Last week, we were at one of the tamest Mobile World Congress (MWC) events I’ve yet to experience. As far as smartphones and tablets go, it’s hard to say anything was truly mind-blowing or disruptive. There were some eye-dazzling phones out there, however. OPPO, for example, impressed with both their 5X dual camera technology, plus a stunning user interface that resembles Apple’s iOS.

That said, the innovation in smartphone hardware and design has already fallen flat, and VR had lost much of its momentum compared to previous years. With those issues in mind, you might start to wonder – is Mobile World Congress still a relevant event today?

To spare you the wait – the answer is an easy yes. But it’s not about the innovation inside smartphones. It’s about two related things: 1) what’s happening on the outside when your handsets interact with other devices and services, and 2) we need to rethink how we define “mobile.”

Cars are the new “mobile”

I met with various operators, smartphone manufacturers, car makers, and software companies at this year’s MWC. As it turns out, automotive is, by far, the hottest area of investment for most of the companies I spoke with.

Here’s what I mean about rethinking the word “mobile.” Cars have rapidly changed from a stylish way to get around to fully connected computers on wheels. The mobile technology we’re excited to hear about today is cars.

Put into this context, everything falls neatly into place. The 5G that Nokia, Intel, Qualcomm, and Huawei are placing so much momentum behind is not just about the handsets – it’s about the cars. As said best by Intel’s Head of Business Development for home networking segment, Rainer Spielberg,”The car will have better internet than most homes and phones.”

Cars need that fast 5G connections to carry terabytes of data to and from the cloud and other connected devices like traffic signs, your home garage or parking lots, and even the buildings you’re traveling to and from. 5G-connected cars will also have a local area network (LAN) inside to exchange data between all the various boxes collecting data, plus your smartphone, your wearables, or whatever connected gadgets you bring inside.

It’s also about apps and services

Other highlights of this year’s Mobile World Congress were about the apps and services being developed for cars. SEAT, for example, presented on-demand features you could add to your car over the air. The features are unlocked with software, purchased and retrieved over the air, then removed from the car when you’re done using them. This service model would allow more flexibility when taking trips to different locales, or even more control over your day-to-day use of the car.

IoT is now just the Way of Things

MWC 2017 also showed that the Internet of Things craze has shifted from dreamy novelty to tangible reality, with the smartphone acting as your personal hub for interconnect homes, cars, people, and cities. Plus, with innovations in artificial intelligence, our handsets will not take a backseat role in the future. Instead, they’ll actively guide us as we transition from our homes to our cars to the places we live and go.

Final thoughts

To sum up, Mobile World Congress is relevant to the tech industry today. Now it’s less about the smartphones and the guts inside them, and more about the vision of our future enabled through mobile technology. MWC places all mobile technology in context: truly smart ways of moving around and living, with a seamless experience from home to car, to the city and work, and back again.

Want to read more about consumer electronics events? Compare this to what we learned this year at the CES.