Analysis: How Mobile World Congress Hopes To Restart Conferences After COVID

Next month’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona is shaping up to be a first test of how quickly the global business events industry will rebound from the pandemic, with a range of high-tech solutions deployed to try to protect visitors.

The normally annual event – which was canceled last year – is one of the largest industry conferences in the world, typically drawing around 100,000 attendees as telecom companies showcase their latest products and executives come together to make deals.

While the organizers will offer online access for those who wish to stay away, they hope to welcome thousands of participants from around the world, including from countries where the pandemic is still raging.

There will be rapid and regular COVID-19 tests, a digital badge that will grant access to the site, and a contact tracing app in case of infection.

Live monitoring of the site will allow organizers to regulate the number of people in a given area, while participants will have to wear face masks and stay one-way.

“We think it’s time to resurface and do a comeback show, knowing it won’t be the same type of show it used to be, but it’s at least a start,” Mats said. Granryd, Managing Director of Telecommunications Operators. the GSMA association, which organizes the MWC.

The Spanish government agrees. He agreed to special arrangements to allow participants from countries where travel restrictions are still in effect. Spain itself reported 33 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the lowest figure since August.

But the holding of the event remains a gamble for the GSMA. Large companies such as Nokia (NOKIA.HE), Ericsson (ERICb.ST) and Samsung (005930.KS) will not be attending in person, and attendance is expected to be less than half of 100,000 in a typical year.

“Speaking to people in the industry, there is a real desire to go back to physical events, but it’s all about timing,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight. “We will find out in the coming weeks whether the GSMA made the right decision.”

The cancellation of last year’s event was a blow to the GSMA and forced it to lay off around 40% of its employees. A lower than normal presence or other cancellation would mean more pain.

A successful trade show, on the other hand, could offer a model for other event planners looking to get their businesses back on track.


A worker collects a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) swab sample from a woman ahead of a press conference by GSMA CEO John Hoffman and GSMA CEO Mats Granryd at the 2021 World Mobile Congress (MWC21 ) in the Fira de Barcelona, ​​Spain May 20 January 2021. REUTERS / Nacho Doce

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The GSMA decided in mid-January to move forward with MWC Barcelona, ​​with an event postponed to February in Shanghai as a warm-up.

“Shanghai was sort of a testing ground. Is it possible to have a great show with face masks on, with social distancing, with testing beforehand? It was, and we had no cases “said Granryd.

“It was really after Shanghai, I think, we were confident we could get there.”

About 25,000 people attended MWC Shanghai this year and more than 100,000 watched presentations online. It was one of the first hybrid events for the GSMA, with online and in-person access.

The MWC online platform will be integrated with Microsoft products (MSFT.O), allowing participants to connect in video conference rooms.

But sometimes there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings, Granryd said.

“To some extent, we can build trust through virtual meetings, but not if the deal is worth billions, you have to sit down and look each other in the eye, and that’s why we’re confident that it will be something “he said.


While some fear that the absence of big names will reduce the appeal of the conference, small businesses are looking to gain attention. More than 400 startups will exhibit their latest products at MWC.

“This is a unique opportunity for small vendors to stand up and get their point across and maybe become a big vendor in the future,” said Danielle Royston, founder of cloud consulting firm TelcoDR.

Royston recovered one of the largest exhibition stands, measuring 6,000 square meters, after Ericsson retired.

TelcoDR, which got the booth at a reduced rate but still paid millions of dollars, will have 30 startups that it advises and / or invests to showcase their products on the booth.

“This is your chance as a small salesperson,” she says. “We’re going back to the old way next year.”

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