Last week, a few of us descended upon Barcelona to attend the biggest and best mobile show in the world: Mobile World Congress. I’ve been to a lot of trade shows in my time but honestly don’t think I’ve seen one of this magnitude – and not just because of the size of it (which, yes, is enormous) but also the buzz and excitement generated throughout every one of the 8+ halls.

Aside from the likely distractions, namely the CBOSS girls and playing with the latest and greatest handsets as well as tablets, there were two major themes to emerge from this year’s show.

First up is undoubtedly apps, apps and more apps please. Anyone attempting to enter App Planet was immediately met with wall to wall people trying to get their hands on the latest news from the app dev world, though this was thrown a little out of whack with the commercial launch of the GSMA’s Wholesale Application Community (WAC). Despite the hype, WAC brings nothing to the table for developers.

The mobile chaos of various diverging OS’s and mobile features presents the real challenge in mobile development today. In the last 18 months we’ve seen the rise of the iPad, Windows Phone 7, Blackberry OS 6, innumerable tablets and the Microsoft-Nokia partnership. What’s more, the impending rise of mobile payments will add yet another layer of complexity, not to mention significantly upping the stakes.

WAC does nothing to solve this. Carriers worldwide are clinging to the notion that they control the application environment when in fact they lost it with the rise of Smartphones. Carriers should be focusing on what they do best and that lies in call reliability, increased data speeds, and simpler billing – leaving app development to the real experts.

Of course, WAC’s announcement was only the tip of the iceberg at this year’s MWC. Not even two months into 2011 and we’ve already seen major announcements from mobile operators, financial services and retailers on the much hyped NFC technology.

And the show was undoubtedly dominated by NFC and mobile payments – from RIM’s announcement that all Blackberry handsets will have NFC technology from later this year, to the joint venture between the GSMA, Samsung, Telefonica, and Visa for contactless mobile payments piloted at MWC.

This is a topic that’s very close to home for me as well. As I’ve already written about, mobile payments is the new buzz phrase and we should expect to see a sea of ‘mobile wallets’ this year. With the fragmentation in the market and the ever-increasing amount of different phones out there, there is certainly going to be a lot of competition.

Apple is undoubtedly in pole position – with a combination of its App Store and iTunes, it’s perfectly positioned to make mobile payments a blockbuster success, or at the very least, a massive revenue generator. What will be interesting as we move forward on NFC is to see what PayPal’s role will be, and to some extent, Amazon payments. With Google’s ‘checkout’ yet to take off, is the time ripe to see a partnership develop to put Google on a more level playing field with Apple, or will the online giant still try it’s hand at going it alone?

As the MWC dust settles and I put Barcelona behind me, one thing is for sure – the mobile industry is an increasingly exciting space to be in. Whether we’re talking mobile web, apps, NFC or the next big development, businesses need to develop the best end to end mobile strategy to drive more revenue through new channels and grow the business as a whole.