mwc_logo2.gifWalk around the streets of Barcelona this week and you could be forgiven for thinking that Chinese is the fourth official language of the Mobile World Congress, behind Catalan, English and Spanish. The growing Chinese presence at the wireless industry's annual confab, shows just how important China's manufacturers — and its mammoth consumer market — have become to the industry's future.


Back when the show was called 3GSM and
held in Cannes, Chinese visitors were as rare as hen's teeth. They were viewed
with curiosity and occasional suspicion by western players who feared the
Chinese were only interested in reverse engineering their latest products.

But today Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE are treated as equals in
the innovation stakes and their stands at events like MWC rival those of Nokia
or Motorola in size and crowd-pulling potential.

ZTE, for example, unveiled what it claims is the world's smallest TV data
card for mobile phones and boasted of its plug-and-play capabilities. Anything
which makes it easier to watch mobile TV on notebook computers is presumably
going to go down well with the operators.

ZTE is already the world's second biggest manufacturer of HSPA data cards for
laptops, and just around the corner is HSPA+. The company argues that the
emergence of high-bandwidth services such as mobile TV, downloading of music TV
and film clips, and large volume mail services is placing significant strain on
network speed and capacity. HSPA+ aims to meet the challenge and ZTE showed a
new HSPA+ card, capable of downloading content at up to 21 megabits a second —
compared to the 14.4Mbps of HSPA.

Wang Jianzhou, CEO of China Mobile, spoke at a press conference about the
mouth-watering potential for China's massive wireless market.

The release of new spectrum for mobile broadband services in 2009 could add
around $211bn to China's GDP, according to a report commissioned by the GSMA,
the trade body behind MWC.

The roll-out of mobile broadband networks will create hundreds of thousands
of jobs, encourage new businesses across the value chain, improve productivity
and boost consumer spending, gushes the report. Although presumably not too many
of those jobs are earmarked for China's 20m migrant workers who were abruptly
sacked as the global downturn hit China's traditional economy.

Perhaps the best example of China's newfound importance in this industry was
seemingly trivial agreement of leading phone manufacturers and operators to standardise on a single phone charger. Look on the bottom of
your mobile phone charger and it probably says “Made in China”. The agreement to
standardise chargers was presented as a big benefit for consumers — no more
having to remember to take the correct charger on your next trip.

But the deal will also rapidly tighten Chinese electronic manufacturers' grip
on this particular market as it plays to their strengths in economies of scale
and ruthlessly driving down costs.

With the day nearing when every phone charger is Made in China, what are the
odds that every phone will one day be Made in China as well?