After a round of binge drinking it is normal procedure to go through a recovery phase of teetotaling, lots of rest and lots of vitamin supplements. The same process can be applied to attendees of the annual cellular bingefest held in Barcelona, otherwise known as the Mobile World Congress. But for many the overdose of hospitality, tapas, iPhone wannabes, bold keynotes, hype, self-adulation and inclement weather was followed by a week of stark reality and introspection.
If the GSMA’s premier event is going to continue to survive the next decade it may also have to take a closer look at itself. There are some disturbing trends brewing that The Insider noted that will need to be addressed, and pretty sharply.
Firstly, is MWC a conference, an exhibition, a networking event, PR extravaganza or just one giant party. In realty, it is all of these and that is probably what has made it so successful. But it is a balancing act and a delicate one at that. Some very key industry vendors chose not to join the party, preferring to become fringe-dwellers and concentrating their marketing dollars on their customers rather than the GSMA coffers.
And why was Asia’s biggest industry event held smack-bang on Chinese New Year. I say this because I am sure that more Asian delegates come to Barcelona each year than to any other industry event, even those in Asia (anyone at MWC Asia last year will vouch for that). Yet the GSMA expected them to leave their families at their most hallowed time of year and many didn’t. It would be like holding the same event during Thanksgiving, Hari Raya, Christmas or Easter for the rest of the world.
The conference agenda, though, was arguably one of the best in years – if you could afford to attend. Nevertheless, the Monday special interest sessions were packed all day and there was no shortage of top quality speakers presenting on all aspects of mobile operations. No surprise when you select Mobile Money – Transfers, Transactions and Technology, Mobile Applications – Innovation Vs Fragmentation and Business Services as the streams. As usual, the plenary sessions were generally well attended and packed with high profile speakers. Again this year, the most popular keynote was delivered by someone outside the mobile industry proper. This year it was Google CEO, Eric Schmidt.
That was probably because attendees were hoping to hear some earth-shattering news after three days of announcements that were plentiful and far from earth-shattering. There were so many new phone models announced and on display that they simply became a blur. As mentioned in a previous blog Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, excitedly announced the launch of Windows Phone 7 that won’t be available until Christmas. It was likened to getting married then having to hold off the honeymoon for ten months!
The GSMA made a big splash about a very topical subject, applications. Last year it was NFC, which didn’t appear to get a guernsey this year, but apps got their own stream, ‘App Planet’ and hall space named the ‘App Garage’ that appeared to be inhabited by lots off casually dressed ‘app people’ and tightly dressed female ‘garage attendants’. If anyone thought that and the annual CBOSS dancing girls routine were ‘out of place’, judging by the crowds both pulled, they would be very wrong.
Speaking of apps, the big news this year was the formation of a giant co-operative wholesale applications store sponsored jointly by 24 of the world’s ‘leading’ mobile operators. The announcement may have been big but the level of detail on how it would work was incredibly small. That’s probably because it was still being put together on the Sunday night prior when one prominent CEO confided receiving the call to join. It was surprising that it managed to get prominence above the other thousand odd announcements that the assembled press throng were peppered with. One week before or one week after any announcement would stand alone but for some illogical reason, every PR company decided to make it’s big announcement at the same time and place. Go figure?
All said and done, the crowds still turned up, the queues for bread and ham and bread and cheese were as long as ever and it’s now time to recover.
Hopefully the same can be said for the parties in this week’s big drama playing out in New Zealand. As reported by The Insider earlier this week, Telecom New Zealand’s new state of the art HSPA network called XT stopped working on a number of occasions. The CEO squarely put the blame on the network builder and manager, Alcatel-Lucent, heads rolled, notices were given and commitments made. The main competitor launched a damaging campaign with days with the slogan, “Welcome to New Zealand’s reliable mobile network” and claims to have been flooded with enquiries from Telecom customers keen to switch network providers. All heady stuff and bad not only for the parties involved but also the business case for outsourcing networks to third parties.
But it’s not been all bad news this week. The Indian government has finally put a date on its long-awaited 3G spectrum auction – April 9 (yes, that’s 2010). The Insider has a bad habit of putting a bogey on this event so the less said the better. However, I won’t be holding my breath!