We’re now only a week away from the Mobile World Congress 2016 to be held again in Barcelona.  As the excitement builds and we plan our schedules, it serves us to reflect back on last year’s event and to explore what we expect this year.

Mobile World Congress remains the pre-eminent event of the mobile industry and now one of the largest global events across all industries – a fact which illustrates an ambiguity in the meaning itself of “mobile industry.” Last year, over 94,000 people attended the event – a 10% increase from the 2014 event but a 30% increase over the 2013 event. Interest in “mobile” continues to grow – for now.  But the most interesting stat about past attendees is diversification. Yes, the event continues to draw representatives from mobile operators, device manufacturers, network equipment providers, software vendors, and other usual suspects.  But representation from other industries is growing.  Last year almost ¼ of attendees came from industries other than telecom and technology, including 4% from finance, 3% from government and others from automotive, pharmaceutical, retail, education, and entertainment.  I expect even more diversity this year.

And, that takes me to the theme of this year’s event:  “Mobile is everything.”  I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea.  I’m not so sure that mobile is everything.  Last year I wrote about how the reign of mobility had given way to the new rule of connectivity – arguing that it wasn’t about being mobile but about being connected with other people or things.  Yes, that remains true.  But in contemplating this year’s theme I found myself thinking that it wasn’t how mobile or connected you are, rather it’s about what you do with it.  It’s about what can you do better – more efficiently, more effectively, more sustainably –by being connected.  Maybe I’m overthinking the question, but it’s about enabling new ways of doing things and the transformations that are occurring across industries. It's about new data that can be collected and turned into insights that lead to innovative actions and better outcomes. That's what I'll be looking for at the event.

This year I was again a judge for the Connected Life Awards category for the Best Mobile Innovation for ‘The Internet of Things.’  This award is for is for “mobile products, systems and services that advance a world of intelligent communication between everyday objects through mobile network connectivity” – and yes, it does cover just about everything: from mobile devices to applications and services to platforms and enablers.  Entries spanned luxury watches, smart farming, e-bikes, connected health, home automation, and smart cities but also included programs to promote digital inclusion and bring IoT into education curriculum.  Many entries provided infrastructure and enablers to make it all work.  Indeed, innovations for the IoT covered everything.  Picking a winner was tough. Stay tuned to hear who it was.

Mobile World Congress claims to be “the industry’s best event” – but that begs the question “Which industry?” Mobile is everything – or at least enables it.