Going Mobile: What to Expect at GSMA Mobile World Congress

Is Dell's rumored smartphone making its debut? Can RIM, Toshiba, Acer, Samsung or Google's Android platform knock the Apple iPhone off the top of the smartphone pile? And what companies will Verizon choose as its LTE equipment vendors? The industry's leading analysts weigh in on expectations for this year's Mobile World Congress.

The mobile industry's largest exhibition, GSMA Mobile World Congress, kicks off in Barcelona on Feb. 13. The four-day conference is expected to draw nearly 50,000 attendees and more than 1,000 exhibitors from across the globe.
As the show draws nearer, rumors continue to circulate and whispered expectations are intensifying. But in the face of a tumultuous economic climate, is the 2009 event to be a more muted affair? Here's a rundown of what to expect from the mobile industry's biggest event of the year.
Perhaps the biggest change from the 2008 conference will be a difference in tone. The first keynote, entitled "Sustaining Growth in Challenging Times," suggests much of the exhibition will be dominated by discussion of how best to weather the recession. The crisis, which has already forced Canadian telecommunications equipment company Nortel Networks into bankruptcy, will likely cast a pall over the conference, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

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Kay said he expects the Mobile World Congress, once known for extravagant, over-the-top spectacle and parties, to be less lavish this year. "People are going to be more modest because it would be considered in better taste to appear so," he said. "Even if some people have the wherewithal, they might not demonstrate it because it's in poor taste."

Considering how many of the exhibiting companies are in worse shape than they were the year before, Kay said a subdued tone is entirely reasonable-and probably expected. "A lot of companies doing business with partners want to see some restraint," he said. "They don't want to see someone spending money like water when they shouldn't be. It sends the signal that these people don't understand the world they're living in."
When it comes to technology advances and major vendor announcements, Kay said he thinks the buzz around undisclosed Microsoft and Dell announcements (Windows Mobile OS and a possible smartphone, respectively) will continue to grow. However, he said he is hesitant about the idea of a company like Dell, the world's largest computer maker, entering what he feels is an already saturated market.
"There are rumors of a number of phones coming from vendors who have never been in the phone business before-I don't see that as a particularly good idea," he said. "It's easy for Nokia to come in and update [a] phone or introduce a new handset, but it's something else for Dell to come in and say, 'Here's our new phone, what do you think?'"