MWC Show Preview: The Future of Mobile is in Young Hands

20 February 2013

Ahead of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show in Barcelona, running 25-28 February next week, which Bobsguide will be reporting on, the strategy director at Monitise, Richard Johnson, looks back over the history of the MWC show, the mobile financial services (FS) arena and what can be expected at the 2013 show, with many young hands still on the tiller of this fast-developing new channel.

In the seven years since the inaugural Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show was first staged in Barcelona, Spain, much has changed, but much is still the same in the world of mobile FS, mobility connectivity and the opportunities available in this new ecosystem. Rewind to 2006 when the MWC event moved from France to Spain and the talk then was of better cameras within phones pushing beyond 3-megapixels while GPS and Wi-Fi integration edged towards the mainstream. We were tentatively starting to think of what mobile could do beyond talking to our friends, texting them occasionally and seeing small slices of badly-formatted content on tiny handset-thick screens within our eager palms, as insiders and the tech savvy gingerly pushed the boundaries of what voice and data could potentially offer over the mobile channel.

MWC kicking off in Spain in 2006 was 19 years after the heavily waxed and colourfully braced Gordon Gekko strutted the screen in the 80s classic film ‘Wall Street’ with a mobile handset the size of a small briefcase clamped to his ear, which only enabled him to talk to one other person while his personal computers and feral confidants fed him information about what was going on out in the world. This was a time of ‘Money Never Sleeps’ rather than ‘Mobile Never Sleeps’. Geo-location, intuitive and preference controlled push-and-pull rich media content and engagement was then still a barely conceived aspiration on the roadmap rather than a commercial reality on the handset. As to the World Wide Web – not to mention the internet on a mobile device – well, that was still a pipedream.

2006 seems to belong to a different, less mobile era as I look back over the history of the important MWC trade show. We still talk today of our rapidly-evolving mobile industry as being nascent. It was so much more so back then. It was a year when ‘Crash’ won Best Motion Picture at the Oscars, North Korea carried outs its first underground nuclear test and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married, forming ‘TomKat’. The global financial crisis was still a Black Swan event somewhere in the near future for a few outlier commentators, pop band ‘Take That’ got back into the singles charts ten years after their previous number one single with ‘Patience’ and the US stock market rose 15%.

In 2006, Google paid $1.65bn for YouTube, a 20-month-old loss-making business with 70 staff and 72m visitors a month. At the start of 2011, when Eric Schmidt was still chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Google he wrote in the Harvard Business Review about preparing for the ‘Big Mobile Revolution’, noting then that the company’s three key strategic initiatives were all mobile-centric.

Generation C

Earlier this month, Google released findings of an online survey it carried out recently which revealed that almost one third of YouTube viewers in India now access videos via their mobile device. This is a country with the second-largest mobile market in the world and more than 900m mobile subscriptions. The survey spoke of a ‘Generation C’ demographic: a young, tech-savvy group of early adopters who help define what is popular in content and culture by thriving on the 4Cs – creation, curation, community and connection. No other technology except mobile has the power to combine all these capabilities within our hands every waking moment.

Put simply, the young Gen C consumers and bank customers of today are consummate users of the mobile services being developed for tomorrow. Who should care? The entrepreneurs, businesses and government representatives descending on Barcelona next week for MWC for starters – not to mention the banks who want users for their mobile banking or mobile payments applications.

A study late last year showed 73% of 10-year-olds in the UK now have a personal mobile phone, second only to Poland at 83%, and well above Canada and France where only 17% and 10% respectively own mobiles. The same study showed that in Britain 24% of eight-year-olds have mobiles and 6% of six-year-olds; findings that came two years after research showing that more British children own a mobile phone than a book.

Generational Shifts: Death of the Cheque as P2P rises

Fundamental generational shifts are taking hold and brands in the banking, retail or other sectors that fail to embrace, navigate and engage with this race towards mobility will undoubtedly suffer. The opposite is equally true. Let’s take mobile money in its simplest form – namely, how we can bank, pay and shop using our mobile handsets and tablets. As someone who lives and works in the UK, I wrote a cheque once in the past year. For my parents, the chequebook was a tangible symbol of their primary relationship with their bank. For my children, I doubt if they will ever write a cheque. They move money, connect with friends, and explore brands digitally via the mobile device in their hands, and they can now do so using mobile peer-to-peer (P2P) payment services. What we are witnessing is a massive change in our relationships with not only banks and financial institutions (FIs) but payment processors, merchants and handset manufacturers. New brands are emerging that are acting as ‘money vaults’ for consumers. They are not all banks either, who can lag behind other innovators threatening disintermediation. Money has changed.

The way in which the young are driving innovation and consuming content via mobile devices and tablets is certainly part of the four-day MWC programme as more than 70,000 visitors fly, drive and sail towards the Fira Gran Via venue in Barcelona, the new bigger home for the ever-growing annual event. As the 300+ speakers share their views on the importance of big data, the cloud, connected living and connected cities via mobile technology, the way that tomorrow’s users of mobile technology are already experimenting with different channels of engagement should not be lost on the audience as brands look to see how they can protect what they already have, and beyond that work nimbly and deftly to build new revenue streams.

The differing needs and wants of consumers in developed, emerging or hybrid markets where there is often a rich blended mix of smartphones and more traditional handsets delivering services via the likes of USSD or SMS services should hopefully not be lost in the networking fog of the coming MWC week. While different countries have different appetites for integrated services such as mobile wallets, prepaid debit cards and mobile payments, the MWC story cannot and should not just be about the new handsets, their size and screen definition alone.

As our world gets more and more connected the 2013 theme around the ‘New Mobile Horizon’ seems more than ideally placed – that slightly opaque intersection between the earth and sky, the reality and the opportunity. As Bud Fox remarked in the ‘Wall Street’ film: “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them”.

Bobsguide will have a reporter at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2013 trade show next week and produce a full report on it, with follow-up interviews and articles to come. Please visit our blog section. For last year's show report please click here.

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