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Mobile World Congress: Facebook for Everyone… or More Phones?

Toby Youell attends Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, finds phones and Facebook everywhere.

If Mark Zuckerberg came to Barcelona to make friends, he went about it in a strange way. A week before the annual telecoms knees-up, Zuckerberg brought the industry's Great Satan, WhatsApp, for $19 Bn. He followed this up by telling over 2,000 delegates at his keynote address that firstly the industry's ambition to spread internet access to the majority of the world's population was too lacklustre, and that secondly they should really spread internet access by providing free Facebook for all.

There are currently 3.4 billion people on the planet who have a mobile phone. The industry's mouthpiece, the GSMA, has said that it wants to boost this figure by one billion by 2020. Zuckerberg thinks that Mobile Network Operators could connect a lot more people to the internet on cheap smart phones by providing a streamlined Facebook for free, and then charging users to click through to linked content.

At the Mobile World Congress, over 80,000 delegates did not appear hugely convinced by Zuckerberg’s pro-Facebook message and focussed instead on the first point: how to persuade more people to buy phones.  This hinged on three main reasons:

Reason  1 – Impressive Handsets

There was plenty of device-based razzmatazz at MWC. All the major handset manufacturers planted showrooms at the conference, and many of them unveiled new products. Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S5 phone, Alcatel released a range of devices, Kazam released two phones in a new KAZAM Tornado2 range, and Yota Phone unveiled a phone that has two screens. For the security conscious, SPG Technologies produced a Blackphone and for the budget-minded, Mozilla produced a $ 25 smart phone.

Reason 2 – Apps

There were plenty of apps available, whatever your need. There were apps that play videos, apps that make bank transfers, apps that follow the movement of your eyes, apps that will tell you where you are located indoors, apps that let you watch football more efficiently, apps that will look after your customers and also apps that make other apps.

Intriguingly, there was an astrology app that has ingenuously connected the narcissism of astrology to the obsessive compulsive behaviours of mobile phone users.

Reason 3 - Internet of Things (5G)

Nobody has quite agreed what 5G means. For some it is higher data speeds, for others it is longer battery life, and for a zany radio frequency engineer, it will be the ability for handsets to use any band in the electromagnetic spectrum. Another theory is that it will be where devices are integrated into the internet of things. The GSMA took the baton on this and heavily promoted its mSchools initiative and its Smart City stands. The 'Connected Toothbrush' made an obligatory appearance, and there was plenty of breathless talk of wearable tech.

But if you listen to Mark Zuckerberg, none of these three incentives can match the simple appeal of 'Liking' a friend's baby photos. He may well have a point.

 

Toby Youell is a journalist at the radio spectrum newsletter, PolicyTracker. He writes about new developments in the use of radio spectrum.

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Toby Youell

Toby Youell is a journalist at the radio spectrum newsletter, PolicyTracker. He writes about new developments in the use of radio spectrum.

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