The big themes of Mobile World Congress 2014

This week saw the world’s largest mobile conference hit Barcelona. Computer Weekly takes a look at the big themes of Mobile World Congress 2014

Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the biggest show in the industry, full of the biggest names in mobile, networking and telecoms, and bursting at the seams with new technology.

This year’s show did not disappoint, with launches from the likes of Samsung and Nokia, keynotes from huge players such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and thousands upon thousands of mobile-hungry attendees running around the massive halls of Barcelona’s Fira Gran Via.

So what were the big themes on the lips of the industry?

Network security

There is no doubt that the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2013 sent shockwaves through the mobile and networking communities, and their effects will be seen for years to come.

Unsurprisingly, this meant network security was a key theme at MWC 2014, and an issue every company wanted to be seen to be taking seriously.

Open source giant Mozilla announced the Future of Mobile Privacy project to ensure those new to the world of smartphones could secure their data in the easiest way possible, not only on the organisation’s own web browser – Firefox – but on other platforms too.

Samsung took this a step further, offering a new version of its Knox security product targeted at small and medium enterprises. The SME offering allows dual "personalities" to be set up on a smartphone to allow one handset to function as two separate devices, keeping the data from each, whether personal or corporate, contained and secure.

When it came to the larger enterprise, BlackBerry was keen to remind customers of its legacy in this space and promised new enterprise software, including an update to its BlackBerry Enterprise Server and a secure version of its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) for companies to keep messaging secure.

But Juniper Networks warned that in a world where companies were moving to IP networks, that were “inherently less secure”, security was going to continue to be an issue and would have to be at the forefront of any organisation's collective mind.

Return of the old guard

Each year, Mobile World Congress introduces a huge number of new companies from all over the world to debut their innovations. But MWC isn’t just a chance for new companies to show their wares, but also for older, more established firms to prove they are still relevant.

This year was no different, with two of the oldest names in the industry determined to show they were still worth the investment.

The first was Nokia. Not only has its reputation faltered due to haemorrhaging sales in recent years seeing it fall from the top spot it held for so long, but its recent sale to fellow old school tech firm Microsoft has made people question whether this legacy firm should be put to bed.

But Nokia was determined to come out fighting, and chose MWC to show it was not just dedicated to the Windows Phone operating system, but was finally embracing the most popular mobile operating system (OS) on the market – Android.

It announced three new Nokia X handsets using Android’s open source code, but with access to the Nokia app store as opposed to Google Play. Now it has to wait for the consumer reaction…

The second of the old guard to try to rebuild its reputation was BlackBerry. It is no secret that the firm has been in dire straits over the past year.

The launch of its BlackBerry 10 operating system and accompanying flagship handset, the Z10, failed to capture the imagination of the market; its former CEO, Thorsten Heins, failed to capture a buyer for the struggling company; and the numerous changes in its management structure have left some of the investor community even more nervous.

But current CEO John Chen was determined to use MWC as a platform to prove BlackBerry was not down and out, and was refocusing where it mattered – the enterprise.

He promised a new version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server – BES 12 – by the end of the year, as well as an enterprise version of BBM, but the key for those listening was the admittance of his company’s poor behaviour in the past.

"We spread ourselves too thin and were so preoccupied with launching that phone [the Z10] in that market, that we have done some damage, in my mind, to our enterprise focus," he told Computer Weekly. "That is not going to be any more. That has been done."

Emerging markets

Recent analysis by research firm Gartner revealed that smartphone sales in mature markets have slowed significantly over the past year. Despite this, 2013 saw smartphone sales overtake feature phone sales for the first time, due to an uptake in emerging markets.

This seemed to spark a huge offering of products at MWC designed for emerging markets, as well as smaller businesses.

Nokia released three Android phones – the Nokia X, XL and X+ – all designed and priced to appeal to those in less developed markets, and Lenovo and Mozilla also offered up low-cost options.

Samsung also announced new features of its Samsung Knox security software, highlighting that these new products are aimed at smaller enterprises that need extra help in mobilising their business.

Injong Rhee, senior vice-president for Samsung Mobile Communications, said: “These products are designed to better serve the needs of small and medium-sized businesses which do not necessarily have an IT department or IT manager.”

These offerings indicate that the suppliers understand the importance of smaller businesses and market segments in ensuring the development of mobile technologies in the future.

Zuckerberg even spoke of the importance of helping emerging markets online to more easily allow access to knowledge and information that should be free to everyone.

“Only about a third of people have any access to the internet,” he said. “It’s actually growing way slower than you imagine."

Wearable technology

Everyone predicted that wearable technology would be at the forefront of the themes introduced at MWC, and there certainly were a lot of devices available.

The wearable offerings ranged from smartwatches and heart monitors, to fitness bands, and Samsung even integrated a pulse measuring system into its latest phone, the Samsung Galaxy S5, taking the health monitoring movement even further.

Sony’s SmartBand life tracker, which was first announced at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, offers users the ability to record not only how often they are walking or sleeping, but also how long they spend partaking in particular activities on their phone.

Samsung’s smartwatch allows users to take phone calls without getting their phone out of their pocket, as well as track their steps and number of calories burnt.

Showstoppers exhibited a number of wearable offerings too, including the Mio Alpha heart rate monitor, which does what it says on the tin, and the Garmin navigation system for Sony SmartWatch2.

All of these devices have one thing in common – they require a smartphone to work. Ranjit Atwal, analyst for Gartner, said: “It’s difficult to see how something like a wearable will necessarily replace a smartphone.”  

This proves that the ever-growing mobile industry still has a long way to go.

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