Thousands of people descended upon Barcelona last week for this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC): a show that’s rapidly grown to represent the latest in mobile innovation. Looking back on a week of announcements, keynotes and briefings, it’s clear that the show can be divided into three specific areas: visions, realities and solutions. However, I’m starting to wonder if the distance between the vision and the reality is growing too quickly and if the solutions exist to bridge the gap.

Visions Google has never been a company shy about predicting the future. Its vision for a connected world is at once ambitious and admirable. This week, the company’s newly appointed chairman, Eric Schmidt, shared with MWC his vision for a society driven by mobile technology. In his keynote, Schmidt explored the rapid development in mobile processors, highlighting how these new chips will enable the growth of a whole range of new applications that are yet to be imagined. Telemedicine, retail, location, media. Every aspect of our lives will be governed in some way by our mobile devices. Schmidt also commented on the growth of smartphones, noting how they are now outselling PCs. A trend that Schmidt doesn’t see reversing.

Realities While Schmidt was excited to announce the rapid growth in mobile phones, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) took a more sober view. According to figures from Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the ITU, the number of smartphones will rise from 500 million today to 2 billion by 2015. According to other figures shared at MWC, overall mobile broadband connections are expected to increase from 600 million today to five billion by 2016. According to one vendor, network capacity will need to increase by 20 to 25 times to accommodate this growth.

Much of the reason for this growth is the rapid explosion in mobile video. The showfloor at MWC was flooded with new smartphones and new tablets aimed at providing a better mobile video experience. For many video providers, mobile is seen as the next growth opportunity. One need only look at the launch of the BBC’s iPlayer iPad app earlier this month to see the potential of mobile video and the demand it places upon the network.

Solutions The ITU is quick to highlight that current networks are not prepared to handle this growth and that new regulations and technologies are demanded. Touré suggested that governments need to employ far more robust national broadband plans both to add further radio spectrum and also to rollout more fibre to the mobile base stations. There are few who will doubt the demand to rollout fibre more aggressively, but many questions are being raised as to how governments can effectively encourage the telecom industry to move forward.

Some vendors at the show were also quick to highlight other technologies that may help to alleviate the current mobile bandwidth crunch while accommodating the expected growth. These solutions ranged from new mobile base stations that can transmit data further to small cell units that could be placed throughout cities, such as in lampposts and buildings, helping to alleviate the pressure on the currently overburdened mobile infrastructure.

There can be no question that opportunities for growth and rapid development are high in the mobile industry. The demand for mobile technology is growing and there’s no sign that it’s set to slow. But can the industry fulfil customers’ expectations and can we build this mobile world? What do you think? Are you excited by the potential here? What are the solutions that we should be focusing upon? Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Read more on this topic here: Mobile Backhaul Evolution