I remember the first time I attended 3GSM in Cannes: It was primarily a B2B telecoms trade show and centered on DVB-H, WiMAX, and other technology-centric acronyms. Fast-forward 11 years, and Mobile World Congress (MWC) will be the center of the business world for a couple of days (March 2 to 5). Some things don’t change: We will continue to hear too much about technology. Simply ignore the hype, especially around 5G; it will have no impact at all on your marketing strategy for the next five years!

However, the list of keynote speakers is a good indication of what MWC has become: a priority event for leaders willing to transform their businesses. The CEOs of Facebook, Renault-Nissan, SAP, MasterCard, and BBVA will be speaking, and more than 4,500 CEOs will be among the 85,000 attendees (only 25% of which are from operators). It is fascinating to see how mobile has changed the world in the past 10 years — not just in the way that we live and communicate but also in terms of disrupting every business. I strongly believe that mobile will have a bigger impact than the PC or Web revolutions. Why?

First, mobile is the fastest and most ubiquitous technology ever to spread globally. People in Asia and Africa are skipping the PC Internet and going direct to mobile phones; they’re the ultimate convergent device and often the only way to reach people in rural areas. As Andreessen Horowitz's Benedict Evans put it, mobile is “eating the world”. It has already cannibalized several markets, such as cameras, video recorders, and GPS, and is now disrupting entire industries, changing the game for payments, health, and education, especially in emerging countries. Second, mobile is the bridge to the physical world. It is not just another “subdigital” channel. This alone has a huge impact on business models. Last, mobile is a catalyst for business transformation.

For marketers attending or following the event, I see the main announcements falling in two categories:

1. Mobile As The Hub Of New Connected Experiences

As is often the case at MWC, the buzz will continue to center on the spring/summer collection of new devices, which I usually refer to as the “Asian device spec fashion week.” Samsung is very likely to announce its new Galaxy S6 flagship device, while HTC will show off the One/M9. As I predicted last year with the Galaxy S5, Samsung will need more content, software, and services to truly differentiate from Apple in the high-end space. If the key takeaway from its press event on March 1 is simply hardware innovation, with a new metal design or a curved display, Samsung will continue to suffer this year. (And don’t expect a completely foldable smartphone; that’s still a few years away.) I would expect Samsung to launch a new smartwatch and other wearables based on Tizen to try to impose its new operating system in the consumer electronics space. We can also expect a tour de force from Asian manufacturers with entry-level and midrange phones from the likes of Acer, Huawei, Lenovo, and LG. Beyond phablets and wearables, expect a lot more focus and innovation this year on connected objects, such as home controls, cars, and health systems.

For marketers, what really matters is that people in the West will use more and more connected devices and that smartphones will act as the primary interface to connect them all. As my colleague Dan Bieler states here, marketers will also have to take data privacy seriously in order to build truly contextual experiences on top of these devices. In emerging markets, where most people can’t afford to own that many devices, mobile phones are becoming the ultimate convergent device and the primary touchpoint for companies to interact with consumers.

2. Mobile As A Key Driver Of Cross-Channel Marketing, Commerce, And Payment Initiatives

MWC is not SXSW or ad:tech: Marketers should not expect brand-new advertising concepts or key marketing announcements. However, many vendors in the mobile marketing, advertising, and measurement space will be there. From app tracking vendors to more traditional analytics vendors, we should hear more about mobile’s ability to improve cross-channel measurement. Expect a lot of interest in and some announcements about mobile commerce and payments. As I recently discussed, adding value to mobile payment offerings is the future of mobile wallets. Marketing leaders and digital executives visiting the show should spend less time visiting the manufacturers’ booths and much more in the App Planet Hall or in discussions with innovative startups. If, like me, you believe mobile plays a unique role in bridging the physical and digital worlds, you might want to consider it both as a unique identifier that can help you accelerate your cross-channel initiatives and as a starting point to rethink your customer journey.

You can follow me on Twitter during the event via @Thomas_Husson. If you are attending MWC and want to hear more about Forrester's activities during the event, please contact pmigalska@forrester.com.