Mobile World Congress 2009 – the mobile industry talks mHealth…

Last week I was at the annual gathering of the global Mobile industry that is Mobile World Congress (MWC). It’s my 5th year attending and this year it was again held in the beautiful city of Barcelona.

The big difference was that talk of mHealth had made it for the first time to the main agenda and innovative mHealth solutions were now scattered all over the 8 exhibition halls. Here are a few things I found interesting…

The Programme and Speakers:

On Tuesday 17th February there was a session entitled “Developing to Developed – Innovation in Mobile Healthcare” chaired by Gautam Ivatury, CGAP and featuring a line up of speakers including Dan Carucci, United Nations Foundation; Terry Kramer, Vodafone; Holly Kramer, Telstra; Pedro Yrigoyen, MedicallHome; Christopher Thompson, Cisco; Alberto Calero Narbon, France Telecom Spain/Orange.

The session opened with the announcement of the technology partnership paper between the UN and Vodafone Foundations and continued with the speakers discussing various examples of the how and why mobile operators are uniquely placed to fix the ailments of the worlds broken healthcare systems.

Telstra - Holly Kramer

Whilst I was surprised that every speaker felt the need to explain to this informed audience how global populations are aging and levels of chronic disease are rising, I was disappointed that no one offered inspiring stories of entrepreneurial medics or patient experiences. The world may be alive with pilot projects that we all agree offer immense promise but to move beyond the conceptual stage the mobile industry needs to be putting forward entrepreneurial Healthcare professionals who are open to being challenged. Of the speakers the one that seems to have moved furthest along the mHealth path appeared to be Vodafone who included a slide about their recent investment in UK mHealth pioneers t+ Medical.


There was also an Embedded Mobile session that featured talks on mHealth by (from left to right) Brian O’Connor, ECH; Malcolm Clarke, Telus; and Nick Hunn.


From listening to the speakers at MWC it seems obvious that the Mobile Industry thinks the care industry is made up of dinosaurs, but are they aware that they need to work seamlessly together with the existing system for mHealth to work? Whilst the mobile industry is obviously getting really good at recounting the growing trends of Chronic Disease and Aging Populations – is there any evidence that it is actually any better than the healthcare industry at serving such patients? Beyond voice and text mobile services are barely even being registered by seniors and ARPU figures show that seniors remain some of the lowest spending mobile subscribers despite their affluence as a consumer group. To my mind there is plenty of evidence that suggests the major telecom companies are missing this opportunity including the market traction being achieved by service providers for seniors (eg. Jitterbug and Consumer Cellular) and senior device manufacturers (eg. Emporia and Doro).

mHealth Papers:

Amongst the countless parties, launch events and networking sessions there were only 2 that had a mHealth theme and these were networking sessions to mark the launch of some very interesting mHealth papers.

The first was a GSMA Development Fund gathering on the Monday evening to launch their sponsored publication of the “Innovations” Journal titled “Mobilizing Markets” and featuring lead essays from Mo Ibrahim, Thomas Kalil, Iqbal Quadir and Nicholas Negroponte… this is a fabulously well written 220 page publication which i will be writing about on it’s own later. I would recommend this to anyone who wants a good grounding in the global social change opportunities that mobilization can offer.

The networking session at El Principal was also worth writing about as it was very well attended by individuals and organizations committed to the use of mobile technology for social, economic and environmental development. The GSMA has recruited some really competent young people who are actively talking with and listening to the needs of some of the best mobilists and this was clearly demonstrated by the quality of the delegates at this event and the rather fun and very engaging “Talk Time” networking session which directed delegates via personalized SMS messages to take part in more relevant and focused debates that where taking place at different parts of the venue throughout the evening.

GSMA Development Fund Networking Session

The second networking session was on Tuesday at 1730pm following the MWC mHealth session and this marked the launch of a very well written paper on mHealth in the developing world produced by the Technology Partnership between the UN and Vodafone Foundations. I’ve already written about this and am reviewing the projects and consolidating my thoughts for a post you can expect to see in the next couple of weeks.

mHealth features in the 8 exhibition halls

The current economic climate had a big effect on what was being talked about at Mobile World Congress and this was seen by the cautious approach being taken by handset manufacturers who disappointed quite a few expectant delegates by not launching any of the widely expected and potentially rather disruptive Android devices… despite rumors of announcements coming from the big three (Nokia, Samsung and -new entry- LG) only HTC made some Android noise.

