The best and worst of MWC 2015

Sue Marek

Now that the jetlag has subsided and the blisters on my feet have healed, I'm taking a look back at last week's Mobile World Congress 2015 and pinpointing what I believe were the highs and lows of the annual gathering of wireless executives from around the globe.

If you were wondering why the trains to the Fira Gran Via seemed particularly crowded, and the halls of the show floor were nearly impassable at times, it's probably because there were a record 93,000 visitors from 200 countries in Barcelona last week, all with the sole purpose of attending Mobile World Congress. According to the GSMA, that's a new attendance record for the show.

Interestingly, more than 52 percent of MWC attendees were C-level executives. Of those, 5,000 were CEOs. And for the first time that I can recall, the GSMA broke out the percentage of female attendees at the show--18 percent.

But to call this a wireless show is probably inaccurate. Mobile World Congress continues to attract many attendees and players from outside the wireless ecosystem. And at this year's show that was even more apparent. Keynotes were dominated by non-wireless players like Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) SVP Sundar Pichai and even Cablevision COO Kristin Dolan.

But let me quickly outline what my colleagues and I have pinpointed as the highlights of the show:

Biggest news: Samsung probably had the most well-attended press event with its launch of the new versions of its flagship line of smartphones, the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, but I suspect Google's Sundar Pichai garnered just as many headlines when he took the stage at MWC and confirmed rumors that his company would launch an MVNO in the U.S. in the coming months. Plus he described the forthcoming wireless service as being a "bit different" because it will make cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity experiences seamless.

Most Interesting controversy: We've been hearing about unlicensed LTE for at least a year, but at MWC LTE-U seemed to finally get some traction, particularly as operators such as T-Mobile US and Verizon Wireless made announcements around the technology. Of course, operator support has Wi-Fi proponents concerned because the unlicensed spectrum bands were always considered home for the entrepreneurs and upstarts, not the big telcos.

Biggest celebrity: I never thought I'd call a regulator a celebrity, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's appearance at Mobile World Congress certainly generated a lot of interest. Of course, appearing at MWC just days after the FCC's hotly contested net neutrality ruling was the impetus behind Wheeler being in such demand. Despite the fact that Wheeler's sphere of influence is primarily in the U.S., global players were very interested in what he had to say during his appearance because of the implications it will have worldwide.

Biggest improvement: Kudos to the GSMA for finally making their Wi-Fi network powerful enough to handle the swarms of people who were accessing it--and for putting the Wi-Fi network password directly into the name of the network ID!

Now for the downside of MWC. Here are what the Fierce team believes to be some of the most misguided happenings at last week's confab:

Biggest hype: If this year was any indication, we are in for a long hype-cycle about 5G, particularly since most agree that we won't actually see commercial 5G networks until at least 2020. Vendors such as Huawei and Ericsson were demonstrating their 5G vision in their booths. And groups like the Next Generation Mobile Networks (NGMN) Alliance detailed their vision of 5G with a 5G White Paper. Likewise, the 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5GPPP) also released its vision document detailing the key drivers of 5G.

Worst news conference: Dealing with the press is not easy task. That's why most PR professionals will emphasize preparation as being key to a successful press event. Mavenir Systems CEO Pardeep Kohli found himself in an awkward situation when he showed up to his company's press conference uncertain of what to do. "How does this work?" Kohli asked members of the media at the event. Of course, Kohli may have still been digesting the March 2 news that his company was acquired by Mitel for $560 million. Kohli will remain in his role as Mavenir president.

Worst keynote move: Kudos to you if you've written a book about your life or your business acumen and by all means include it in your biography. But SAP CEO Bill McDermott turned his keynote address at MWC into a stop on his book tour by handing a copy of "Winners Dream" to moderator Carolyne Hyde from Bloomberg. The result was a very awkward exchange.

This list is far from complete. I'm sure there were many other highs and lows at MWC that failed to register on my list. However, you can see all our MWC15 coverage by clicking here. --Sue