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Watching the creative destruction of the mobile industry at MWC

Mobile devices, mobile infrastructure in a complex dance

By , Network World
February 18, 2010 06:43 PM ET

Network World - The mobile device and infrastructure industries continued their familiar yet increasingly complex dance at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: Consumers and enterprises receive ever more devices to choose from, while carriers scramble to figure out how to support, deploy and make money off the mix.

Check out our slideshow of innovations unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2010. 

New devices with yet more operating systems are aimed at creating a class of inexpensive smartphones designed for those still vast audiences that are not using either a BlackBerry, an iPhone or an Android-based handset.

At the intersection of soaring mobile Internet traffic, enabled by ever more sophisticated client devices, and of rising infrastructure investments, in both enhanced 3G and powerful 4G networks, is an industry-wide experiment to create new services along with new revenue models.

"Right now, the service landscape [from which] mobile operators actually are gaining revenue in mobile data is very thin, with most of the revenues coming from data service subscriptions that are flat fees," says Bettina Tratz-Ryan, a research vice president with Gartner Deutschland. "So, in order to justify the LTE deployments, which need more cells than in a 3G network to build out to higher bandwidths, mobile operators need to build out services with greater customer experiences. Those can be defined for instance in terms of quality, flexibility, and blended with social media for consumers or with unified communications for business users."

Windows Phone: risen from the dead?

On the device side, the biggest story out of MWC was Microsoft's radically redesigned Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. The demonstration was only that – showing the new user interface – but it deftly blends typography and minimalist icon design in an easily navigable arrangement; applications, content, and information clustered in "hubs" that have common organization and navigation themes.

Microsoft deflected all questions about the kernel, new developer tools, Silverlight support, what kind of browser it has, or anything else deemed to be part of the "platform."

Nonetheless, the user interface impressed observers. "[T]his was the radical change for which consumers have been waiting in order to reengage with Microsoft," writes Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, a technology advisory firm, assessing the news in an online post. "Windows Phone 7 series is competitive across the board – for entertainment, enterprise use, and personal productivity."

Microsoft didn't directly address changes or improvements aimed at enterprise users. But the demonstration showed the "Office Hub" for the Microsoft Office Suite, including the OneNote note-writing application, and important access to SharePoint, Microsoft's enterprise collaboration, workflow, and document management system. 

But there's still skepticism about whether the OS can catch up to Apple, RIM, and, increasingly, Android. Veteran Microsoft watcher Joe Wilcox wrote in a post that Windows Phone 7 was "dead on arrival." Microsoft has lost too much market share and mindshare, and faces too much successful competition from Apple and Google Android to resuscitate its mobile offering, he argues.

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