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Photos: Behind the scenes at Mobile World Congress 2008

Why it's a breakthrough year, why it's time to get serious and why the revolution is coming…
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 23 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Why it's a breakthrough year, why it's time to get serious and why the revolution is coming…

The world's biggest mobile phone trade show - Mobile World Congress 2008 - kicked off in Barcelona on 11 February.

The annual show occupies Barcelona's La Fira exhibition centre but as mobile's many players descend upon the city mini conferences spring up in various places around town, like this Ericsson breakfast briefing.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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Ericsson's CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg started his Mobile World Congress by telling the assembled analysts and media that 2007 was a breakthrough year for mobile broadband.

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Just in case Barcelona's residents hadn't realised the mobile industry had come to town, building-sized ads broadcast its messages from on high.

This not-so-subtle Windows Mobile ad reads: 'Ladies and gentlemen, Windows has left the office'.

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The opening day of Congress saw long queues snaking around the entrance to the Fira as attendees lined up to get their 'badges' so they could bypass the twin towers and get on with ogling the mobile goodness.

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Navy suits and pink lanyards were the uniform of the week.

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Mobile operator body, the GSM Association (GSMA), held a press conference on Congress' opening day. Five of the six speakers the GSMA had lined up to voice support for an alliance against child sexual exploitation on mobile devices. The speakers included European commissioner for information society and media, Viviane Reding (far right).

Dr Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the ITU, was the sixth speaker. As well as backing the alliance, Touré called for a global alliance against cyber security, saying "the whole world has to unite to fight this crime".

Here Reding sits down to give her backing to the GSMA's initiative...

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... and stands on stairs in the foyer outside to reply to a journalist's question on data roaming charges.

The industry has until 1 July to voluntarily reduce charges for mobile broadband abroad or face regulation, she warned.

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Here, Vodafone CEO, Arun Sarin, is seen giving a keynote on the second day of Congress.

He also had a warning for the industry - it's time to get serious about mobile services, he told delegates, or risk becoming mere "bitpipes".

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Nokia's CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, had come with a message of change.

"The next billion mobile users' experience will be very different to the first billion," he said, stressing the importance of mobile technology to developing countries.

He also talked of the global environment, saying the current model of development is "not sustainable".

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Kallasvuo had a gadget to flash too: a concept phone made entirely from recycled materials.

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Cisco CEO John Chambers also took a turn on the stage to talk ubiquitous - and increasingly intelligent - networks.

"If you agree with everything I say today I will fail miserably," he began, before putting his vision of the connected lifestyle to the audience.

Chambers said: "How do we really think through moving to both a mobile and a fixed environment when the user really doesn't care about what technology they use - they just want any device, to get to any content, when they want, in whatever mode they want, any time they want, any place they want."

"The concepts that you see in social networking will go straight into business," he predicted. "Content will not be searched for it will find you. It will be based upon the ability of people and communities and information to be shared together."

Next-gen networks will not be about voice or data but visual networking that encompasses both - in other words, video content combined with social networking.

"IP is a given in this," he added. "Internet protocol will be the structure for both fixed and mobiles for the future."

Chambers ended with a demo of unified comms in action, showing a video call being moved from an IP business phone to a Nokia N95, on to a WiBrain UMPC WiMax device and finally, via a Cisco IP set-top box, to a living room TV.

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Social networking creeping into the business world was also a theme for Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of BlackBerry maker RIM who spoke on day three of Mobile World Congress.

"Once social networking becomes a B2B phenomenon - not unlike IM and texting - I believe every single social networking user will want a data plan," he told the audience.

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Outside in the sunshine a more traditional form of face-to-face networking was happening.

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Microsoft's press conference focused on the evolution of the business smart phone into an all round work and play device - and it also made a song and dance about Sony Ericsson joining the Windows Mobile club with the Xperia X1 handset.

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Back in La Fira there was plenty of mobile hardware on show, from the likes of RIM.

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The consumerisation of the BlackBerry was evident as RIM showed off some rather lurid coloured skins for the smart phone - along with more subtly coloured, business-friendly BlackBerrys.

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Femtocell hardware was on show too.

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Samsung used Mobile World Congress to make a big song and dance about its music-friendly Soul mobile, which debuted at the show - a five-megapixel slider HSDPA handset.

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Meanwhile, a prototype device running Google's Android drew the crowds to Texas Instruments' booth.

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Huawei was at Mobile World Congress in force, with hardware aplenty and banners promoting renewable energy - in line with China Mobile's message to the industry.

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Palm was there too, shouting about its Centro device - which recently launched in Europe and is said to be the smallest and lightest smart phone around - by sticking a giant model of the phone next to a giant palm.

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Symbian had a large coloured cube at its booth to represent the different layers of its OS.

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And by the end of day three, sensory overload had clearly proved too much for this attendee - who was fast asleep on his jacket in the press room.

Photo credit: Natasha Lomas

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