Mobile World Congress kicks off Monday

Event promises cutting-edge entertainment content

MADRID -- The wireless industry turns its attention to Barcelona this week as the Mobile World Congress kicks off Monday, promising potentially game-changing announcements and glimpses of cutting-edge technology to shape how mobile devices are used.

Content and entertainment -- the popular words from previous years -- have been absorbed into the general theme this year: applications. Organizing body GSM has set up the "event within an event," the App Planet, to showcase all the latest developments and help content providers network.

Buzz has it that Microsoft will unveil its Windows Mobile 7 and maybe even its iPhone rival, the Zunephone. Google's CEO Eric Schmidt is set to enter center stage Tuesday to discuss operating system Android -- trumpeting the "open content landscape" -- and loads of firms are set to reveal their Google/Android compatible devices.

The event, which runs through Feb. 18, lists panels and keynote speakers that read like a who's who of prominent names and chief executives from the wireless community.

Organizers expect some 50,000 to attend, approximately the same as last year, and more than 1,300 exhibitors are set to show their wares at the fair. Insiders suggest that the telecom industry -- with its flat rates and other products -- has proved more resilient than other sectors.

But if mobile TV and other content applications warranted special treatment in previous years with the section Mobile Backstage, the emphasis this year is on applications in general. Entertainment is no longer a separate section and infuses every aspect of the confab.

A two-part panel on Tuesday will first focus on music with Spotify Vice President of Products Gustav Soderstrom and 3UK's Director of Products and Services Charlotte Blanchard looking at "Access all Areas" -- the potential of mobile music.

Next, a panel moderated by Mobilium Chairman Ralph Simon will look at how to maximize future growth areas in entertainment via sporting events. Speakers like Mobile Sky General Manager David Gibbs, ControlRoom Founder Kevin Wall and South Africa's MTN's Serame Taukobong will focus on two major sporting events on the horizon -- the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa and the London 2012 Olympic Games.

This year's entertainment agenda also includes an interview with Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran and a session on "How is Mobile Viewed by the New Media Generation?" on Wednesday.

Growth strategies is a common thread throughout the event, with a full segment on Thursday devoted to mobile advertising, titled "Shaking off the Shackles of Legacy Thinking."

For the first time in the congress' 15-year history, Global Mobile Awards will be presented within the conference and will be hosted and presented by self-confessed technophile Stephen Fry.