Next week, 12-15 February, will see the global mobile industry descend upon the Catalan city of Barcelona for what will be the largest 3GSM conference yet.
With as many as 60,000 people expected to attend, and around 1,000 companies exhibiting their wares, the size of the event reflects not only progress in the handset industry but also the way in which so many other industries are going mobile.
This year, 3GSM will be crawling with venture capital-funded startups in areas like messaging, search and mobile advertising, all of whom will be hoping to fend off the titans of the fixed-internet world, not least MSN, Yahoo and Google. This gold rush shows just how seriously the IP world is advancing into mobile — a development with which operators are just starting to come to terms — but which also suggests that coming years will see a lot of startups fall by the wayside.
Many companies will also be touting VoIP clients, which are in turn starting to piggyback off the ever-expanding numbers of Wi-Fi-enabled handsets. Again, operators are being forced to take note, or risk their business models falling victim to this new breed of communications. Expect Nokia's operator-neutral tablet devices to have spawned competitors.
A lot of these Wi-Fi handsets will also fall comfortably into the fixed-mobile-convergence (FMC) space, which is slowly taking off thanks to the likes of Orange and BT, but which currently suffers from rather unsexy handsets with poor battery life. Expect improvements in this field next week.
Announcements will come thick and fast — with the bulk arriving on Monday. A big one, the introduction of Windows Mobile 6, has prematurely flown the coop, but fresh devices from companies such as i-mate will already be sporting the new operating system, so look forward to hands-on reports. Another new entrant to the UK smartphone/PDA market will be Toshiba, whose handsets will feature not only Windows Mobile but some interesting input innovations as well.
Aside from the steady rise of Wi-Fi, expect the other big development of the year to be integrated satellite navigation. If 2006 was the year when GPS made its first tentative steps into UK mobile handsets, 2007 will be the year it speeds up to a healthy jog. Not only a boom for chipset manufacturers, the introduction of GPS will also see a variety of mapping applications appear from companies like Telmap — suppliers to Vodafone and RIM.
But simple navigation is only one application for GPS, so expect several other companies hoping to find the technology's much-prayed-for "killer app". If the Far Eastern market is anything to go by, this could very well be satellite-assisted social networking. This would also tie in closely with another major field this year, that of user-generated content — finally set to take off thanks to a combination of decent phone-cameras and, hopefully, the advent of HSUPA — the uplink-oriented counterpart to HSDPA.
Other innovations to expect include the first rollable displays for mobile devices, while the cultural side of things will be represented by Robert Redford's mobile-oriented Sundance Film Festival: Global Short Film Project.