March 23 2020

The Coronavirus, an Opportunity to Rethink the Format of the MWC

The Coronavirus, an Opportunity to Rethink the Format of the MWC

Barcelona has been hosting the Mobile World Congress (MWC) since 2006. In the edition of that year, people were desperately looking for use cases that would underpin the 3G. And the most sought-after devices were displaying the Nokia brand. Fifteen years later, we are desperately hunting for 5G use cases and it seems mobile phones are re-adopting a shell-like shape, like the one that was successful back then…

I sometimes get the impression that the global mobility event has not changed that all that much in these 15 years…

Despite this, there is no doubt that the MWC as managed to become the perfect exponent for globalisation. Over four days it brings together more than 2,000 companies, 3,000 journalists, and 100,000 visitors from all over the world. During these four days, the MWC is THE source of information that opens news programmes and captures headlines globally.

During this time, the MWC has also become big business, generating more than 10,000 jobs and revenues in the order of 500 million euros for the city of Barcelona. It is also a global loudspeaker for industry leaders and GSMA members, listed companies that sometimes seem more interested in their stock values than in the operation of their networks.

The achievements obtained by the MWC cannot be questioned. However, one might wonder whether it still offers a format that fulfils the telecommunications sector’s current needs.

The MWC was born at the end of the last century in response to the need of reinforcing the GSM standard. Device manufacturers, that incorporated the technologies boosted by operators and the network equipment vendors, soon joined. This makes sense, since for many years the operators have been the most important customers and distributors for the mobile device manufacturers brands.

Gradually more proposals were added: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Drones… The MWC has been opening up to a wider range of technologies directly or indirectly related to mobility and communications. Perhaps this broadening of the offering is not that positive or desirable, as some of its participants feel that the event’s positioning does not coincide with their own business interests.

The Cancellation of the MWC

When the Coronavirus crisis first began, speculations around the possibility of suspending the event started spreading. It must be agreed that given the evolution of the epidemic this was the right decision. However, at that moment of time the (Spanish, editor’s note) health authorities did not see a great risk in moving forward with the celebration of the trade show. And despite this, key exhibitors of the show quickly chose not to come to Barcelona this year. After having assumed the impact of that decision, something tells me that their withdrawal is not going to be greatly detrimental to their bottom line.

I am not sure that the current format of the MWC is the most suitable in terms of profitability and efficiency neither for exhibitors nor visitors. There are companies that attend the show only due to image. There are others, such as the network equipment manufacturers, who are in contact with their customers daily, so their presence in this event gives them little in terms of new contacts and business. Most of these more than 2,000 exhibitors, as well as a large portion of the professional visitors, are only interested in catching the attention of the 50 or one hundred largest companies, which in turn are overwhelmed and unable to serve everyone. The MWC is no longer a single event. Actually, three or four different events happen to coincide at the same time in the same place…

Perhaps what the sector needs now is to promote new use cases to drive the development of mobility in general and technologies such as 5G. Maybe at the moment, the industry is missing out on proposals that could bring real value to operators and manufacturers, already being developed in smaller and lesser known companies that due to the format of the show have a hard time reaching the right interlocutors. One of the MWC’s objectives should undoubtedly be to facilitate the access of companies that can contribute with their innovations.  

At this point, one could consider whether this crisis will be an opportunity to rethink the MWC, making it a more profitable, effective, and accessible event for all those who have something to offer the telecommunications sector.

This article was first publised in Spanish in Computing Spain on March 23, 2020: Coronavirus, una oportunidad para repensar el MWC.

Image credits: ID 33872504 © Juan Moyano |


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