HTC Android

The Global Credit Crunch is likely to make market leaders think carefully before introducing more fragmentation and with Symbian making some big noise with their relaunch as the NFP “Symbian Foundation” I’d say the Symbian Smartphone OS market share will be maintained and new entrants getting squeezed.

Symbian Foundation at Mobile World Congress

> Giant Electronics Ltd showed some very elegant smart solutions for patients and seniors including:
O a range of stylish Senior Candy-Bar and Clam-Shell Phones featuring Big LCD display, Big Letter, Comfort Keypad, Bluetooth “Vivid Clear” ear-piece, Hands-free speaker, Hearing aid compatibility, GPS, Torch, FM Radio, One touch Emergency button etc O Bluetooth pendants for SOS alerting
O Pendant 3G Mobile Devices that support 2 way voice, 1 way Video Calling (“see what i see”), AGPS, Emergency Tracking, Normal Tracking and Safety Zone Alarms.
O A906D AGPS Tracking Bracelets featuring 3G, Emergency Button, Safety Zones & Voice Alerts etc.
O Multimedia Senior/Family Photo Phone featuring 7’ 800×480 Digital Panel, High Quality Picture, Quick Dial Emergency Call, Picture Caller ID, Picture Phonebook and Call Log etc.

mHealth innovation on the Giant Electronics exhibition stand MWC 2009

> Oberthur in Hall 8 showed “SIMSense” a MEMS accelerometer integrated within the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module). This integration holds a lot of potential as it avoids mobile device integration. In my opinion this will be key for early adoption of new services as it adds new functionality/services to devices in the market, adds Mobile Network Operator value and is probably the first way most of us will experience innovations such NFC on our mobile. Whilst the possibilities for increasing the ability to sense are enormous in security, payment, tracking etc the ability to control the mobile via movement will undoubtedly enable service providers to extend use of mobiles to disabled and elderly (check out motion sensing software to appreciate this) and as the exhibition stand screen shot shows the potential for fall detection is also thought to hold promise.


> CuteCircuit demonstrated a fun wearable technology that could have potential in pervasive monitoring. There are no rules that saw mobile biometric sensing technologies have to be an one way street – maybe a little hug from a loved one could be a great way to connect mobile communities and might be one way to deliver engaging and non disruptive patient support.


> Alcatel Lucent: Under the exciting title of “Breakthrough eHealth” I was amazed to see MIS videos playing on big screens and began wondering what this could have to do with Mobile. When I asked what was being demonstrated I was told with no irony that these were not live images but prerecorded footage. With so much to see I didn’t waste too much time here but the assorted collection of Mobiles and the Bluetooth Blood Pressure Monitor and Blood Sugar testing device apparently had no relevance to the demonstration. Bit confusing and disappointing as i had been expecting a bit more as AL have had their LifeStat remote mobile monitoring solution in the market for some time now. Then again AL seem to have bigger problems than their MWC stand.

Alcatel Lucent MWC 2009 Breakthrough eHealth Stand

> NTT Docomo, one of the worlds most advanced Mobile Operators, again showed some interesting consumer mHealth offerings on display under the heading “Lifestyle Inspired Phones” but the staff unfortunately didn’t have experience with the use of the services…

NTT Docomo Stand

Probably the most advanced mass produced Healthphone in the world was on display but unfortunately the Heart Rate via Camera Monitor demonstration didn’t work with the English language mobile, and no one could understand the Japanese language version next to it… all the same the patient experience looked very, very nice…


> O2/Telefonica had probably the most informative stand – well informed staff showed services (that worked using conventional mobile handsets) such as:


“Remote Bio-monitoring” enabling Doctor’s to have mobile and web access to patient vitals.Tele-Assistance. A case study on Cardiac Rehabilitation showed how: “A doctor prescribes to a cardiac patient a CR program and provides him with the t-shirt, N-mote and mobile……Biometric data (ECG, ppm, activity index and position) is sent to the platform while doing exercises….. Data is analysed in real time and stored… if defined biometric thresholds are overcome, an alarm will be generated… the doctor can access to real time data anytime as well as patients data records, via web or mobile”

“A Telefonica Moile Tele-care service that can be offered directly to customers or as a complement of a tele-care service given by an Assistance Service Provider” key aspects included: “Simple interface on touch mobile terminals”, “Family Web Portal”, “Advanced functionality (Location, Reminders, etc)” and “Remote service configuration and management”

The focus of the demo seemed to be on helping family and carers stay in touch with a senior relation who has health issues and ensuring they can access their important information at anytime and from anywhere:


It was great to see software being used on a conventional Samsung Touch-Screen Smartphone to deliver a user experience that is more straightforward than those offered through the specifically designed elderphone’s being offered in the market today. Saying that the rather fiddly, stylus operated, HTC mobile that they also used to demo ECG traces unfortunately reminded me of how most of the mHealth solutions still look when they appear in trials.


