Full Nelson: Bienvenidos a Barcelona - InformationWeek

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2/12/2008
12:34 AM
Fritz Nelson
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Full Nelson: Bienvenidos a Barcelona

That's about the extend of my Spanish. I'm trying to learn: "Where can I buy toothpaste," but people just keep pointing me to La Rambla -- the famous strip of shopping, food, and professional pickpockets. I've always been fascinated by this city, its architecture (the breathtaking Sagrada Familia; the omnipresence of Gaudi), its food (you've never had tapas if you haven't eaten here; if they want to be truly modern they have to find a way to put paella on a stick and sell it on the street corner

That's about the extend of my Spanish. I'm trying to learn: "Where can I buy toothpaste," but people just keep pointing me to La Rambla -- the famous strip of shopping, food, and professional pickpockets. I've always been fascinated by this city, its architecture (the breathtaking Sagrada Familia; the omnipresence of Gaudi), its food (you've never had tapas if you haven't eaten here; if they want to be truly modern they have to find a way to put paella on a stick and sell it on the street corner) and its edgy night life (I'll spare you the details).

Of course, this week it also is home to Mobile World Congress, formerly known as 3GSM, put on by the GSM Association. Here are a few Day 1 highlights.

  • The GSM Association beckoned the press to a conference to announce ... it was against child pornography. To be fair, that wasn't the intent of the press conference, but that's all it's going to amount to. The real announcement is an alliance among a handful of European mobile operators and the GSMA to try to prevent the proliferation of child pornography as mobile devices increasingly become the de facto place from which to launch a Web browser. The operators say they will deploy content filtering (it was the only technology discussed) and send take down notices and offer hot lines for those wishing to report bad conduct and content. This will, of course, raise all sorts of issues about privacy and censorship (at least in the U.S.), and raise debate about where the filtering will stop. Each of the alliance members made its obligatory statements against child pornography (and who wouldn't). It's a worthy cause, to be sure, and at least these alliance members saw fit to create a press conference and craft a plan. It may not work, it may not be practical, but it's the right gesture.

  • At the tail end of the press conference, when the small handful of appropriate questions had been asked (because, let's be honest, there are only so many questions for that environment), one brave reporter asked Viviane Reding (EU commissioner for Information Society and Media) the question really on the minds of the mobile community at Mobile World Congress: What's being done about the absurd roaming charges levied by the European mobile operators? The press conference managers kept them on track ("we are only here to talk about child pornography!"), and then the hordes gathered outside for a press scrum as Reding perched herself high up on the stairwell to hold an impromptu press conference. Well, impromptu is hardly the word for it: she virtually read a prepared statement, lashing out at the operators and instructing the crowd that she'd given them an ultimatum of mid-year to craft a plan whereby they can still make their margins, but they must cease the customer fleecing. Meanwhile, the GSMA tried to wrestle the crowd back in for the second half of the press conference, to no avail.

  • Mobile World Congress is notorious for launching new handsets, usually being shown off by scantily clad Spanish women. Thus, it's a must to cover the story. Everyone has its iPhone killer (but Apple may just do this themselves with its oft-released new models). The focus, of course, is on the fancy touch screen, which now seems like a big yawn.

    -- LG had several new models (or are they flavors? chocolate? dark chocolate? Prada? I can't keep track) using its internally developed touch screen interface (Touch and Spin, they call it). -- I couldn't find much at Motorola's booth, which seemed hell-bent on downplaying handsets, given recent talks of selling that part off -- Femtocells and WiMax access points seemed to rule the day here. -- Nokia made what was billed as a significant announcement with Symbian, but all it had to show was a hefty prototype about the size of today's small laptop. -- The big surprise was Sony-Ericsson's Xperia . This is one hell of a device, with not only a touch screen but a few other sharp input methods, including what seemed like a well-designed hidden keyboard. But beneath the surface is Windows Mobile -- a move that's a bit shocking, given the company's investment in Symbian. They seemed to scoot around those questions pretty quickly, focusing instead on what they'd layered on top of the Windows OS. Welcome back to the land of innovation! -- Android. Prototypes of phones running the Google Android platform are rumored to be here and we'll try to dig up some dirt on that in the next couple of days.

  • The real story in Barcelona, however, is 4G. Just as U.S. operators are rolling out 3G to major metropolitan regions, and as consumers beg the likes of Apple and Research In Motion for 3G versions of phones, we're already onto the next big thing. Rightly so. There's no point staying in one place and, besides, this will be a war fought for the next two years. The impetus, however, is the successful trials and major announcements surrounding LTE (long term evolution). With the GSMA behind it, and Verizon and AT&T making its bets here, we're going to see major smack talking on the 4G front from the equipment manufacturers to the carriers. More on that in the coming days.

    And for more excellent Mobile World Congress coverage, check out these roundups from Contentinople and Light Reading .

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