I’m back now from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and whilst I enjoyed playing with lots of new devices and meeting lots of interesting people, I am a little disappointed not to come away with more new investment themes or ideas to work on.
Walking the floors and looking at the companies and exhibitors my only big takeaway was that there are a lot of companies looking to help carriers solve their coming network capacity problems – and well they might, operators spend around $135bn a year on capex and they are going to need help dealing with the projected 21x growth in mobile data by 2015 (Cisco). I’m sure some startups in this area will profit handsomely, but dealing with operators is an tricky and expensive business, and there will be many more that don’t fare so well.
My other takeaway came from a Qualcomm breakfast seminar rather than the Congress itself. As I blogged on Wednesday there is opportunity in dealing with the rapid growth in mobile malware.
These two takeaways are interesting, and may spawn investments for us, which is why I put them first, but the biggest thing I noticed is that whereas MWC used to be a hotbed for startups it is now dominated by large companies. Google/Android had a massive presence, as did Samsung and Nokia but to find startups you had to visit the country promotional stands, hunt upstairs in Hall 2, or go searching in the corners of Hall 7.
On reflection I think that might be because MWC is an operator and OEM focused show. In the past these companies controlled distribution and mobile oriented startups came to MWC in search of partnership agreements. These days mobile startups can go direct to the consumer, making the show less relevant for them.
In a similar vein it is interesting to note that Amazon and Facebook weren’t present in any meaningful way. After Google and Apple they are driving mobile forward faster than perhaps any other companies.