An update from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

This week, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was home to what must have been the world’s most dense concentration of mobile devices, with a record 72,000 attendees from around the world all juggling phones and tablets—ironically making for an unreliable flow of Wi-Fi as each device battled for its share. This is the second year JWTIntelligence has attended the show, which is expanding in scope as the mobile industry explodes. (This year, industry association GSMA moved the event to a larger Barcelona venue, the endless Fira Gran Via.) Rather than a telecom-only gathering, as it was only recently, “the event is now bringing together people from every industry,” noted Forrester analyst Thomas Husson.

“Why is Coke here?” a panel moderator asked Tom Daly, the company’s group director of mobile and search. “We need to participate in the evolving shopper experience,” he explained. As Marketing Week details, Coca-Cola is ambitiously seeking to spike sales by linking up with various mobile players to enable everything from predicting what consumers want to making payments easier. Looking to 2014, mobile will be “the starting point” for brands, not an add-on or silo-ed initiative, as Pete Blackshaw, Nestlé’s global head of digital marketing and social media, predicted at one session.

Spending is growing accordingly. Di-Ann Eisnor, VP of platforms and partnerships at Waze, said brands working with the navigation app initially allocated “experimental budgets” of $5,000, which then grew to $50,000 and have now reached $500,000. It doesn’t hurt that Waze, which won Best Overall Mobile App in MWC’s Global Mobile Awards contest, now claims 40 million drivers and continues to expand, with plans to launch in China later this year.

“I really believe the mobile revolution will inevitably transform your business in the next decade,” writes Forrester’s Husson. Mobile is disrupting industries from retail to health to autos to finance to education and beyond—and the consensus was that change is happening fast, and at an astonishing scale. The next 10 years will “dwarf” the last 10 in terms of disruption, said keynote moderator Rajeev Chand of Rutberg & Co. One driver will be the shift to 4G; another, the millions more consumers who will get connected: The GSMA forecasts 3.9 billion global subscribers by 2017, 700 million more than in 2012. As tech maven Shelly Palmer said at one event: “We are now exo-digitally enhanced human beings.”

Stay tuned for our mobile trend report next month. (And to see our learnings from last year’s MWC, find “15 Ways Mobile Will Change Our Lives” here.)

Photo credit: Marian Berelowitz