What's hot at Mobile World Congress 2008?

Five topics setting the agenda in Barcelona this year...

Five topics setting the agenda in Barcelona this year...

The 2008 Mobile World Congress kicks off in Barcelona on Monday 11 February and silicon.com's Natasha Lomas will be heading out there to see what's floating the mobile industry's boat this year. In the spirit of sneak preview, here's a whirlwind tour through the toys and topics that'll be on a fair few lips…

iPhone look-a-likes/wannabes
Apple's skydive into the smart phone market has been a flashy shot across the industry's bows - showing up bad design and underlining the need for incumbents to up their game to see off the upstart, which has already snatched third place in the smart phone sales rankings. Phone manufacturers and OS makers alike are probably feeling more than a little bashful about their comparatively clumsy efforts up to now so expect lots of talk about user interfaces, slicker design and of course touchscreen technology.

The weeks leading up to MWC have seen some big-name players such as Cisco flirting with femtocell vendors - something the vendors are shouting about very loudly indeed. Analysts have been touting femtocells as a tech to watch this year, so interest in what broadband-piggybacking can offer the cellular world will certainly be high. Operators will announce trials, vendors will demo tech and analysts will chew the fat 'til the cows come home over whether there is a viable business model.

Five mobile trends to watch…

What's the mobile world got in store for 2008?

Mobile advertising
It's been hyped in years past but this year could be the year mobile advertising makes a lasting impression. The likes of Blyk - a service that offers 16- to 24-year-olds free calls and texts in exchange for eyeballing ads, and which has apparently achieved impressive click-through rates - have created a lot of excitement in the space. The prospect of advertisers picking up at least some of the costs of producing content is always a nice idea for operators but with renewed focus on data - what with ever-declining Arpu on the one hand, and all those HSPA rollouts and multimedia phones on the other - accessing content on mobiles is likely to be king like never before. Mobile analyst M:Metrics is predicting 2008 will be a year of "big developments" so keep your eyes peeled for more on that.

Location, location, location… If mobile ads are starting to look like a dream that might just become a reality, location technologies could be the key that unlocks the war chest. Analysts are predicting a boom in the number of GPS-enabled handsets, which creates opportunities for all sorts of tailored apps and services (and also, therefore, adverts). Nokia for one is already investing heavily in navigation. For MWC purposes the Mighty Finn is turning itself into a sightseeing outfit, offering journos free tuk-tuk tours of Barcelona to show off its latest navigation tech. But there is more than one way to triangulate a mobile user - so expect to see innovations aimed at combining different pinpointing techs.

Social networking/user generated content
Growth in the number of mobile users accessing social networking sites has been pronounced, according to M:Metrics, especially in the UK market. And the Congress programme has a whole section dedicated to mobile society, featuring speakers from Bebo and Facebook, among others. So as Jason Chapman, research VP at Gartner, predicts: "Expect to see device manufacturers saying 'here's my button that I've dedicated to Facebook'." But social networking is just one part of the whole user-generated conversation which is fast spreading onto mobiles - with blogging and photo uploading other areas that are also gaining ground as tools for uploading content improve and the mobile internet gets both faster and fatter.