Next in line: a new world of mobiles

A futuristic trade show is revealing new ways to control almost anything. Gideon Spanier reports from Barcelona

The mobile industry pleads that it is over-regulated and struggling to grow in Europe, but it doesn't look like it is suffering that much at the booming Mobile World Congress trade show, which opened yesterday in Barcelona, Spain.

More than 60,000 delegates are in attendance, up sharply on last year, and hundreds of global firms are competing to have the biggest, glossiest exhibit to showcase their latest devices and apps.

The Chinese phone manufacturer Huawei has built a pavilion that is so big it looks like a bus station, while Google's colourful stand features a fun slide, a robot which makes mobile phone cases for delegates, and a free juice bar that is mobbed three deep.

It's not just phone networks, manufacturers and technology developers who now come to Barcelona. The US car giant Ford has a major presence. Mobile technology means a driver can unlock a vehicle remotely or pay for motor insurance in real time based on the number of miles you drive.

The big idea is that mobiles can change almost every aspect of life, from household appliances to monitoring patients' health or harvesting crops. It will soon be easy to embed a mobile phone chip or SIM card into almost anything, as is evident at the futuristic "Connected House" exhibit, where the TV set, the heating and even kids' toys can be controlled remotely by mobile.

One example is Kibot2, a cute children's toy robot, made by the South Korean firm KT, which features a touchscreen instead of a face that lets the user access apps, games and songs via the web. It even allows video calls so a parent who is away from home can appear on screen and read a bedtime story.

It's not only innovation but also necessity that is driving change. The big mobile operators need to find new income because regulators have forced down the cost of voice calls, text messages and roaming phone use overseas.

The rise of smartphones, tablets and other embedded devices means it is possible to generate new revenues from mobile internet use and "cash-less" commerce. But this also requires investment in a new high-speed 4G networks, known as LTE, which can handle this extra demand.

"The data traffic is growing rapidly in our networks, with some predicting a 30 times increase in five years' time," said Enrique Blanco, chief technology officer at Telefonica, parent company of Britain's O2. He demonstrated how the new 4G service, which is being piloted in London this year, can carry around 10 times as much as traffic as the present 3G system.

But investment in LTE is a major issue as mobile operators must plough tens of billions of pounds worldwide into not only building the infrastructure but also buying the 4G spectrum from national governments.

Vodafone's chief executive, Vittorio Colao, and Telecom Italia's chairman and chief executive, Franco Bernabe, both used speeches to warn about how "excessive" regulation on pricing and costly spectrum auctions are harming the ability of mobile operators to invest. "The industry must make money and be able to reinvest," explained Mr Colao, warning that the European telecoms industry "is not growing".

Doubtless critics such as the small but noisy group of trade union and anti-capitalist protesters gathered outside the entrance of MWC would dismiss this as special pleading. But Mr Colao's argument is that Europe, including Britain, whose UK Trade & Investment body has a prominent stand at MWC, risks falling behind other emerging markets.

Chinese, Indian, Russian and Latin American firms have a high profile at this fair as emerging markets offer the biggest opportunity for growth. Many operators unveiled cheaper smartphones as they look to make it more affordable to access the mobile web and make transactions.

Telefonica announced a tie-up with the web browsing firm Mozilla to make a low-cost phone platform, which uses the latest open internet language, HTML5, and could cost well under £100. Orange also unveiled a cheap own-brand smartphone, called the Santa Clara, powered by the US chip-maker Intel, while Nokia announced a new cut-price version of its Windows Lumia smartphone, called the 610.

There are plenty of high-end devices on display too, but the leading player, Apple, maker of the iPhone and iPad, does not bother to attend.

Getting consumers to use their smartphones as payment devices – instead of coins and banknotes – is the other big theme. Vodafone has linked up with the credit card company Visa to let users pay with a "mobile wallet" in a scheme that will debut in the UK later this year.

Other, smaller players are already benefiting from mobile commerce. Neil Fullman is UK chief executive of Get Taxi, an app which lets smartphone users not only book a cab but also monitor its progress, pay for it and get a digital receipt. "We're creating our own 'mobile wallet' inside the app," he explained.

Everyone agrees that competition is fierce, and little wonder that the fair is moving to a new, bigger location in Barcelona next year.

Suggested Topics
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'