Editor’s Corner—GSMA expects another record year for Mobile World Congress attendance: MWC Preview

Attendees to this year’s Mobile World Congress will be greeted by a new networking and hospitality tent immediately in front of the entrance to the Fira Gran Via, where the fountain used to be. (Image: GSMA)
Mike Dano

This article is part of our Mobile World Congress preview package. Click here for the full package.

GSMA marketing chief Michael O’Hara said that the organization expects to post another year of record attendance to its annual Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain. Specifically, he said the group expects to exceed the 108,000 people who attended the trade show last year, though he declined to provide a specific prediction for this year’s attendance.

“It continues to grow,” he said. “I think it will be great.”

O’Hara said that the GSMA expects to host 2,300 MWC exhibitors this year, which is 100 more than last year. He also said the group expects 3,500 members of the press to attend this year’s Mobile World Congress trade show.

Aside from the numbers, what should attendees at this year’s show expect? O’Hara said that the association is working to focus more heavily on providing information and education opportunities to attendees, rather than flashy names and celebrities. Specifically, he said that the GSMA is programming speakers from industries including drones, blockchain and artificial intelligence. O’Hara acknowledged that this is a slight change from previous years, when the GSMA featured keynote speakers from blockbuster tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Netflix.

“We were trying to think a little less about celebrity and more about people who will educate us,” he said.

Mobile World Congress attendees this year will also face a new entrance to the Fira Gran Via. O’Hara said that the association has replaced the giant fountain outside of the Fira building with a new hospitality and networking tent. He said that the new entrance tent will offer the kind of open-air networking opportunities that the show’s old venue, the Fira Montjuïc, afforded.

O’Hara jokingly noted that “no fountains were harmed in the making of this.”

Interestingly, O’Hara also said that the association is going to test out facial recognition technology in an effort to improve its security around the venue.

Another area where the GSMA is focusing this year is on increasing female representation at the show. Specifically, he said that roughly a fourth of the speakers at the show will be women. And O’Hara said that the GSMA expects roughly 25% of attendees to be women this year, up from 23% last year. Clearly the GSMA wants to avoid the criticism of a lack of diversity leveled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show.

O’Hara also noted that the association continues to take a stance against “booth babes.”

Finally, O’Hara said that this year the show will feature three key themes: 5G, artificial intelligence and the internet of things. “I think the intersection of those three things interesting,” he said. He said that trio of topics will play out across events and announcements at the show.

As for other topics and events at the show to keep an eye out for, O’Hara pointed to the policy keynote scheduled for the afternoon of Monday. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will sit alongside his European counterparts, which O’Hara described as a “really interesting” situation because of their divergent views on net neutrality.

Attendees will also be able to check out speakers from some of Korea’s leading carriers, which are this week showing off portions of their 5G networks during Winter Olympics. Also at this year’s Mobile World Congress, DoCoMo will likely discuss its plans for the Summer Olympics in Japan in 2020.

And smartphones will continue to play a huge role in the industry, with Samsung expected to return to Mobile World Congress for the unveiling of its latest Galaxy S-class smartphone. Last year Samsung held off on the announcement of its Galaxy S8 smartphone until after MWC, but this year the company is expected to return to MWC its annual flagship smartphone unveiling.

And of course, FierceWireless will be on hand to cover all of the events and activities at this year’s Congress. I will be joined by my colleague Monica Alleven to bring you all the news from the keynotes and the show floor at the event. FierceWireless will also be hosting two key luncheon events, one focused on 5G and one focused on shared spectrum. We will be hosting speakers including Verizon’s Nicola Palmer and AT&T’s Andre Fuetsch, among others. Click here to register for those events.

I look forward to seeing you at the show. Safe travels! – Mike | @mikeddano