Mobile World Congress: What to expect from this year's global mobile phone industry expo

Jonathan Weinberg

Every year in February, Barcelona becomes the heartbeat of the global mobile phone industry when the great and the good descend for the mammoth Mobile World Congress expo.

Its packed showfloor features everything from the newest handsets from both big names and small to the quirkiest apps, accessories and telecoms equipment.

However, big name launches already appear to be thin on the ground at MWC compared to previous years.

Both Samsung and HTC decided not to hold their usual press conferences, with the latter showing off its new HTC One last week and the former readying a Galaxy 4S announcement for a later date.

Nick Dillon, expert on Devices and Platforms at analysts Ovum, believes this could be a good thing, saying it stops interesting announcements from smaller players being overshadowed.

He explained: "The larger device and platform vendors are increasingly setting their stalls away from MWC.

"As a result, we see it as an opportunity for smaller players to take center stage and promote their wares."

These smaller players include Mozilla's Firefox OS, Ubuntu for phones, Jolla's Sailfish OS and the recently launched BlackBerry 10.

"The 'third ecosystem' is still up for grabs, and 2013 looks set to be defined by the battle for this position with these new entrants going head-to-head with Microsoft's Windows Phone."

There are plenty of other highlights, including "connected cars", with good work being done by the likes Ford, mobile payment systems, and machine-to-machine communications.

This is where mobile handsets connect up to every day home appliances to control them, which could include the likes of washing machines, ovens and maybe even kettles switched on from the sofa.

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Jeremy Green, who looks after Telco Strategy at Ovum, said: "We expect that MWC 2013 will see a renewed interest in digital home services, urban infrastructure monitoring, connected car and consumer electronics management.

British companies are also set to take centre stage.

In previous years, the UK has had the biggest representation at MWC after America, a surprising statistic given the high number of Far East firms dominating the centre core of the mobile industry.

According to figures, the UK employs 1.5 million people in the IT and Telecoms areas, five per cent of the total workforce and success stories include ARM, whose processor technology is used in 95% of the world's handsets.

John Davies of UK Trade & Investment, said: "Outside the US, the UK saw the fastest take-up of the Apple iPhone for example. People think of China and Hong Kong but they don't lead on the adoption of the technology.

"The innovation side of the UK is really exciting and robust.

"There is a huge potential there for us across healthcare, transport, you name it.

"But we need robust high quality networks. When we say 'always on everywhere', we really have to mean it.

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"We proved we could do it with mobile delivery with the Olympics but this quality of service should be a natural expectation."

Much of that success could come with the advent of 4G networks after this week's auction of licences for the technology won by Vodafone, EE, O2's parent company Telefonica and Hutchinson 3G, owners of Three, as well as BT.

Claire Galbois-Alcaix of backup company Mozy believes 4G will be key to how MWC influences our mobile lives.

She said: "4G signals a content revolution. We are now moving towards a time when it is possible to stream files from the internet as fast as we can access them from devices themselves."

And it's on those devices where the UK can create a new manufacturing success story says David Carter, CEO and Founder of Corporate Group, which supplies software to many of the UK’s top blue chip companies.

This week is actually National App Week and he said: "Britain is a real hub for digital app design and we have been responsible for some of the most creative and effective app output anywhere on Earth.

"The UK's really shaking things up now on the app design scene and the influence of a smart app on a brand's success is more apparent than ever before.

"The app industry in Britain is one of the country's fastest growing economies.

Fred Huet, Managing Partner at Greenwich Consulting, is another who believes MWC will see the emergence of some random but none-the-less key players for the future.

He explained: "One of the most exciting is Russian handset manufacturer Yota, which is expected to unveil its new dual-screen YotaPhone archetype.

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"The phone aims to split the device in two, using one screen to mange social media and the latest news, while the other [on the reverse side] enables a user to access emails, take calls, send texts and manage meetings.

"It's a handset that is likely to redefine the relationship between user and device through its unorthodox design and will be a standout product at this year's show."

Derek Snyder, head of mobile marketing at Skype, sees the evolution of higher quality experiences as key to what consumers now expect.

He said: "Consumers have been craving higher fidelity experiences while on the go and this is evident from the continued proliferation of high resolution screens, HD cameras and faster silicon making its way to mobile.

"It's likely this trend will continue and we specifically think Qualcomm and NVIDIA will be paving the way for new scenarios such as HD video calling with chips being announced this year.

And Olof Schybergson, CEO of service design expers Fjord, feels we could be about to witness a surprising shift from big phones such as the Nexus 4 and Samsung Note to tiny ones.

It is a view would fit with many rumours and predictions that Apple is set to launch a mobile phone watch of some kind later this year.

He said: "Shrinking screen size could be a fascinating device trend. We may see an ultra-small handset launched as a complement to a seven inch tablet – a sort of device on the road becoming wearable."