Monday, February 9, 2009

Mobile World Congress (MWC)-Expectations in 2009

BARCELONA-The 2009 edition will be the 3rd MWC I will be attending, but am sure that the flavour of this year's event will be quite distinguishable from that of previous editions.

Last year's MWC was undoubtedly the year with the greatest emphasis on mobile content, with the Content Zone area expanding greatly compared to earlier years. It was also the year which marked the foray of new players in the handset market, such as Asus and Garmin.

This year is seems that the organisers have made a more earnest effort to showcase innovation at the event, with greater floor space dedicated to both local and international mobile start-ups. This is absolutely fundamental, as innovation is unlikely to come from the existing incumbents, who are dragged down by declining revenues, limited credit facilities and unhappy shareholders.

But, the mobile marketplace is a complex ecosystem, and innovation will only flourish if most stakeholders make more than just a token effort to support new ideas. Key to this are the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), whose essential support role has been hankered by a blinkered approach to innovation (we want it, but won't risk anything to get it).

Some signs of change are emerging, with MNOs on the acquisition trail for new concepts they understand (view Zyb's acquisition by Vodafone for example). While this buying-in of innovation is great (it supports many an exit strategy documented in start-up business plans) it doesn't per se do much to support the launch of new, daring services (such as LBSs).

My hope for the MWC this year is to see MNOs recognising that opening up their network to innovative startups is not only commendable, but that it is the only way that they can maintain sustainable growth in the mid to long term and drive new users and greater usage to their increasingly core data package offerings.