal GSMA Awards Gala--with black-tie attire and lengthy awards presentations--the GSMA will instead host a networking party featuring the band Duran Duran. The GSMA awards will be presented during the event Tuesday afternoon, with just three awards presented during the networking party. O'Hara said the change was based on feedback the GSMA received from attendees who were looking for a more casual and social event.

The GSMA also is trying to attract more developers to its event through its App Planet program. In Hall 7 of the Fira, there will be 50 application-specific exhibitors and programs dedicated to mobile developers. O'Hara said he expects 3,000 to 5,000 mobile developers to attend MWC. Many will be there to attend the various developer conferences hosted by firms such as Vodafone, Google, Research In Motion, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and WIPJam (Wireless Industry Partnership).

In terms of hot topics at MWC, look for LTE to once again be in the limelight as infrastructure vendors tout some of their deals. Indeed, both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson are holding press conferences at the show, and will probably expound on their new LTE deal with AT&T Mobility.  

Off-loading data traffic from networks is a big issue in the industry, and I've received a lot of meeting requests from existing firms and startups that promise to have a solution to this growing dilemma. In a pre-MWC note from Current Analysis analyst Peter Jarich, he said he expects off-loading data to be a key theme at MWC because it touches on many different vendors and technologies across the ecosystem, including WiFi, femtocells, packet core and more.

On the device side, expect to see a range of devices including embedded wireless tablets and netbooks. According to a pre-MWC report from CCS Insight, there will be more than 50 Android devices on the show floor from a variety of manufacturers. Microsoft also is expected to show off its long-awaited Windows Mobile 7 platform.

As usual, the FierceWireless editorial team will be in full force in Barcelona. I'll be joined by my colleagues Jason Ankeny and Mike Dano as we bring you the latest news from all the press conferences and keynotes as well as from the slow floor. Look for some interesting executive interviews and a few surprise announcements in our newsletters and on the FierceWireless site next week. --Sue