En route to the Mobile World Congress

It's 5:30am and the annual wireless industry hoe-down (now in it's second day) is taking place in Barcelona. In order to avoid the rush, crowds and expensive Easyjet flights, I'm flying out a day late and looking forward to see what's in store for the industry during this coming year.

Stansted at 6

The wireless industry seems to have a "pulse" - there are a flurry of handset releases around Easter and a blizzard of handsets released around Christmas. This release cycle feeds back into the software development industry, so if you work back from handset release dates you can get a picture of what your year will look like. Subtract 4-8 weeks for handset field testing and another few weeks for certification and you can see that you have certain dead spots, at least during the months of January and August.

Certainly what we discovered last year was that we experienced a real "dead spot" during the time of 3GSM (the precursor to MWC). The reason for this seems to be that everyone is either getting ready for or coming down from the conference. Someone pointed out to me, though, that rather than dreading the dead spots you need to enjoy them because in this industry they don't last for very long.

What are we looking forward to this year? What is coming down the pipeline in the industry that may change the way we all do business? The big ticket items;

  • No more Motorola
  • Good flat rate data tariffs
  • The iPhone SDK
  • An Android handset

Motorola has received a good kicking of late, and despite defining the early years of mobile and having the smallest and grooviest handsets a few years ago, they seem to have lost their way. An ex-Motorolan myself, I can say that they have some truly awesome engineers on staff but there is a distinct lack of leadership and vision in the middle and upper ranks. So what's to happen to them? The most likely scenario I can see is that they are bought up by a far-Eastern manufaturer and quietly sink into oblivion. Maybe Google can buy them and use their handset wisdom to seed the market with Android. Yeah, not likely. So I think Motorola's handset business is history, and judging by their dribble of handset releases at MWC it's looking like it won't be long before the mobile phone pioneer has to make a quiet exit.

Good flat rate data tariffs may be on the way as well. The EU Commissioner Viviane Reading has cracked the whip on data roaming charges and maybe this will spur the lumbering operators into action to set up flat rate tariffs that are affordable and reasonable for all. Cheap data access will be a spur to the small, hungry handset software development community and will transform the landscape. All it takes is one...

It's unlikely we'll hear much about the iPhone SDK before the end of Feb. As a newcomer to the industry, Apple forges it's own path. I'm not, for example, expecting to see much activity from them at MWC. They want to control their own coverage very carefully and orchestrate their own events. Maybe they will have a sideline event of some kind. But I'm not expecting much activity.

My colleague Teanlorg has already given us some analysis of Android and the challenges that await Google on the device. Reports suggest some early device prototypes are creeping out at MWC so I will keep my eyes peeled for them. If a device is in prototype form now, though, this suggests that an end-of-year launch is still a possibility. But if we haven't seen anything more solid by mid-year we could be waiting until well into 2009 before anything emerges.

There's a lot to look forward to this year in the mobile world. New platforms, old players fading out and hopefully cheaper network access to come. I'll be bringing you more from the show and surrounding events over the coming days.