Mar 02

MWC2012 – Reflections 2: MWC has outgrown itself, and irritates attendees

Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the largest gathering of those who have an interest in mobile communications.  Organized by the GSM Association (GSMA), it is held in Barcelona — and has outgrown itself.  The result at the 2012 event was confusion and a lack of focus for attendees — possibly because MWC is not what it originally was.  In 2012 it was at least 4 shows, albeit messily muddled and interspersed with each other.

MWC grew out of the desire by the members of the GSMA to have an annual event where those concerned with mobile technologies and the associated infrastructure and services could meet and exchange.  For many years the formula worked, aided by the delightful Barcelona location.  In 2012 MWC outgrew itself and failed its customers (though it was probably a great financial success for the GSMA).

The basic truth is that MWC has changed.  Whereas originally it was essentially a trade show, in 2012 it fully acquired a consumer dimension — with all the new devices from HTC, Huwaei, LG, Motorola, Nokia, RIM, Samsung and many others.  These tended to dominate, if only because they were the vendors with the flashiest budgets (though what Ford was doing there puzzled).

Looked at objectively MWC2012 became a blend of at least 4 different, if complementary, subject areas:

  • the traditional one (that which concerns the mobile carriers, the technology infrastructure and what mobility needs)
  • the device one (all about sizzle and the latest gizmo, and mainly consumer-oriented)
  • the software eco-system one (including apps and the tools to develop these)
  • the services enabled-by-mobile one (including payments, GPS/Glonass, etc.).

Each of these is valuable.  They really do complement each other.  But muddling all the participants together was downright confusing.

For example, in one hall within a 30M radius you could find a vendor of wind turbines for powering remote base stations, an HTML5 creation tool, hardware for testing carrier electronics, a major device manufacturer and a payments vendor.  This confusion was further compounded by poor booth identification (mostly the fault of exhibitors) as well as weird booth numbering schemas from the GSMA that left most attendees scratching his or her head at some point.  A lot of time was wasted, therefore, by attendees.

Arguably the GSMA must improve MWC, or to separate it into different shows.  The latter is an option: at least 3 of the 4 subject areas above could successfully stand alone (and the app one — though distinctly disappointing at MWC2012 — has the seeds to be something special).

But even better would be to keep all together on the one site — with the caveat that halls represent a specific area of focus. Big exhibitors would probably hate this.  It could mean taking space in multiple halls for differently targeted products and services.  But for attendees, who are no longer just mobile telecomms trade professionals, the impact would be vastly superior.  Everybody could focus.

In addition, I would make the personal recommendation, that the ‘device show’ not be part of the main area but be housed in halls or constructions that are on the South side of Avenguida de Reus i Taulet – so that the glitz does not distract from the main activities — but is still accessible.  Nokia had it right.

MWC2012 was not a good event to attend.  That is not to say the GSMA failed, but too much was made hard work.  It needs radical rethinking so as to adapt to the much larger future (not just voice as originally) that mobility encompasses as well as considering the new numbers of attendees.  In addition the GSMA must also address communications on site (see MWC2012 — Reflections 1) and show how this can be done, and not how not to do it.

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