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Monday
Feb142011

Mobile World Congress instant preview

The striking thing about the GSMA confab, which kicks off today, is the presence of virtually none of the web heavyweights with mobile ambitions. Here’s what to look for (or avoid):

Handset OS wars:  A current favourite, given new life by Nokia’s embrace of Microsoft, and extra spice from Elop’s insistence that RIM doesn’t exist. It will be handsets at 30 paces when Elop and RIM’s Jim Balsillie share a platform on Wednesday.

Mobile vs. the web: Another saga; Eric Schmidt played the baddie to perfection last year and is back again for more this year with a dedicated keynote session of his own. Respect! This year the other net-centirc speakers – Chambers, Otellini, Son and Bartz - have been bottled up into one session.

Mobile traffic loads: Vendors big and small are pitching ways of smoothing out groaning traffic levels on mobile networks. Alcatel-Lucent is promising to do away with the base station altogether.

New threats: Even for the continually-disrupted telcos, the latest challenges look especially stressful, with Apple plotting its own multi-SIM phone and Facebook and PlayStation also prepping handsets. None of those will be in Barcelona, nor will Google, Twitter or Skype; along with Apple (a perennial truant) these are the web firms that will most impact on mobile.

A quick glance at the MWC conference agenda will tell you what else is preying on the minds of operators: advertising (ie, how to make money out of it), social networking (ditto), mobile money (how not to get screwed by the banks), and innovation (how to get some).

Otherwise, a bog standard telecom industry conference, with delicious tapas not quite enough to make up for congested Wi-Fi and the steep hotel tariffs. At least the rip-off roaming rates will make the cellco guys feel at home.

Update: This post has been revised to reflect that Eric Schmidt was in fact a conference speaker (I missed that he was given his own late afternoon session!).  His presentation contained nothing new, apart from announcing a video editor for the Honeycomb version of Android and unsuccessfully trying to show a demo of it, according to Ovum.

 
Wednesday
Feb092011

One for the utopians?

The release of Google marketing exec Wael Ghonim two days ago reignited Egypt's political drama and also underscored the role of digital technologies in fueling the protests.

 

Ghonim, who had been detained for 12 days, confirmed he was the creator of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page that built support for the protests ahead of January 25 start. It now has 430,000 followers.

 

His re-appearance on Monday, and his modest, inspiring manner, helped attract the biggest rally yesterday since demonstrators first hit the streets two weeks ago.

 

His apparent ability to shift events lends weight to the "cyber-utopians" who believe the power of the Web is driving the protests.

 

Not that they haven't oversold the power of the Net, as critics claim. People have long risen against despots without the help of Facebook, and it's true that the web shutdown last week did not keep them away from Tahrir Square.


But it's equally true that there are poor and desperate people the world over who are not confronting their oppressors in the streets.

 

Poverty and anger over corruption are surely the root causes of the dramatic events on the Nile, and doubtless Tunisia was the spark.

 

But modern ICTs are a force multiplier. We're talkng not just Twitter and the Web, but about the mobile phone: Egypt has 14m Web users and more than 60m mobile subs

 

The numbers further tell the story. As well as those who have joined Ghonim's original Facebook page, another 130,000 have followed the “I delegate Ghonim” page, representing a direct intervention into the stalled political process. 

A Facebook page is not a revolution, but it is impossible to imagine the Arab uprisings of 2010 without the Internet and the handset.