Mobile World Congress 2013 Preview: reading the CEOs

Posted on


The GSMA's Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2013 in Barcelona on Feb 25-28 is a key fixture in the mobile industry. Telco 2.0 is again delighted to be official partners of the event. Not only does this mean that the Telco 2.0 analyst team will be attending in force, but also that we're able to offer our readers a special discount on MWC passes. (Email us at contact@telco2.net if you'd like one).

gran fia image jan 2013.png

It's at a new venue this year, the brand new Fira Gran Via. While it's a little out of the centre of town, we're looking forward to a change of scene, and Barcelona is small enough to enjoy the centre of town in the evenings.

Apart from the allure of the city of Barcelona, we like going for three reasons.


  1. It's a great place to feel the pulse of the global telecoms industry, and we'll be analysing and reporting what we see and hear in the weeks after the Congress. We've had a look back at our analysis from the last three years below, and are reasonably pleased on the accuracy of our predictions and conclusions we drew from watching and listening to the great and good from Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, Telefonica, et al.

  2. It's a good place to do business, and we're hosting activities for a number of clients at the Congress. In particular, we're running two private sessions for telco CMOs / CTOs / CSOs and Cloud Directors: a breakfast brainstorm on growth opportunities from 'Big Data' and personal data; and a 'Telcos in the Cloud' brainstorming lunch. If you're interested in joining or finding out more, please email contact@telco2.net.

  3. It's a superb opportunity to simply catch up with many key clients and friends in the industry. So if you are going, do let us know and we'll try to catch up with you.


So what happened in the last couple of years? In the rest of this article we reflect on what we read in the performances of some of the world's top technology and telco CEOs (Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, AT&T and Telecom Italia), and other highlights from Congress.

For a start, Google's Eric Schmidt gave one of the best big stage performances we've ever seen. With the benefit of hindsight, this may have happened at around the apex of the Stamford man's career at Google, and his second appearance illustrated a fascinating change in both his, and Google's, strategic approach.

e schmidt 2010 MWC.jpg

Dr Eric Schmidt bossed the 2010 Congress as Google's CEO (Image: Guardian.co.uk)

Back in 2010, in How Google's Chief Magician Stole the Show, we wrote how the then CEO had in a tour-de-force performance told the telecoms industry exactly which parts of their lunch Google will eat, while simultaneously appearing to offer peace. We thought that his most revealing remark was an offhand comment about customer data, and about how much more of it that Google would have in five years time. Big customer data was of course the telcos' lunch we were referring to - the oil of the future information economy, an area we've been working on for a number of years.

Two years later Schmidt seemed like a different man when he spoke again at the 2012 Congress.

e schmidt 2012 MWC.jpg

'Uncle Eric' Schmidt, Chairman, Google, at MWC 2012 (Photo: GSMA)

While still a consummate performer, in 2012 he seemed like an elderly uncle of the man who presented at the 2010 show. It may have been that Schmidt's new role of Chairman suited a lower octane style, or that his true objective was to anaesthetise the industry to the distrust it then felt toward Google. It may also have been that by then, the high intensity 16-hour-a-day CEO lifestyle that Schmidt had described as the norm for his team had taken its toll.

ballmer 2012 blog.png

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, spars with the audience in 2012 (Image Source: GSMA)

In contrast, in 2011's Microsoft CEO fails to land all punches, but..., we described how the pugilistic Steve Ballmer was all fist-pumping action while making a slightly less than convincing case for Microsoft's Windows 7 mobile OS. Despite our own doubts about the near term prospects for Microsoft in mobile, we sounded a cautious note of longer-term optimism, saying that Microsoft could be back in contention within 5 or 6 years given its corporate IQ and resources.

It's still early days, but consumers and reviewers seem to have warmed to the OS at least. Recent results appear to show Apple beginning to plateau, and Samsung powering ahead, so the smartphone OS wars are far from over. Operators still have the strategic need to nurture more than two smartphone ecosystems as we pointed out in Dealing with the 'Disruptors': Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft/Skype and Amazon, so Microsoft is still in the game.

The motivations and contrasts between the outwardly composed and cerebral Schmidt and the combative Ballmer, and indeed the emotional tone and temperature of all of the CEO performances we watch, are always among the most interesting aspects of the Congress. CEOs are, after all, the centre of something akin to a company's 'ego' - the embodied expression of what it collectively believes it is and should be doing.

goofellas 2013 blog.png

2012: Bernabe, de la Vega, Colao: "MTRs - funny how?" (Image: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

In the case of the 2012 opening addresses of the CEOs of Vodafone, AT&T Mobility, and Telecom Italia, we noted a slightly comical 'Goodfellas' tone, giving the impression of powerful gang bosses addressing peers at a fraternal gathering. The President of China Mobile, in contrast, simply spoke in Chinese: the clear message being 'now you must come to us' - as well as some intriguing thoughts on its vast mobile platform. We also reported on Apps & Devices, Network Technologies, M-Commerce, and Facebook's somewhat content free appearance.

So we look forward to the star turns and content of the MWC 2013 agenda, and what it all tells us about the state of the industry. There are some interesting speakers there this year, though notably, no heavyweights from Google or Facebook, and of course nobody from Apple, which has infamously always eschewed public appearances at the Congress. On the non-telco side, Deezer, Dropbox, Foursquare and Viber will be there, and the telco C-Level line-up is strong, so there's plenty to look forward to.

And perhaps we'll see you there too - email contact@telco2.net if you'd like to know more about the special discounted passes.