If you don’t know, Mobile World Congress is the show for the mobile industry. This year, more than 100,000 people from 200+ countries traveled to a 1 million sq.-ft. convention space in Barcelona, Spain to see what 2,000 exhibitors are doing to prepare for a world where mobile is everything.

Numbers like that would make many people run the other way, but for the 7th time in nine years I found myself traveling to the Congress feeling something between composure and terror.

Like other tradeshows, there are many opportunities to see the latest gadgets and innovations. So no surprise, new platforms like Virtual Reality (VR) made a strong showing, as did any number of connected things – from houses to cars to appliances.

Mobile World Congress Virtual Reality

Mobile World Congress

But unlike other events, MWC is about the future. It’s about a world rocketing toward 50 billion connected devices in the hands (and homes) of people in every corner of the globe.

Which leads to my top takeaway for 2016: As forward-looking as the show is, the inescapable reality is that the future is here. It’s present now. It’s in the spaces we move though and, at the same time, are invisible and working silently but powerfully in the background.

The industry term is “Internet of Things” (IoT), but it’s so much more than “things”. It’s services enabling financial inclusion, education, health delivery and empowerment. It’s an “Internet of people.” It’s happening with or without you, and it’s going to happen on ever-faster “5G” (another industry term) mobile networks. 

More accessible were the resources (hardware and software) to create content and “mobile experiences” for the nearly 4.7 billion people with a mobile connection. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality (AR), mobile video, wearables and other SIM-enabled, cloud-connected devices were on display, are well.

Among the newer things present at Mobile World Congress were brands. To be fair, brands have been here before, but this year saw a marked increase in the number of consumer-facing brands taking in everything the event had to offer.

Which brings us full circle and begs the question: “Why has The Coca-Cola Company been coming since (at least) 2007 when so many other brands were attending for the first time?”

The answer is simple. We’ve had a “mobile strategy” since the 1920s when Coca-Cola President Robert Woodruff explained the role of the company as putting its brands “within arm’s reach of desire.”

The only thing that’s changed in the last 10 decades is that today, at the end of that arm, between it and desire, is a mobile device. The only choice we need to make is whether we want mobile to be a barrier to, or enabler of, desire.

That’s no choice at all: We’re going to make an enabler of desire, which in turn makes Mobile World Congress, like an ice-cold Coca-Cola, impossible to resist.

Tom Daly is global group director of mobile at The Coca-Cola Company. Follow him on Twitter @travelingparent.