John Strand, CEO of Strand Consult, looks forward to this year's Mobile World Congress, which opens in Barcelona on Monday
Once again the time is quickly approaching where we and many others will travel to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.
All cultures and all industries have their traditions, and this is also the case in the mobile industry, where it is a tradition that over 40,000 people meet in Barcelona to talk about the mobile market, what it looks like and how it is developing. An event like MWC is not just a congress where companies exhibit and show their products; it is also a place where those that follow or work in the industry come to share thoughts and visions and to seek inspiration. For many people, MWC is and will continue to be the place where we not only see what is happening, but where we also meet the visionary people who help influence the mobile market both globally, regionally and nationally.
Many people are talking about the financial crisis. Fortunately the crisis does not seem to have affected the telco industry as badly as many other industries. In fact, the financial crisis has been good for many operators in the sense that it has given them a good excuse to right-size their organisations and considerably reduce their cost levels. If we were to speak of market players within the telco industry that have been affected by the crisis, it would primarily be within the infrastructure industry. Part of their problem is that the government in many countries cannot tell operators what the region's long-term plans are regarding frequencies and regulations, creating difficulties for operators in formulating long-term strategies that are the foundation of the large investments that drive the infrastructure market.
This year, we believe that many people will say that the biggest challenge for operators is not the financial crisis that hit the world in 2008, nor the latest crisis that hit the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain), but the fact that most governments do not have a long-term telco policy that the industry can use as a form of navigation.
Nokia - the world's largest mobile manufacturer - will not have a stand this year, but has instead chosen to piggyback on the conference by inviting people to an event within walking distance of MWC. Or put slightly bluntly, Nokia is choosing to only participate in the freebie benefits of the MWC.
Looking through the conference program, we see there are many exciting speakers, but we rather miss the big names, those that make a difference and perhaps some of those that can question the way that the industry is doing business. We have no doubt that the actual conference will be worth a visit, but we miss those speakers that can intellectually challenge the industry. Many of this year's speakers are from the "old boys" network.
And while on the subject of the conference, we believe that the most important event will be the "GSMA Ministerial Program", an event where over 30 ministers and 50 regulatory heads from over 65 countries participated last year. We believe that those that have access to this event on Monday should actively participate and help open the political system's eyes to the importance of conducting industrial politics in the telco area and make them realise that the telco industry is one of the industries that has the best tools to help solve both the financial crisis and the problems that were not solved in connection with COP 15 in Copenhagen last December.
We are looking forward to hear what Google boss Eric Schmidt has to say. It will be interesting to hear how he will avoid the subject of Google's desire to turn operators into dumb pipes. I believe that many people are convinced that Google has not disclosed what its real gameplan is for the telco world and the role it sees itself playing in the future telco market. There are probably a great many people that see Google as the largest threat to the traditional telco industry.
There is no doubt that the Chinese players will be very visible this year. Not many years ago many people perceived Made in China as synonymous with cheap, poor quality products. Today the world is very different, and Chinese players like Huawei and ZTE, and other medium sized companies are now playing a role that is resulting in the traditional Western market players experiencing a level of competition that they would most probably have preferred to avoid.
Once again this year, there are many national stands, and we can again recommend visiting these. Visiting a national stand is often a fast and easy method of getting in touch with small innovative companies that have developed exciting solutions. Some of these companies will grow enormously during the coming years; others will be bought out by bigger market players and some will disappear. Much of the innovation coming from many of the small companies is the type of innovation that will help drive the telco industry during the coming years.
The list of all the other companies participating at the MWC is abundant with exciting companies from many different areas of the industry. You will find everything ranging from totally unknown handset manufacturers, to companies that have created entertaining services, and others that have developed technological solutions that are so specialised, that you would need to be a specialist within that area to understand and evaluate their solution.
The art for delegates participating in the exhibition is to find the few among the many, companies whose solutions make a difference and who are building their business based on a business model that will create a long-term. sustainable business and that will give a return on investment on the money that customers give to operators every day
For Strand Consult, MWC is a fantastic event, where we can meet people we know and people we would like to get to know. We always run into new exciting people that become lifelong friends. The conference will - as always - be interesting, with a variety of serious speakers and hopefully still a high number of participants. Bring it on!