Gadgets and erotica in Barcelona

Justin Spratt

[By Justin Spratt] The official party for the Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona was at Montjuic Palace, hosted by British comedian Stephen Fry.

His opening line was that the cellular industry confab was like a sex party for him because he was such a lover of gadgets.

He admitted to owning 17 phones, 14 of which he actually bought himself.

Gadgets, he confessed, were his erotica.

The event was a nice counterpoint to the ructions earlier in the day, when Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao launched a broadside against Web search giant Google. He suggested Google was too powerful and that antitrust regulators should be paying attention.

A few hours later, Google CEO Eric Schmidt took to the same stage to counter the attack, calling Colao a friend and saying he would make time to understand the Vodafone boss’s concerns.

At question time, after Schmidt had given his keynote, there were also questions from an audience member who suggested Google was “stealing business” from the operators.

Schmidt’s reply was terse, focused on semantics and lacked substance.

I reckon the fight between operators and Google will come to a head this year under the banner of “Net neutrality”.

The operators argue that they have paid for the pipes that connect all these Web (fixed and mobile) services and that the companies providing them — Google is the poster boy among them – make huge profits, then they, the operators, should be able to get a share in the riches by charging toll fees for certain services.

The problem is this goes against the raison d’être of the Internet. Operators have always charged interconnection fees to others to reach their networks, but Internet providers have always allowed counterparts – including competitors – to traverse their networks free of charge.

When Berners-Lee first conceived of the World Wide Web, it was about globally accessible “uniform resource identifiers” to make information ubiquitous. So the moral integrity of the Internet is at stake here.

Montjuic Palace in Barcelona

Montjuic Palace in Barcelona

One thing the Net neutrality camp has in its favour — apart from Google being its main protagonist — is that US President Barack Obama strongly supports the idea.

But this being a mobile technology conference, super-cool new technology and gadgets constantly distracted people’s attention from the serious debates.

Fourth-generation mobile technology, in the form of Long-Term Evolution, or LTE, seems to be finally gaining traction, if the number of exhibitors punting it was anything to go by.

However, not everyone was convinced the move to LTE would be good for the mobile industry, particularly for operators. One executive from Hewlett-Packard was overheard saying that “spending US$20bn on an upgrade is difficult [for operators] to justify on all-you-can-eat data plans”.

The problem for operators is how they can increase revenues when it’s the likes of Google that will be earning the money from Internet services delivered on the new networks.

Operators are terrified of being turned into low-margin “dumb pipes” while other companies do the cool (and highly profitable) stuff on top of those pipes.

In spite of poor administration by the organisers, this year’s Mobile World Congress was worth the visit. Despite the cold weather and rain, there were myriad great ideas on show – from Notion Ink’s “Adam” product (a credible competitor to Apple’s iPad) to an entire overhaul of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform, dubbed “7 Series”.

Not even the global economic meltdown has dampened the high level of innovation in the mobile industry.

And that’s good news for Stephen Fry and his obsession with toys.

  • Spratt is co-founder of ISLabs

Share this article

  • http://hittingthewire.co.za DaveG

    Sounds like you lads had fun.

    Interested to see your comment on Windows Mobile. With iPhone, Android, Nokia+Intel, and all the crap HTC have had, you think this OS has a hope in hell?

  • Greg

    @DaveG – I’m cautiously optimistic about Winmo7 … Since Ray Ozzie took over from Bill Gates MS has been a different company – I think Bill was just burned out and it was time to move on. Ray Ozzie seems to be MS’ answer to Steve Jobs – everything Ray does turns to gold. Win2k8 server, Hyper-V, Win7, Office 2010, even Bing – all the big things from MS are met with generally good reception nowdays, a very stark contrast to how it was perceived a few years ago.

    Android was a huge pile of disappointement to me. I flung my iphone aside and embraced an HTC Hero hoping it’d rain down multitasking goodness and a more open platform, but after 3-4 months of it, I’m back on the iPhone… every day, I found something else in Android to disappoint me. Sure it’s only V1.6, but V2.0 was generally panned and V2.1 didn’t seem to bring anything amazing. Unless Google do a SERIOUS makeover on Android, and soon, it might become another very niche smartphone OS like WebOS, with a small faithful community of followers. I think the tepid response to the Nexus One launch mirrors the consumers feelings toward Android at the moment.

    I’m not sure about the Intel+Nokia collaboration, but Intel have been seriously burned and beaten once in hardware arena of cellphones, and Nokia’s struggling to get things right these days, they both need to do something special to make it work. They need to pull a Winmo7… neither companies are going into that partnership as particularly progressive players.

  • http://www.sandboxsavant.com justinspratt

    @daveg – re windows mobile “series 7″: I think it will by virtue of its development tools and dot net community. There are 3 camps:
    1. Apple: closed, proprietary – tough of developers as you have to get accepted by apple AND you cant port your code; tough too, on Operators (At&T’s revenues have gone up, but they have had no power of the market – this is only really good for Apple
    2. Android: open source, easy to port – great for developers, tough on Operators as they have no power to differentiate AND devs and google make all the money
    3. Windows: more open standard than Apple (ironic), but Operators will be the gatekeepers

    So yep, I think there is room for the Windows model. If you look at it, it is the same model they used for the PC… it remains to be seen if that model is extensible to mobile phones and there are many detractors for sure. But as I said, my bet is that their model will be the compromise that makes devs, operators and users happy on average.

Why TechCentral?

We know that as a prospective advertiser, you are spoilt for choice. Our job is to demonstrate why TechCentral delivers the best return for your advertising spend.

TechCentral is South Africa’s online technology news leader. We don’t say that lightly. We believe we produce the country’s best and most insightful online tech news aimed at industry professionals and those interested in the fast-changing world of technology.

We provide news, reviews and comment, without fear or favour, that is of direct relevance to our fast-expanding audience. Proportionately, we provide the largest local audience of all technology-focused online publishers.

We do not constantly regurgitate press releases to draw in search engine traffic — we believe websites that do so are doing their readers and advertisers a disservice. Nor do we sell “editorial features”, offer advertising “press offices” or rely on online bulletin-board forums of questionable value to advertisers to bolster our traffic.

TechCentral, which is edited and written by award-winning South African journalists, cares about delivering top-quality content to draw in the business and consumer readers that are of most interest to technology advertisers.

We’d like the opportunity to demonstrate the value of directing a portion of your advertising budget to TechCentral, whether your company is in the technology field or not. Numerous opportunities exist for companies interested in reaching our audience of key decision-makers in South Africa’s dynamic information and communications technology sector. We offer packages that will deliver among the best returns on investment available in the online technology news space.

For more information about advertising opportunities, and how your organisation can benefit by publicising itself on TechCentral, please call us on 011-792-0449 during office hours. Or send us an e-mail and ask for our latest rate card and brochure.