When the top executives of the world's wireless industry gather next week in Barcelona, Spain, for their annual trade show, cellphones will take a back seat to talk of cars, electric meters and insulin monitors.
That idea of empowering new devices with wireless connections has been percolating for years. General Motors cars have had wireless OnStar connections for more than a decade. But the push is intensifying now that most people have cellphones - and the wireless industry's future growth depends on it. That means the GSM Mobile World Congress, the telecommunications industry's largest annual trade show, will be abuzz with discussion of devices like "smart" meters that report a home's usage of electricity, natural gas or water back to the utility, and to your phone.
"You'll see more things that are 'today' things versus 'tomorrow' things at the show," said Glenn Lurie, AT&T's president of "emerging devices."
Another big theme will be Near-Field Communications, or NFC. Cellphones are great at communicating with distant people and websites, but not at connecting to things in their immediate surroundings. Now, smartphones are getting new chips that allow them to connect to similarly equipped phones to transfer videos quickly. The chips also let phones talk directly to card-swipe terminals in stores, which has set off a race to organize and control the new world of mobile payments.