I remember the first time I attended 3GSM in Cannes: It was primarily a B2B telecoms trade show and centered on DVB-H, WiMAX, and other technology-centric acronyms. Fast-forward 11 years, and Mobile World Congress (MWC) will be the center of the business world for a couple of days (March 2 to 5). Some things don’t change: We will continue to hear too much about technology. Simply ignore the hype, especially around 5G; it will have no impact at all on your marketing strategy for the next five years!
However, the list of keynote speakers is a good indication of what MWC has become: a priority event for leaders willing to transform their businesses. The CEOs of Facebook, Renault-Nissan, SAP, MasterCard, and BBVA will be speaking, and more than 4,500 CEOs will be among the 85,000 attendees (only 25% of which are from operators). It is fascinating to see how mobile has changed the world in the past 10 years — not just in the way that we live and communicate but also in terms of disrupting every business. I strongly believe that mobile will have a bigger impact than the PC or Web revolutions. Why?
First, mobile is the fastest and most ubiquitous technology ever to spread globally. People in Asia and Africa are skipping the PC Internet and going direct to mobile phones; they’re the ultimate convergent device and often the only way to reach people in rural areas. As Andreessen Horowitz's Benedict Evans put it, mobile is “eating the world”. It has already cannibalized several markets, such as cameras, video recorders, and GPS, and is now disrupting entire industries, changing the game for payments, health, and education, especially in emerging countries. Second, mobile is the bridge to the physical world. It is not just another “subdigital” channel. This alone has a huge impact on business models. Last, mobile is a catalyst for business transformation.
Last year, when attending my tenth Congress in a row, I wrote that MWC 2013 would be more global and more disruptive than ever before. I believe the same will be true this year, with 2014 bringing a very important milestone in the shift to mobile: an install base of more than 2 billion smartphones globally. Mobile is transforming every industry by offering global reach and the ability to offer contextual services. That’s why we'll see many more marketers, agencies, business executives, and strategists attend the traditional telecom show.
Gone are the days when MWC was about operators' supremacy. As my colleague Dan Bieler summed it up in this blog post, telcos are increasingly being backed into a corner. I still remember this quote from Arun Sarin, the former CEO of Vodafone, in the Financial Times in November 2007: “Just the simple fact we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us.” Really? Well, in the meantime, Apple and Google have created two powerful mobile platforms that have disrupted entire industries and enabled new entrants to connect directly to customers.
From a marketing and strategy perspective, I'd categorize the likely announcements in three main areas:
1) The Asian Device Spec Fashion Week: Getting Lost In Device Translation
Let’s step back to January 2007. Do you remember what your job was at that time? I was already an industry analyst covering mobility, and at that time, the space was less fascinating to cover. Back in January 2007, Google had acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion only a couple of months before. Android did not exist. The iPhone did not exist. Twitter did not exist. Facebook was only a couple of months old as an open public website. Nokia had a market valuation of around $120 billion, and its share of the global smartphone market was above 45%. BlackBerry – then the leader in enterprise mobility solutions – had initiated a move in the consumer space with the BlackBerry Pearl.
Less than seven years later, Google has activated more than 1 billion Android devices, and Apple will soon pass the 700 million iOS devices mark. YouTube now has more than one billion users globally and generates 40% of its traffic from mobile devices. Facebook has 1.2 billion users and generates 41% of its ad revenues from smartphones and tablets (it could even reach 50% in Q3 2013; Facebook discloses its financial results on October 30). Twitter has more than 230 million users and generates more than 70% of its revenue via mobile.