This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), under the over-arching theme of Mobile is Everything, will showcase mobile in a plethora of industry sectors. From connected cars to the airline and cruise industries, delegates will see how far the technology has broadened in scope from the pre-smartphone era when MWC first moved to Barcelona in 2006.
“Mobile is impacting everything in our lives, covering the likes of media, IoT, security and identity,” Michael O’Hara, GSMA’s chief marketing officer, told Mobile World Live. “And MWC is expanding to cover every aspect of mobile.”
As a sign of expansion, O’Hara is confident the number of attendees at MWC 2016 will eclipse the record 94,000 who came last year. “We’re hopeful it will reach six figures,” he said.
And those who do attend, added O’Hara, will see a huge logistical improvement in getting to and from the Fira Gran Via venue. Only days before MWC started in earnest, the Catalonian government, on 12 February, opened the second section of its ambitious Barcelona Line 9/Line 10 metro tram project.
It means attendees can now use the venue’s Metro station, accessed by escalator at the South entrance of the Fira building, to get to the airport or city centre.
“The number one issue that people raise with us about MWC is the taxi lines,” said O’Hara. “We’ve now, hopefully, taken that off the table.”
Aside from trams, Fira Gran Via plays host to a plane. GSMA’s popular Innovation City, which attracted a third of the attendees at MWC 2015, will this year have a lifelike airliner parked at its centre. “We’re showing how mobile is impacting that industry, but also using it as a base to showcase some really cool virtual reality technology,” said O’Hara.
The City also includes an airport, a café, a farm, a vineyard and shops – each taking advantage of the latest mobile-connected products and services. Among the City exhibitors are AT&T, the Global M2M Association, Cisco-target Jasper, KT Corporation and Sierra Wireless.
The car industry is well represented at MWC 2016 too. O’Hara is particularly pleased that Congress is such a strong draw for Ford, whose chief executive, Mark Fields, is giving a keynote presentation on Monday. “Although Congress coincides with the International Geneva Motor Show, Ford prioritises attendance in Barcelona because they think mobile is so important,” asserted O’Hara. “We’re expecting announcements from them at this year’s event.”
There’s also a treat for F1 fans. At his keynote on Tuesday evening, Derek Aberle, president of Qualcomm, will be joined on stage by Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe who run the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team. Three-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton will also make an appearance.
Not only will they discuss how mobile technology is transforming their sport – Qualcomm Technologies entered into a multi-year agreement with the Mercedes F1 team in March 2015 to become an official technology partner – but examine how wireless technology is transforming the future of consumer automotive through motorsport.
Another keynote speaker flagged by O’Hara as demonstrating mobile’s growing cross-industry appeal is Richard Fain, chief executive of Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Mark Zuckerberg, however, who is attending Congress for the third year in a row, is likely to grab the headlines in the international press. Given the emphasis made by the Facebook’s chief executive in a recent Wired article on using the likes of drones and laser technology to offer internet access, O’Hara expects he could spark an “interesting conversation” with other MWC delegates.
A place to do business
The bedrock of Congress, however, is still attracting the leading lights from the mobile operator community. “The core of the event is to bring leaders from the mobile industry and adjacent industries together,” said O’Hara.
He argued that, unlike the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, MWC is more about striking deals rather than simply trying out the latest gadgets and gizmos.
“Our strength is that people come to Barcelona to do business,” said O’Hara. “And as long as we continue to bring the right people here, I think we’ll have a healthy event.”
Among the MWC 2016 keynote speakers are Ralph de la Vega, president and chief executive of AT&T Mobile & Business Solutions; Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises; Cesar Alierta, chief executive of Telefonica; and Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive.
There’s also a more unfamiliar face at Congress this year. Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT Group, will make an MWC keynote presentation for the first time. “I love having him here after the EE acquisition,” enthused O’Hara. BT’s £12.5 billion takeover of EE, the country’s largest mobile operator, cleared at the end of January and marks the UK fixed incumbent’s return to a market it left more than a decade ago.
Network suppliers, too, are well represented with chief executives from Cisco (Chuck Robbins), Ericsson (Hans Vestberg) and Huawei (Guo Ping) all making keynote presentations. Chief executives from chip companies Intel (Brian Krzanich) and ARM (Simon Segars) also take the keynote stage.
Keep it fresh
This year’s Congress marks 30 years since the first event, and one which has nearly doubled in size from when the event first moved to Barcelona and attracted around 50,000 attendees. Although O’Hara believes that the pervasive nature of mobile technology has driven the phenomenal growth, there is also inevitable pressure on the chief marketing officer to keep the event fresh.
Another innovation is the MMIX Summit, first launched last year, which encompasses a media theme with events scattered throughout Congress. This year’s MMIX includes keynotes and a party on Tuesday evening. “It’s something you’re going to see more of from us going forward as we try to create other themes, such as technology and travel, that run throughout the event,” said the marketing chief.
Neither is the format of the event’s annual awards show keeping still. Attracting a record 930 entries this year, some newly revamped ‘Glomo’ awards will be presented on the exhibition floor and broadcast on Mobile World Live TV rather than staging the whole event in the auditorium. “We want to keep the awards fresh and dynamic,” said O’Hara.