Mobile World Congress 2011 Wrap-up: Competition Intensifies for Operators


Last week I attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, along with 60,000 other attendees—a new record according to the GSM Association. While mobile is obviously hot, the consensus was that there was a dearth of big, industry-moving announcements, partly because of all the news at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, but also because of the focus on the pre-show Nokia-Microsoft mobile partnership announcement.

Though short on big news, there were several themes running through the show – some good and some not so good, depending on who you are.

Device makers rule MWC, just like CES

Between the Nokia-Microsoft announcement, LG’s new 3-D phone and packed device maker booths – HTC, Samsung, etc., it’s clear that devices are where the action is. Apple—which didn’t even attend MWC but whose IPhone 4 was named “Best Mobile Device”—has raised the level of competition and innovation across the mobile industry. The winners in this race are the end users – consumers and businesses. The losers are the slower moving operators, who are still trying to find their place in the new communications paradigm but determined not to be marginalized as providers of “dumb pipes.”

Operators need to get their act together

With platform players like Google (Android), Facebook and Apple now dominating the very industry that operators created, operators have to step up their game. According to the analysts I spoke to at the show, slow-moving initiatives—like the Wholesale Application Community (WAC), in which operators are encouraging the use of open standardized technologies that enable developers to write one application that can be deployed across multiple devices and across multiple operators—and walled-garden services are not going to cut it.

To put it bluntly, device makers aren’t going to wait for operators to get together and deliver something like WAC. Take another operator initiative, Rich Communication Suite (RCS), for example. RCS is supposed to provide a common way for operators to deliver advanced multimedia and messaging services on 3G and 4G networks. But according to one RCS supporter from a large European operator with whom I spoke at MWC, RCS is moving way too slowly … Next Page »

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Steve French is the VP of Global Marketing at NewBay Software in Seattle. Follow @

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