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GSMA Mobile World Congress – Barcelona 22nd-25th Feb 2016

There's certainly much to look forward to this week in the world of mobile as today in Barcelona opens the biggest conference in the world for the huge and ever-growing big business of mobile technology. At the Fira Gran Via and Fira Montjuïc venues, 100,000 square metres of exhibition and hospitality space spanning eight exhibition halls will showcase more than 2100 companies and the prototypes of their upcoming products they will soon be adding to the vast mobile market.

The congress is set up by the GSMA, a network uniting almost 800 operators worldwide with over 250 companies working in the broader mobile sector including handsets, software, equipment and internet providers. The aim is to bring this network together to meet and share and unveil new products and services to spark new initiatives and collaborations across the mobile industry. Some priorities this year include security for personal data, progression in digital mobile commerce and 'connected living' (i.e. increasing the capabilities for the 'Internet of Things' for other sectors to benefit from wireless connectivity).

The importance of the congress can be seen in the ticket price alone – the cheapest 'visitor pass' is €749 and for full VIP 'Platinum' access the price rockets to €4999 (not including VAT!) This shows the exclusivity of what is being shown in the pavilions and the unparalleled network opportunities the congress provides. The huge influx of people travelling to benefit from this has caused trouble in Barcelona with hotels booked out even in the outskirts of the city and the metro and bus operators (TMB) announcing strike action during this week which will cause heavy disruption. But despite this, spirits have not dampened for the excitement of the new mobile technology to be shown here.

The exhibition halls at the Mobile World Congress this year are divided as follows:

  • App Planet – over 200 app-specific developers showcase their newest ideas for changing and optimising the way we use our mobiles in daily life.
  • Business by country  - representatives gather in this pavilion to meet with other reps from across the world. This year Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, UK and USA are all represented. And for the many countries that are not represented here, GSMA runs Mobile 360 Congresses in India, Africa, Middle East, North America and Latin America throughout the rest of the year.
  • Graphenes – this is becoming a major building block for the future of mobile technology. As the world's first 2D material that is not only thin, strong and light but also impermeable to molecules and both electrically and thermally conductive, graphene is set to make shockwaves. New dimensions such as flexible screens for wearables or IoT objects are opening up with this material whilst maintaining sensors, storage capacity, microchip abilities and limiting energy consumption for mobile batteries.
  • Green Technology – creating more energy efficient mobile devices is always a priority, particularly with the more advanced capabilities being added to mobile, battery life remains a recurring problem. Showcasing solar, wind and self-chargeable fuel cells, this pavilion may inspire handset designers with new options.
  • GSMA Innovation City – here GSMA has recreated a 2000 square metres of real life scenarios to enable visitors to experience future situations with their mobile in both urban and rural environments. From being on different forms of transport to shopping, tracking goods and even farming, this is a full sensory experience – and all connected to new mobile capabilities in areas perhaps never thought possible.
  • Internet of Things – embedding sensors and data transmitters into millions of new objects is changing the relationship of objects with humans. This pavilion shows how this fast evolving market will be on an upward streak as business models change to accommodate this seismic shift in new technology.
  • Mobile Cloud – this pavilion outlines the new solutions that cloud technology can provide for the big data that mobile handsets are increasingly requested to compute.
  • NFC & Mobile Money – the way we move money is changing as mobile banking becomes more popular, particularly as smartphone usage spreads into developing nations. Will mobile money be the currency of the future?
  • Wearables – this sector of mobile technology is sure to grow and there will be both fun exhibits such as new smart watches and fabrics as well as potentially life-saving health bands.

So what is most anticipated at the congress?

Of course new smartphones models are eagerly awaited such as the LG G5 with a 'magic slot' to store accessories within the 5.3inch phone itself. But Samsung is leading the way against Apple with the new Galaxy S7 and curved screen S7 Edge. These models will inevitably be similar to the S6 models unveiled at the MWC last year, conforming to current style trends in the mobile market for slimness and large screens, but it is likely that memory will be expanded and improved features for special conditions such as low light or water resistance.

What is perhaps more new by Samsung is the branch into virtual reality for the every day consumer. Launching a small 360 degree imaging camera, this could be the future of photography and video as we know it. For the size of the handheld ball, the picture is good, but the stitching together of the separate images that the camera takes is still quite noticeable. In the next few months before the commercial launch hopefully this can be rectified.

From the other big players, Sony is likely to reveal both a tablet and a smartwatch, HTC a new handset, Microsoft may bring new Lumia ranges into play with its new Windows 10 Mobile software and the old mobile Nokia brand is coming back to the spotlight with new tablets rivalling the iPad mini. There's also talk of several Chinese manufacturers such as Meizu and Xiaomi potentially breaking into the Western markets which would definitely cause Samsung a problem as the handsets can be produced so low cost. With every major Android manufacturer launching new flagship handsets in Barcelona, the MWC is certainly showing that it is the most important technology conference of the year.

There are plenty of ways to keep up to date with what is happening this week as the new tech is revealed. Tech bloggers are going crazy for the latest news such as Techradar and CNET and you can follow hashtags on Twitter for the events of the congress with #MWC. The mobile operators themselves also all have their own live streams and live blogs like Samsung's blog and video stream.

So wherever you are, keep up with the latest news from the Mobile World Congress....something exhibited here could be mainstream this time next year and changing the way you work.