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Down memory lane: the biggest moments in MWC history

Join us for a look at the history of GSMA's Mobile World Congress as we review past highlights ahead of this year's show. How has MWC changed and what will happen this year?
By
February 25, 2015
MWC Barcelona aa 600px

It’s that time of the year again when thousands of mobile manufacturers, app developers, service providers, and the tech press descend on Barcelona for a week. There’s likely to be more than 80,000 people at Mobile World Congress this year and many millions will read about what’s unveiled. We thought it might be a good time to take a look back at the history of MWC and some of the highlights of years past.

A very brief history of MWC

The show is officially called the GSMA Mobile World Congress. It’s organized by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, which is basically a trade association for mobile operators and the wider industry. It started out as the GSM way back in the 80’s, aiming to establish an agreement for a digital cellular standard that would span Europe.

The first official GSM World Congress was held in Rome in 1990 with just a few hundred attendees. For the first few years it moved to a new city each time, passing through Nice, Berlin, Lisbon, Athens, and Madrid before settling in Cannes in 1996 where it stayed for a decade.

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MWC in Cannes

In 2006 the 3GSM World Congress, as it was called then, was held in Barcelona and around 50,000 people attended. The show settled there and became MWC in 2008. Barcelona was named the GSMA Mobile World Capital in 2011 and it’s set to host MWC until 2018 at least. Last year’s show attracted more than 85,000 people.

3GSM 2006 and 2007 When Nokia ruled the world

Back in 2006 there were a few sliders and candy bars, but the clam shell design reigned supreme. The biggest names in attendance were Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola. Award winners at the show were the Nokia 8800 (best GSM handset) and the Motorola RAZR V3x (best 3G handset).

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Sony Ericsson K800 Cyber-Shot… good times

In 2007 there was a lot of buzz about video on mobile, whether it was video calls, movies or TV. Motorola was still spinning off the Razr brand, BlackBerry showed off the 8800, you could lay hands on the LG Prada, and HTC showed a handful of Windows Mobile handsets. The Samsung SGH-D900 won best GSM handset and the Sony Ericsson K800 Cyber-Shot was named best 3G handset.

MWC 2008 and 2009 Do you remember Inq?

The 2008 show was dominated by Sony Ericsson and the W910 Walkman Phone won the best handset award. It was also the debut for the Xperia line with the X1 which ran Windows Mobile 6.1 and was actually designed and manufactured by HTC. Nokia was also still riding high and showed off the N96, but a lot of people were looking for a better answer to the iPhone.

The N96 was Nokia's best hope against the iPhone
The N96 was Nokia’s best hope against the iPhone

Have you ever heard of Inq Mobile? Well, believe it or not, the Inq1 won the best handset award in 2009 by combining affordability with integrated social networking features like Facebook, Skype, and Windows Live Messenger. The company closed last year. Things were looking decidedly ropy for Motorola in 2009, but Sony Ericsson showed off the first 12MP camera in a phone, the Palm Pre was at the show, and Vodafone unveiled the HTC Magic which was the first Android phone to make its debut at MWC. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.

MWC 2010 Android really arrives

The Android landslide that had been expected in 2009 arrived at 2010’s show. The HTC Hero deservedly won best handset and there were lots of new Android phones on display from the likes of Garmin, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Acer, and LG. But it was HTC that took the spotlight with the Legend and the Desire. The HTC Desire was essentially a better version of the Nexus One and it was to be a smash hit for the company.

The Desire was HTC's smashing hit
The Desire was HTC’s smash hit at MWC 2010

Amid all the Android noise you could almost miss the three new operating systems that launched – Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7, Nokia and Intel’s MeeGo, and Samsung’s Bada.

MWC 2011 Samsung hits its stride

The preceding 12 months really belonged to HTC and it duly scooped up manufacturer of the year. But it’s new releases at the show in 2011 included the ill-advised Facebook phones, the Salsa and ChaCha, and a host of confusing updates that tagged the letter S onto the Incredible, the Desire, and the Wildfire.

In his keynote Eric Schmidt talked about re-uniting tablet (Honeycomb) and smartphone (Gingerbread) in the next version of Android. Sony Ericsson showed off the long-awaited PlayStation phone, the Xperia Play, but it failed to live up to expectations.

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The phone that started it all for Samsung

The talk of an iPhone killer still attended every new release, but Apple’s iPhone 4 won the best mobile device award. It’s dominance was about to be seriously challenged for the first time by a new Android phone launched at the show. The slim, powerful, impressive Samsung Galaxy S2 won plaudits all-round.

MWC 2012 A reminder from Nokia and HTC

No prizes for guessing manufacturer and smartphone of the year for 2012. The S2 had received universally glowing reviews, and Samsung had managed to edge ahead of Apple for a few months of the year. It held fire on the hotly anticipated Galaxy S3 preferring to show off a couple of new tablets and some cheaper Galaxy phones.

A whole hall was dedicated to apps, called the App Planet, and there was lots of excitement about HTML5, NFC, and mobile payments.

In devices, all the talk was about quad-core processors and larger screens. Sony was still shaking off the Ericsson name, but failed to impress with the Xperia U and P. LG had a range of Android handsets on display including the Optimus 4X HD and the incredibly square Optimus Vu. HTC was trying to return to form with the One X, S, and V.

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Remember these guys?

For the first time in a few years Nokia scooped up some headlines with the 41MP camera-toting Nokia 808 Pureview. There were also a lot of budget releases running both Android and Windows Phone from ZTE, and Huawei made an appearance with the Ascend D quad.

MWC 2013 Nothing to write home about

There were some impressive new Android phones on display at MWC 2013, but most of them, including the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, and LG Optimus G Pro had already been announced before the show. Samsung contented itself with the Galaxy Note 8, ZTE launched the Grand Memo, and there was the Asus Padfone Infinity, but the most exciting release was probably the Sony Xperia Z Tablet. The slim, sexy Android tablet that you can take into the bath definitely caused a splash.

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The Xperia Tablet Z was one of the highlight of MWC 2013

No one was surprised when the Samsung Galaxy S3 won smartphone of the year, and the best tablet award went to Google’s Asus-manufactured Nexus 7.

MWC 2014 A big, big show

Concerns that MWC might be past its prime with a poor showing in 2013 were soon put to bed because MWC 2014 saw a flurry of big name releases and a new wave of wearables. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was the headliner, but Sony impressed with the Xperia Z2 and Z2 Tablet. LG released the G Pro 2, HTC had the mid-range Desire 816, and Nokia made its Android debut with the ill-fated X and X+. ZTE, Huawei, Lenovo, and Alcatel showed off loads of Android devices.

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Samsung made a big push into wearables in 2014

The biggest trend at the show was definitely wearables. The Samsung Gear Fit probably won the most attention, but there were loads of other wearables on display, most of them from Samsung, but also Huawei, and there was news about Motorola and HTC working on their own new smartwatches.

The HTC One beat the LG G2, iPhone 5S, Galaxy Note 3, and the Lumia 1020 to claim the best smartphone title. The iPad Air scooped the best tablet prize.

MWC 2015 ???

Samsung looks likely to grab the headlines at MWC this year, but we’re expecting new devices from HTC, Lenovo, Huawei, and others before the week is out. Check out the MWC 2015 preview to find out more.