Editor’s Corner—GSMA expects ‘record’ MWC turnout as media companies invade

Image credit: Mobile World Congress 2017 (www.mobileworldcongress.com)

This year’s Mobile World Congress trade show promises to be bigger than ever. And it’s also going to highlight the growing convergence between the wireless and media industries.

“It will be over 101,000,” Michael O'Hara, the GSMA’s chief marketing officer, said of the association’s expected MWC attendance this year. He said last year’s show was just shy of that figure, which was a record, and this year the group expects to top it. “It will be a new record number.”

Other metrics for this year’s show include 100,000 net square meters of exhibits, 2,200 exhibitors and 3,900 media (myself included).

But what will be new this year? O'Hara said, overall, the GSMA isn’t planning any major changes to the structure of the world’s largest wireless event. “The format works,” he said. “That brings the right people there.”

One change though will be the youth festival that the GSMA is hosting at the old MWC venue in Barcelona, the Fira Montjuic. O'Hara said the association expects the festival to attract 20,000 students from surrounding areas who can check out exhibits, theaters and workshops centered on wireless technologies like drones. “You’ll see a lot of Spanish kids running around the place,” he joked.

Other changes include a four-day program on “women in tech,” as well as a rebranded Hall 8 that will focus on next-gen technologies like robotics and drones. O’Hara also said the GSMA moved its Innovation City, the exhibit it uses for various IoT-style connected devices, to Hall 4. “You’ll walk through Innovation City on the way to the keynotes,” he said.

And of course the GSMA couldn’t miss an opportunity to pounce on last year’s fad: The association partnered with Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go, to create 13 in-game locations at the Fira.

But perhaps the most interesting change this year is the growing presence of media companies at MWC. “I think the media companies are really in a hot area,” O’Hara said.

For example, keynote speakers at this year’s event include John Stankey, the executive at AT&T in charge of the company’s media strategy. AT&T, of course, is working to acquire media giant Time Warner in a deal valued at $85.4 billion. Other notable media keynoters at MWC this year include Netflix chief Reed Hastings, Turner’s John Martin, Vice Media’s Shane Smith and Vivendi’s Arnaud de Puyfontaine.

“I think it’s just a reflection that consumption of media is really moving to the mobile device,” O’Hara told me.

(Another noteworthy addition to this year’s MWC lineup is BMW, an MWC first-timer that will be running a driverless car experience in the outside exhibition space between Halls 3 and 5.)

And what will MWC attendees be talking about? O’Hara said that 5G will likely take center stage, alongside new device launches, virtual reality and the internet of things—all of which have been perennial trade show topics during the past 12 months.

However, O’Hara pointed to a new wrinkle: the changing face of telecom policy. He said that American and European telecom regulators have largely moved in lockstep during the past 8 years of the Obama administration, but now that will likely change as the incoming Trump administration takes hold of American telecom policy and the new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, makes his expected moves against the agency’s net neutrality guidelines. “We’re now starting to see some divergence” between American and European regulatory approaches, O’Hara noted. Pai will join the European Commission’s regulator during a keynote event Tuesday at the show moderated by CNBC’s Karen Tso.

Of course, FierceWireless will be covering this year’s Mobile World Congress in full force. I’ll be joined in Barcelona by FierceWireless Editor Colin Gibbs and FierceWirelessTech Editor Monica Alleven, and we’ll be bringing you all the top stories and insights before, during and after the show. We’ll also be conducting various video interviews with top industry executives and hosting a luncheon series on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the show focusing on the IoT, 5G and V2X technologies, respectively, with panelists from the likes of Verizon, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Sigfox and more. Register for our lunch events here.

I look forward to seeing you next week. — Mike | @mikeddano