Why do I always go to Mobile World Congress?

Developing Telecoms' publisher Alec Barton questions why he goes to Mobile World Congress, the largest annual convention for the communications industry, and considers how important and relevant the event is to emerging markets...

It’s about now every year that I find myself asking why I am going to Mobile World Congress (MWC). My inbox is already starting to swell. The most eager press officers were out of the gate well before New Year in an attempt to beat the tsunami of product launches, sneak previews and briefings. The illogicality of expecting the media to accommodate all these ‘media exclusives’ in one month is quite beyond me, but it’s always the same. Given the inevitable inconvenience which occurs when over 50,000 people converge in one place for a few days there had better be a good reason to go.From my perspective that means important developments for emerging markets. MWC does not, of course, exist exclusively to serve the needs and interests of emerging markets. Indeed it’s hard to escape the thought that if the mobile phone was just a communication tool rather than an object of consumer desire, MWC would resemble so many other trade shows and not attract all the razzmatazz.

Given that Apple, maker of the iPhone, arguably the most significant handset of the past 10 years, do not participate in any formal way you could argue that MWC fails to live up to the role thrust upon it collectively by the industry. But MWC is not alone here. Google conspicuously snubbed the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas just last week by announcing its iPhone-challenging, Android-based smartphone at its Mountain View HQ a few days earlier.

It’s as if the titans of the internet age believe mere trade shows are not good enough for them. And who is to say nay, given the level of publicity they have created for themselves? Google have been a regular attendee at MWC, admittedly with a hospitality suite rather than a stand. CEO Eric Schmidt is delivering a Keynote this time. But with a mould breaking new device to show, you might have thought they would want a higher profile this year. But then it’s actually made by HTC, so maybe not.

A good proportion of the almost 2,000 strong media and analyst pack spend their time hunting out the newest devices, technologies and business deals which is great for exhibitors. MWC is the world’s leading showcase for new communications technology. It acts as a spur to innovation and development and a clearing house for deals. Reputations can be won or lost there.

Others media folk focus on the forum for the ‘real’ MWC action. As a place to share best practice and debate industry issues it too has little to compare with. And emerging markets usually do well in attracting attention in the forum. The next billion concept first gained wide acceptance at MWC a few years back. Last year Green Telecoms, an issue of special relevance to emerging markets, gained significant traction.

This year the GSMA has announced that Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan will be making a special presentation to delegates discussing the impact mobile communications have in extending education to the world’s population. Queen Rania is UNICEF’s Global Advocate for Children and Honorary Chair of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative. No other global communications event has the power to attract speakers at this level.

Truth is, neither the forum or the exhibition are what MWC is about; rather it’s the combination of it all which gives its appeal and success, for successful it certainly is. This means MWC represents many different things to the different people who participate and most attendees only experience a small fraction of the whole, but almost everyone goes away having achieved something.

Why do I go? I go because my customers go. My customers are the site users whose information needs we strive to meet and the companies whose advertising and sponsorship enables us to continue bringing Developing Telecoms to everyone free of charge. These in particular deserve our support and that of service providers, developers and end users throughout emerging markets. I look forward to meeting you and if you want to see me, do drop me a line.

This special Mobile World Congress 2010 section of Developing Telecoms aims to bring you a slice of the most relevant news, product launches and innovations at MWC, before, during and after. Over the next couple of months it will be updated regularly so keep checking back or sign up for our e-newsletter, RSS or Twitter feeds. Thereafter the most useful articles will be integrated into our main content archive for you to search through at will.

So, MWC time once again... bring it on!

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