> Qualcomm showed the results of it’s partnership with Vodafone and the Spanish Red Cross. Although trial participant numbers were quite small the technology was ridiculously outdated for the likes of Qualcomm. Or maybe it was the quality of their >$1 million exhibition stand that just made anything look a little bit Blue Peter.

Wireless Reach Qaulcomm MWC 2009

If I’d left without seeing the latest device from Cardionet I would have been disappointed. As the flag bearer for the future of mHealth monitoring the new touch screen means there is only one more step to go… to my mind once they make this device a great phone it’s game set and match… everyone will want one.


For one thing could you just imagine how much more intuitive the product/safety information on the back of the device could be?

cardionet video mobile instructions

Most fun?

A week in Barcelona isn’t without some fun and the moment for me came at the Mobile Monday London/UK Trade & Invest lunch (a big thanks to Helen Keegan for the invitation) held in the beautiful Palau Nacional MontJuic when TechCrunch UK Editor Mike Butcher asked an audience question to the speaker Lord Davies of Abersoch, UK Minister of State for Trade & Investment who had only moments before in his speech said he was “here to listen to the industry”. The organizers had to tell Mike that unfortunately the Minister had already left… that’s right he hadn’t even waited to take questions…

Mobile Monday London / UK Trade & Invest Lunch

What was missing?

Apple & LifeComm…

Apple’s Jesus Phone was conspicuous by its absence and to my mind this was a fortunate thing for many of the exhibiting companies who were trying to position themselves as the solution to customer pain points. The ease of use and the success of Apple’s App Store ecosystem has enabled innovation and creativity that makes much of the show and sell on the exhibition stands seem a little dated. Most of the services being promoted by operators at the show can already be enjoyed by iPhone customers by simply visiting their app store and they don’t require the operator to be involved other than to supply the data connectivity.

To my mind there was no excuse for not including the biggest mover in the emerging mHealth market… A $100 million venture, Lifecomm, is set to launch the worlds first Healthcare MVNO later in 2009 yet they didn’t speak at the congress and there was nothing on the Qualcomm exhibition stand.

My take away…

Whilst there was a lot of consensus that mHealth is a huge opportunity just waiting to happen – where are all the entrepreneurial Healthcare professionals who are going to make this happen? If anything the Medical Industry had less presence this year than in 2008 when there was a Medical Technology provider (Medical Intelligence) exhibiting and working paramedics were talking about their experiences at the conference.

In 2009 the talk about mHealth seemed to have moved from the developed to the developing world… yet as Nick Hunn (one of the speakers) points to in his excellent blog “The developing world is not alone in having people who cannot afford healthcare. If we open our eyes we’ll find them living in every country in the world.”

This focus on the developing world jars with me a little as I believe there is a strong argument against aiding health projects in the developing world that are unproven and potentially unsustainable because of the further fragmentation in care that they can cause (eg. when donations run out patients may be worse off than if their naturally developing health systems hadn’t been interfered with in the first place) but from conversations I came away with the distinct impression that the mobile industry is keen to encourage mHealth experimentation (sometimes with untested and unlicensed services) to encourage adoption by the worlds most economically disadvantaged, vulnerable and unrepresented. A word of caution: This may not be the ideal foundations on which to establish mHealth, it might be better to focus on developed markets where you can prove patients want it, are prepared to pay for it and that it delivers positive health outcomes before we start pushing it to people who have few other options.

About David Doherty
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10 Responses to Mobile World Congress 2009 – the mobile industry talks mHealth…

  1. Pingback: 26 Exhibitors confirmed for CTIA Wireless Health Pavilion « 3G Doctor Blog

  2. Donna Mackay says:

    Hi there

    There is a Mhealth competition from the GSMA, please view the weblink for more info

    Donna Mackay

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