Mobile communication impacts the daily lives of hundreds of millions, drives commerce and shapes economies. The 2012 Mobile World Congress (MWC), which took place at the Fira de Barcelona Conference and Exhibition Centre between February 27 and March 1, has become an established global showcase for the industry and an important platform for the technology that is being developed today that will shape the future.

The GSMA reported that over the four days a record number of more than 67,000 visitors (the number of individual attendees, including delegates, exhibitors, contractors and media) from 205 countries attended the Congress, with more than 1,500 exhibiting companies occupying 70,500 net square metres of exhibition and business meeting space.

With such a worldwide audience broad global issues other than the usual commercial proliferation of networks and services were addressed during the conferences, forums, seminars and GTI summit. For instance, recognizing that in emerging and developing regions mobile communications technology has the capacity to provide lifelines, educate and be a tool for development, a number of seminars covered pertinent issues ranging from: green power for mobile and community power from mobile, disaster response, and agricultural value added services in emerging markets.

Of course, at a premier event that attracts global media attention and the participation of high profile movers and shakers the major focus is on the need and desire to sate the developed world’s rapacious appetite for mobile content and meet the challenge to develop applicable technology at a pace that will satisfy that demand.

The continuing evolution and promotion of the smartphone and now the ‘superphone’, the mushrooming development of Apps for every purpose, the insatiable demand to download games, movies and live content and access the Internet, and even make the occasional old fashioned ‘phone call’ are putting ever increasing strain on the networks. Capacity, or the lack of it, has been a major concern for some time. In recent years considerable progress has been made, particularly at the ‘core’ but the danger is that the problems have been moved to the fringes and, in this case, out sight can mean out of range!

Only a few years ago the new buzz at the Mobile World Congress was LTE, which, along with its siblings LTE-Advanced and TD-LTE, has developed at pace with rollouts having commenced. In particular there have been significant deployments in Asia, particularly South Korea, while in North America the spread has generally been confined to large cities with high density.

It also looks like LTE could finally find its voice as major efforts are being made to provide Voice over LTE (VoLTE), two years on from the GSMA announcing their backing of the ‘One Voice’ solution to VoLTE at the 2010 Mobile World Congress. Having been conceived as an IP cellular system solely for carrying data with voice carried either by VoIP or by 2G or 3G, operators have realised that the omission of voice from LTE, allied to the lack of SMS needed to be addressed. Standardisation is now a key issue, with voice quality being a particular concern.

Further along the developmental spectrum is 4G LTE-Advanced, a key feature of which is Carrier Aggregation, which is being standardized in 3GPP as part of LTE Release 10. Basically, carrier aggregation enables expansion of effective bandwidth delivered to a user terminal through concurrent utilization of radio resources across multiple component carriers that are ‘aggregated’ to form a larger overall transmission bandwidth. Work is ongoing but at MWC 2012, Cognovo demonstrated carrier aggregation communications in real-time on an LTE Advanced baseband, and a number of carriers have announced deployment as early as 2013.

Another approach to addressing the capacity question is the deployment of small cells to bridge the gaps and expand coverage. Some of the largest operators have made small cell deployments. 2012 has seen the world’s first LTE femtocell deployment by SK Telecom and the marrying of small cell technology with Wi-Fi is a hot topic. Small cell developers stated that the current aim is to take advantages of chipset development and low cost components while employing advanced RF and network management.

As well as network capacity another contagion of the smartphone revolution is the drain on handset batteries with the potential for 4G handsets requiring charging two or even three times a day. A specific answer to this problem is to address PA efficiency through the development and deployment of Envelope Tracking. This is a standard PA architecture providing power optimization technology which delivers high efficiency over the entire spectrum used for 3G and 4G standards. At MWC 2012 Nujira showcased its first commercial chip for mobile handsets.

With an event as vast and far reaching as MWC it is impossible to cover all of the key issues and innovations and this article has attempted to highlight a few of the more significant areas of R&D. Many of these technological developments are in the RF and microwave sector with test and measurement, semiconductor and chipset, near-field communication, small cells and mobile backhaul companies demonstrating their latest offerings on the exhibition floor. These will be the subject of a Mobile World Congress Product Wrap-up that will be posted soon.

Finally, just as mobile networks are reaching their capacity so too has the Fira de Barcelona Conference and Exhibition Centre. Therefore, starting in 2013, the Mobile World Congress will be held at the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via, a move which will provide approximately 50 per cent more space and will accommodate continued strong growth and demand for the event.

See you there.