Digital World: Israelis are Barcelona bound

Out of the 1,289 exhibitors this year for the Mobile World Congress, 88 are from Israel.

iphone 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy  )
iphone 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The normally tiny Barcelona Jewish community (estimated to be about 4,000) is set to swell this week, for at least a few days, as hundreds of Israelis rush into town for the Mobile World Congress (, which opened Monday and is set to close Thursday. This is where the who's who of the mobile world get to strut their stuff, showing off new technologies and products that the rest of us will line up to buy in the coming months. More than 50,000 people visited the 1,200 or so exhibitors at the show last year, and this year organizers hope to increase the number of visitors substantially. Out of the 1,289 exhibitors this year, 88 are from Israel - more than any other country, except for the United States (208), Britain (188), France (146) and Germany (111). In fact, one could say that Israel is far more innovative than even these technology superpowers, since almost every booth run by an Israeli company at this year's show works primarily in R&D, as opposed to the many service providers representative of other countries, both large and small, who are attending the show solely to build partnerships using their existing resources. And it goes without saying - but we'll say it anyway - that the entire Arab world was barely able to muster a minyan of representatives for the show - even "hot" Middle East economies like the UAE (three). Of Israel's immediate neighbors, Lebanon (three), Jordan (two) and Saudi Arabia (10) have companies that will be attending, while none came from Syria or Egypt, which is the largest country in the Arab world and has had a GDP growth rate of more than 6 percent that has rivaled Israel's over the past several years. Makes you wonder. You may have already heard of the first bit of big news to come out of an Israeli company exhibiting at Barcelona - the "modular phone" being introduced by Israeli start-up Modu ( You slip the credit-card-sized Modu component, the "guts" of a cellphone/PDA/GPS/Entertainment device/alarm clock/whatever into a "jacket" that primarily performs the function you are interested in at any given moment. The product was announced with great fanfare last week and featured in the computer press around the world, guaranteeing that the Modu booth at the Congress will be jam-packed, as service and content providers clamor to join the three service providers Modu says it has already made a deal with. This is pretty big news, if you ask me. And while it would seem that Israel has, with the Modu announcement, already received its share of Barcelona glory and fame, there are plenty of other innovative companies that will be presenting innovations no less impressive, in my humble opinion. I actually have written about a number of them in my "Stellar Start-ups" column, the latest being InfoGin,, whose technology could revolutionize the way cellphone surfers see and use Web sites. With convergence the watchword in the computer, Internet and cellphone industries - and manufacturers and service providers trying to pack as much communications punch into their devices - cellphone/device development is now where it's at in the technology world, attracting the best and brightest people and ideas to solve a whole new crop of problems that are preventing the cellphone revolution from moving forward. One typical problem is battery power, which tends to fail when you need it most on portable devices like cellphones - but also on laptop computers, iPods and PDAs. Elaborate chargers are supplied when you buy these devices, but they're difficult to lug around. Why can't someone come up with a normal power supply - say, AAA batteries - to power cellphones? Probably because such batteries wouldn't provide enough power to run a cellphone, but maybe they could help recharge the device's lithium battery pack when you're on the road. Now that's one idea most of us would never have thought of. Luckily, Israeli start-up Techtium ( did, and will be presenting their line of standard alkaline battery backup solutions for cellphones, laptops, video cameras and other devices at the congress. Batteries may not be as "sexy" an innovation as Modu-type "jackets," but it's a great solution to a practical problem faced by everyone who uses devices with rechargeable batteries. Israeli companies will also be showing off software innovations this week, such as the one offered by Aerotel (, which takes GPS-based safety to a whole new level. Aerotel will be showing its GeoSkeeper GPS quad-band GSM module; it allows parents to keep track of their children's whereabouts via GPS. If the kid leaves the specific area s/he is permitted to be at (school, the mall, etc.), the phone can send an SMS to parents, caregivers or security personnel - sort of like an electronic security guard following the wearer. The company also has a number of interesting solutions in the area of "Telemedicine," enabling caregivers to provide long-distance assistance to patients. There are plenty of others, too. EIM Telecom ( has developed a bridge device to connect cellphones and laptops, enabling users to make Skype-style free and low-cost IP phone calls from their cell devices ( Dblur ( develops software to enable cellphone cameras to take better pictures. Nexperience ( develops innovative testing procedures for cellphone makers. It's worth checking out the full catalog of Israeli companies at the congress site (on the home page, click on Exhibition > 2008 Exhibitor Listing, where you can select by country and/or industry). Many of the companies presenting at the congress are members of the Israel Mobile and Communications Association (IMA), which is sponsoring several events for the Israeli companies attending. In addition, the IMA will broadcast recorded video blogs from the show, so you can feel like you're there, at least in spirit.