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Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

Yahoo's Nigel Clarkson on 5G, automated cars and connected shoes at Mobile World Congress

Mobile World Congress Day 2

7,000 steps – or 8km – walked today, according to my health app. But I’m just one of the 100,000 people expected to step foot at Mobile World Congress this year. As mentioned yesterday, with no big new handset launches to be announced, the content is much more about what you can do on your mobile rather than the mobile itself, which makes the show more attractive than ever to the marketing industry.

The internet of things is a definite theme at this MWC. We've been talking about it for years without really knowing where it is going, but this year it feels like we’re moving away from potential to actual live tech. I overheard someone say that there were 32 connected cars at the show this year. And this isn't a niche thing - Ford, BMW, Daimler and Peugeot had actual stands to show off their tech!

Automated cars aren't coming immediately, but the connection to the car through sat nav and in-car entertainment is certainly here now. Essentially, the car becomes your WiFi and your SIM-enabled device.

This year it also feels like every stand has virtual reality headsets, even if the company doesn’t seem to be linked directly to VR. Maybe PowerPoint is evolving to the point that only a fully-immersive 3D sales pitch will be acceptable, or it may hide the fact that the company isn't really that interesting and needs to sprinkle some stardust on their product. Either way, gamification and VR is certainly hot – there were people queuing to give it a go on all the stands, so there’s certainly a consumer desire to experience it. The challenge is what this means for us as marketers. Is there an opportunity for brands to get in with content and advertising experiences, or do the sales of headsets have to scale before it actually becomes a 'thing' outside of hardcore gamers?

A lot of the talk at Barcelona is around 5G – as if it's already here when it clearly isn't – with the BBC website describing the 5G excitement as "irrational exuberance". We don't know when it is coming, and you could argue that we don't know what we will get when it does, but clearly it will be a level of connectivity unlike anything we have experienced before. Think of your best home or work WiFi connection and that will appear snail’s-pace slow. The ability to live stream films or TV while on a bus or on a beach is exciting for many reasons.

The investment will, as always, be funded by the telco's to all of our benefit, so you can see why the likes of AT&T, Telefonica and Verizon are looking to get more involved in content and distribution, aiming to monetise some of that massive investment. Verizon is of course buying Yahoo and already owns AOL, so it’s very advanced in this space.

It also means some really interesting moves in the relationship between Out Of Home (OOH) advertising and digital / mobile. Having run an OOH business before, it is heartening to see some great work starting to be done in this area, with mobile data informing poster selection in a way that was never previously possible. The future of online and offline modelling is becoming so much more robust.

Amongst all the amazing tech and multi-national companies on show here this year, there have also been some interesting vendors pedalling their wares. (I remember a very amusing Twitter handle called @internetofshit, which poked fun at some of the exhibitors at CES earlier this year). While not quite as extreme as some of the offerings from CES (my favourite was 'we put technology in your tea') there have been some good ones here. I saw a bank of TV screens today with a sign proclaiming 'the world’s first connected wall'. Well firstly, I'd hope all walls are connected, preferably to each other, the floor and the ceiling. But it also wasn't a connected wall at all – it was some screens mounted on a wall. Hence it was a group of wall-mounted TVs. Nice try though.

Similarly, a sign shouted out at me 'make your shoes Smart – GPS and vibrating footwear'. Needless to say I bought a pair immediately and will never be lost again, as my smart shoes will always take me home. Let's hope they work after a few beers tonight and get me back from the various 'networking' events on offer.

Nigel Clarkson is the managing director of Yahoo UK

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