The first day of the 26th Mobile World Congress (and the 7th to be held in Barcelona) had a ground hog day feel to it. The Fira looked much the same, with all the stands from the last few years in the same place, other than for Nokia (who have not attended for the last couple of years and now have taken over much of Hall 7), and the European operators are still complaining about the over-the-top (OTT) players and the regulator. The crowds this year are definitely larger – over 60,000 people will attend to make it the biggest Mobile World Congress yet.

The conference opened with keynotes by the CEOs of three of the world’s biggest operators – China Mobile, Vodafone and AT&T – presenting on their strategies. China Mobile’s strategy (based on what I could glean from the small text on their slides and an interpreter) seems to be to leverage their 660m customer base to create their own app store. Vodafone, by contrast, clearly laid out the key value propositions of a mobile operator, namely 100% ubiquity of high quality data, excellence in service, security and privacy based on open standards and convenience. They aim to build on these core qualities to deliver services into numerous verticals such as health care, agriculture, etc. Not surprisingly, given their global footprint, they have a heavy emphasis on developing countries. AT&T CEO, Ralph De La Vega, talked about a virtuous cycle of innovation and how customer attitudes to technology have changed. He said that two years ago, their research showed customers felt there was too much technology and that it was taking over their lives. Now they say it is making their lives simpler for them. What has caused this turnaround was not particularly clear but you can’t help feeling the mobile Internet plays a big part in that. AT&T are also talking up the connected home and announced their Digital Life strategy today which is a connected home plot based on their Xanboo acquisition.

Nokia’s return to the Fira is, in itself, newsworthy and perhaps an indication that their relationship with Microsoft is putting them on the up. Talking of Microsoft, they are running a competition to challenge any phone to perform tasks, such as capturing and sharing a photo, quicker than a Windows Phone 7 can.

Despite the complaints of the European carriers, the relationship between carriers and OTT players is evolving. A company called fonYou is enabling Telefonica to offer a 2nd number service to their mobile customers which gives you a handset with two numbers but the same quality circuit switched voice on both. fonYou claim that roughly 50% of consumers want such a service.

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