Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Reflections on the Mobile World Congress

Over my career I have become a technology "conference veteran" beginning with Comdex in the 80’s. This event grew to over 220,000 attendees and over 20,000 vendors. For several years I was privileged to be a judge for Best of Comdex, so became very familiar with the conference. Following the closing of this show, I have attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but it never has reached the same size or stature of Comdex (in my opinion.)

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) last week in Barcelona reminded me of the early days of Comdex. There was a lot of excitement with new announcements such as LG’s 3D phone, Sony’s Experia Play, HTC ChaCha and Salsa devices with integrated Facebook, new Samsung devices and lots of tablets from companies such as HTC with their Flyer, Samsung which includes a pen, Motorola’s Xoom and RIM’s PlayBook, all trying to distinguish themselves from the absent iPad.

I was honored to serve as a judge for the Mobile World Congress 2011 16th annual Global Mobile Awards in the category of Best mLearning Innovation. This is the first time that mobile learning has been recognized. The winner was Urban Planet Mobile from Savannah, Georgia, for their mobile English learning initiative. Actually there were two mLearning winners as the mobile learning project BBC Janala, also for learning English, won the Best Product, Initiative or Service for Underserved Segment category.

There was really no other focus on mobile learning at the conference other than an invitation only mLearning Convening Session hosted by the GSMA Development Fund and an open mLearning Business Breakfast hosted by the same organization. Hopefully next year there will be additional focus on mobile learning. (mHealth was evident though.)

The buzz was about Android, security, services, reliability, mHealth, the Microsoft/Nokia partnership, femtocells, NFC, cloud services, mobile money and global opportunities for mobile. As with most technology conferences 3LAs (three letter acronyms) were everywhere including NFC, GPS, LTE, WAC, LBS, RCS (and definitely app, although not an acronym.)

Some of my surprises included:
  • Most of the attendees were clad in black suits and ties and most were male.
  • The U.S. presence was much higher than I would have expected at this global conference with most keynoters from the U.S.
  • Security was as high as I have seen with badges scanned regularly. They were also checked against your passport upon entry each day.
  • My co-worker was unable to join me as planned due to illness. I wanted to get him some sort of MWC souvenir, but there was no place to purchase such things. Definitely a missed opportunity for the sponsors. GSMA.
In reflecting on the event there were some definite pluses:
  • The keynotes and sessions were excellent although many rooms were over-filled and could not hold all those interested. Most of the speakers were CEOs, with Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! as the lone woman.
  • Show transportation was excellent. On time and well coordinated.
  • Recycling was evident throughout the conference with yellow, green and blue bins. It was as well throughout the city.
  • The venue was kept very clean with service employees clearing your plate as soon as you took the last bite.
My disappointments included:
  • Apple, although the winner of the device of the year with the iPhone 4, was noticeably absent (although this is expected from Apple as they just do not participate in such conferences.)
  • For an organization (GSMA) giving awards for the best mobile apps, their conference app was terrible. Imagine a vendor listing of almost 1,400 with no search or even the capability to move to an individual letter of the alphabet. I was searching for a vendor whose name started with W and gave up before my hand got tired scrolling. Many of the app links were to web pages not available where Wi-Fi was not available.
  • The venue was very interesting with historical buildings mixed with the latest technology. There were eight buildings with several displays outdoors in temporary structures between the main halls. The problem was most of the walkways were cobblestones making walking difficult (especially for the few women in heels and with light rain.)
  • Signage, especially for registration from the transportation area, was lacking.
  • Smoking areas were right in front of doors forcing non-smokers to pass through the smoke.
  • There was little or no handicap access.
  • The wireless was very poor with many demonstrations failing due to lack of connectivity. I had to come to one vendor before the doors opened at 9:00 to see their app even using their own wireless since at 9:00 the conference opened and wireless connectivity seemed to disappear.
I am so glad that I was able to attend (coming from another meeting in London) and to be there when mobile learning became recognized as mainstream by the industry.


  1. Great summary and report, Judy. I was unable to attend at the last moment due to a family issue but between great reviews like yours, lots of blog posts and the online keynote videos, we can all still gain a lot of value.

    What was the buzz on WAC? Are interest and adoption growing as anticipated? Also, what news or info was derived from either of the GSMA-sponsored sessions on mLearning?

    Finally, I find it interesting that the upcoming CTIA Wireless show in Orlando makes no mention of mobile learning on it's program or any vendor categories. Until big organizations figure out a way to make money in mobile learning, interest may remain relegated to the practitioners and early adopters.

  2. Robert, I was unable to get into the WAC event as it was press only and I did not have a press pass. I talked with several people who seemed quite hopeful, but also said that there was more work to be done. I thought that the blog ( by David Wood was good.

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