Mobile World Congress is an unclear name. I don’t know what the creative people who chose it had in mind when they moved from 3GSM to MWC, but after attending it ever since it landed in Barcelona from Cannes in 2006, I think I have a clue.
The mobile phone is a transitional device between electronic computers such as the gigantic 1946 ENIAC – 167 m2 at the University of Pennsylvania, engineers working inside it – and the invisible computer or the Internet of Things. The mobile phone is not a telephone, it is a computer. In fact, it is a computer that has more computational power than all the NASA computers combined that brought humanity to the Moon. It’s only been 50 years. The trend is for intelligence, computing capacity and storage to break down into a thousand pieces and spread through our environment in the guise of sensors, actuators, clouds and smart algorithms. When this happens, nothing will be a computer or everything will be a computer and we will have to talk about the invisible computer, a computer on a planetary scale.
Which brings me to the essential things that, as the pilot said, “are invisible to the eyes”. And this is particularly true in technology. Invisible technologies are those that have the power to transform people and societies, those that we only perceive when we do not have them. The new Maslow pyramid of the First World underpins physiological, safety and social needs with Wi-Fi and below electricity. I don’t have to explain to you how the need to plug in your mobile phone eclipses all other needs if your battery is below 50% at 12 noon. Engineers are racking their brains over how to run 5G over 4G networks and how to define TV standards for the next generation of 16K screens, but what changes the way we are is Netflix’s 4G and 4K. A technology becomes socially prominent when it is no longer relevant to technologists.
People are not going to the MWC to see products; they’re going to see people. Those with whom you’ve been working all year, those with whom you’ve signed a multi-million-dollar contract, those with whom you want to sign next year’s contract. Markets are people, and this one even more so.
Another invisible thing is human relations. The 2018 MWC is not like the “Barcelona Motor Show, city of fairs and congresses” in 1965. Now there is the Internet; products, reviews, news, reviews, reviews, analyses and leaks are everywhere on the web. The most cutting-edge mobile phone, which was unveiled yesterday, Sunday at the last minute, was already coursing around the web a few minutes later and this morning someone will have opened it piece by piece to figure out its inner workings. The MWC is not about going to see products, it’s about going to see people. Those with whom you’ve been working all year, those with whom you’ve signed a multi-million-dollar contract, those with whom you want to sign next year’s contract. Markets are people, and this one even more so.
And the last thing we will not see at the MWC is the thousands of trips that Catalan companies will take around the world. The fact that 120,000 professionals come to the city every year should make us all proud, but as important as this is also for the future of the country, so are all the relationships that local companies and professionals make in five short days of the congress, relationships that could only be established by traveling to the place of origin of the companies attending, an investment in time and money that is hard for companies to afford. You can’t see this one either.
In addition to this, Samsung is presenting a mobile phone with more of everything – this year the headline is the camera, while someone presents a mobile phone with less of everything – just calls and a battery that lasts a week. 5G continues to be the future, and we are discussing the opportunities and threats of artificial intelligence. A technology is neither good nor bad per se, but it is also not neutral. Also worth special mention are intelligent voice assistants, which will make us talk a lot this year (pun intended). But you’ll see all this.