mobile world congress fira

One of the year’s biggest mobile trade shows, Mobile World Congress, kicks into gear on Monday in Barcelona.

As you prepare to fly out to Catalonia, or to hunker down with the 1,000+ press releases coming your way, now is a good time to think about what to look for next week. What you need is a framework for interpreting the flood of news.

Fortunately, we’ve got just the thing.

At VentureBeat, we are getting ready for our own event, the invitation-only Mobile Summit, which is only six weeks away (April 1-2 in Sausalito, Calif.). This year, the conversation will center on seven themes which we have identified as top-of-mind concerns among industry professionals.

These seven themes are the perfect framework for distilling next week’s deluge of data.

1) The Mobile Experience

In this theme, we’re looking at the intersection of design and technology. Smartphone hardware is starting to all look alike. So increasingly the only way to stand out is through building a better user experience. The platform wars are now a race to find new ways to people to interact with their devices. Look for advances in voice control, gesture recognition, contextual awareness and smart design.

Look for news from some of the smaller players. In particular, we are watching to see if Firefox Mobile gets traction at other carriers and handset makers. Same goes for Microsoft. Bonus points if you can spot any Apple employees walking the show floor.

2) Can Mobile Monetize?

This seems to be the question of app developers, large and small. The mobile ad market is crowded and complicated. We will try to sort through this by speaking to ad networks and companies with successful strategies in mobile. A quick glance at the MWC exhibitor list shows an explosion in the number of advertising technology (ad-tech) companies coming to Barcelona, an important development as software gains predominance in the industry.

This is not a big show for ad network news, but we will be looking for movement from the carriers. Who is partnering with whom? And which carriers are going to try and go it alone?

3) How is mobile reshaping the purchase of physical goods?

A big topic last year was ‘showrooming’ — the notion that consumers are going to bricks and mortar retail stores to touch products which they then purchase through their mobile device. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? We think that mobility is just beginning to alter the retail landscape in ways beyond that of the PC-based Internet.

We anticipate a lot of new mobile payment schemes. Some more workable than others. We would also watch for new ways to use NFC chips in phones. Many think that we need to have these in devices for mobile payments to take off, but we will probably see NFC chips used for things other than payments first.

4) How will we get to 5G?

The short answer is ‘small cells.’ This may seem an arcane subject, but it is going to become very important in coming years. Equipment vendors will need to build low-cost, high volume boxes; carriers will need to find places to position these; and then someone is going to have to figure out how to connect all those new radios back to the network. A lot of work still needs to be done here, but it may be the only way to get our next speed boost from wireless. We think it is going to be a major focus for the equipment makers at the show.

Expect all the big equipment vendors to showcase their small cell solutions. Alcatel, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, and ZTE will probably all have something to say. But also keep an eye out for smaller companies like Accedian and Spider Cloud who are driving much of the innovation in the space.

5) The future of mobile hardware

It takes a lot of wires to be wireless. It also takes a lot of silicon, glass, and plastic. The industry is searching for more LTE baseband vendors — what will Intel, Broadcom, Marvell, and Mediatek have to say in response to the leader in this market, Qualcomm? We also anticipate some interesting developments in radios, LCD screens, and audio components, the parts of mobile devices that really shape our mobile experience.

We expect all the chip companies will announce something about LTE product launches (some have already done so). But watch the details. When will these chips actually ship as opposed to ‘sample’?

6) The mobile as remote control for life

Consumers are now watching TV with their tablets for companions. Home builders are tying smartphones into house automation systems. Mobile devices, with all their sensors and processing power, are playing a new role in shaping the home. We see this as a natural extension of the Internet of Things, with the mobile device sitting at the nexus of growing sensor networks.

MWC tends to be a carrier-heavy show, and we expect to see digital living rooms built around carrier plans. More interesting may be other sensor networks and “M2M” (machine to machine) systems.

7) What’s next for the enterprise?

Big corporations have already adopted BYOD and MDM systems. They are now looking for more fine-grained approaches to controlling access to their data while giving employees their choice of device. New companies are emerging that give large and small companies the ability to offer devices with split personalities and application awareness. Expect a lot of offerings on this front.

With software companies taking a growing share of the show’s square footage, you should look to startups like Apperian, AirWatch, and Enterproid as well as stalwarts like Good Technology and Mobile Iron for interesting news here.

Photo via Christine und Hagen Graf/Flickr