Highlights from day one of Barcelona

An agreement between 15 of the world’s largest mobile operators to combat the dominance of Apple in mobile applications dominated proceedings on Day 1 of the Mobile World Congress here in Barcelona.

Other highlights in Barcelona today included Microsoft’s latest attempt to build an attractive, user-friendly operating system for mobile phones and Ericsson’s entree into the already-crowded mobile applications space.

The Mobile World Congress itself was busy – much busier than the corresponding period last year – with an estimated 50,000 visitors braving a cold, wet February day in Barcelona.

Operators unite
The so-called “Wholesale Applications Initiative “ (WAI) aims to give mobile operators the global reach that has so far stopped them competing with the likes of Apple and Android in the emerging mobile applications space.

But the lack of detail around the agreement – and the fact that the final operators were only signed up late yesterday evening – makes it difficult to say precisely how committed all the parties are to the venture. Many of the operators compete directly in a number of markets and it is difficult to see how they will agree to put in place and implement a strategy which will inevitably be more beneficial to some operators than to others. And operators have a poor track record in seeing through such collaborative projects even though they may have entered into them with the best intentions.

At one of the conference sessions today, a panel of VCs voiced their scepticism about WAI with one stating emphatically that “it won’t work”.

While one of WAI’s aims is clearly to stop the fragmentation of mobile platforms and applications programmes, other announcements in Barcelona today suggest that for the foreseeable future at least the situation is going to get worse before it gets any better.

On Sunday evening Samsung announced the launch of a new OS platform, bada. We now expect Samsung to drop Symbian – as did LG late last year – although it will continue to make Android and Microsoft Windows devices.

Talking of Microsoft Windows, Steve Ballmer was in town today unveiling the new (but not quite ready) Window 7 operating system. The Windows UI has undergone a complete overhaul and the new OS has a focus on mulit-tasking. We were impressed with Windows 7, but here’s the rub. It is still work in progress and the first Windows 7 devices (LG?) will not come out until early 2011. How far will the likes of Apple, Android, Rim and even potentially Nokia have pushed ahead by then?

Just to round off the strong applications store theme that ran through Monday’s proceedings here in Barcelona, Ericsson announced an e-store applications initiative claiming an inventory of 30,000 applications. In the same way that Nokia is hoping that its dominance of the handset market can help it to crack the mobile applications space, so Ericsson is also relying on its large market share in the infrastructure market to establish a presence.

Elsewhere in Barcelona today there was a lot of discussion around DPI with vendors expressing confidence that operators were ready to deploy solutions to help better understand – and then control – the broadband traffic that is deluging their networks.

NEC announced a small femtocell deal with a Norwegian 3G licensee and there is a slow but perceptible shift in vendor femtocell strategies. Rather than pitching femtocells as devices for the consumer, the focus now seems to be selling them to operators to deploy as part of a wide-area network strategy. Femtocell vendors reckon operators can save significant investment through the deployment of femtocells.

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