The underbelly of MWC

02 Mar 2016

As featured in DisruptiveViews

I know you are all sick of hearing about Mobile World Congress held last week in Barcelona, but that’s because you only heard about the stuff that was cool or newsworthy. Keeping up with tradition, I spent a lot of time seeking out the underbelly of the beast and found some things that you may not have heard about.

Let me start on a positive note. This event is truly remarkable in the level of organization achieved by the GSMA. With close on 100,000 in attendance I am convinced any other location or venue in Europe would not be able to handle it.

The only time you feel closed in is on some parts of the exhibition floor, some of the walkways and anywhere there were very attractive ‘booth babes’ (yes I know and I apologize for using that awful term but everyone knows what it means). Now let me clarify one thing, I am not a sexist (really), but at any event where men outnumber women ten to one the attraction of women dressed, well, provocatively is sure to get an exhibitor extra attention.

One shining example was CellularLine in Hall 7. The hostesses there were almost certainly professional models in high heels and drew crowds all day. Groups of men would form circles in the aisle just in front and pretend to chat about the event whilst gawking at the ladies. After ten seconds or so, the circle would revolve a quarter turn so the next guy in the group could get a look, and so on. It would have made a great YouTube skit and I bet no-one remembers what the company had on offer.

At the ZTE stand on the first day the ladies were wearing very demure beige colored dresses that were not particularly alluring but rather tight around the bust department. On the second day they were wearing synthetic furry white shawls draped over the shoulders and pinned at the front. Problem solved all less milling around of males.

The other big attraction is either having food on call to pull in the crowds, or baristas that really know how to make coffee. Ericsson was so popular with food stands last year I didn’t even bother to try to get in but Xura in Hall 8 took the prize for the best coffee featuring their own blend and professional baristas pumping out every imaginable coffee concoction, complete with artistic frothed milk patterns on top. WeDo again excelled with their freshly made Portuguese egg tarts (if you could get to them). But what a bummer having to walk so far between the two!

Perhaps the most innovative of all was the almost concealed Colombian coffee stand outside between Halls 3 and 5 (if I remember rightly). An unobtrusive hand-written sign board simply said ‘Free Colombian Coffee’ and pointed to a wall with a TV screen on it. As you approached the TV a barista started talking to you explaining he was in Colombia and then asking how you would like your coffee. Yeah right, there’s a guy in Colombia going to beam up some coffee for me. I went along with the joke expecting a secret camera team to emerge and tell me I’d been punked, but instead, after asking for an espresso the barista pushed the cup toward the front of the camera and counted to three and a small magical hidden door in the wall suddenly slid open and there was my coffee, freshly brewed in Colombia and delivered piping hot to Barcelona. I laughed so much I almost dropped the coffee! Brilliant.

It’s good to know that the transport unions in Barcelona are as considerate as those in other European countries, but these guys take the cake for brainlessness. The Metro drivers decided the best way to further their cause was to strike on the Monday and Wednesday of MWC and the bus drivers on Tuesday and Thursday. Keep in mind that Barcelona had just spent billions bringing the new L9 line to the front door of the event to alleviate the annual problem of moving the crowds to and from the event.

Fortunately, some of the drivers that did give a damn turned up and provided a reduced service that managed remarkably well. As well as the GSMA providing warnings and offering alternative ways of travel. When you think how many billions this event brings into Barcelona each year and how many train drivers probably keep their jobs as result of that extra money you wonder why they bother. Thankfully, the city did not give in to the blackmail.

The usual keynote speakers appeared at the plenary sessions but let us pray that Mr Zuckerberg is not invited back. At least he had a new gray T-shirt on this year. I had the pleasure of moderating two sessions with the second, called ‘Personalization and the On-Demand Economy’ left to Thursday morning. It included speakers from Airbnb, Twilio (the API specialists), Kakao and Just Eat. Brilliant content and free lessons for the telco industry on what works today. Happily, I can report the room was almost full, and for a Thursday this is unusual. These guys should be front and center on the first or second day in the big room next year, seriously.

How much bigger MWC can get remains a mystery. I know for sure that the media and press rooms need to be doubled. Journos and film crews were sitting on the floors, hanging from then ceilings and burning out coffee machines. One guy wrote a piece sitting on the toilet but that caused a subsequent line-up outside. No need for virtual reality googles there, it was truly unreal.

And that brings me back to how I know that men outnumbered women 10 to 1. While I was waiting to get into the men’s toilets (yes ladies, there was a lineup there, not on your side as usual) I counted the people going into each. This is, I surmise, the most accurate way of getting the numbers right.

You might be interested to know that Airbnb handled 30,000 bookings for Barcelona last week. Oh, I almost forgot, in keeping with tradition I was ripped off by the very first taxi I caught from the airport and no Ubers in sight and I know of six people that had things stolen from their person. When Barcelona sorts out those two issues they might find themselves hosting a lot more BIG events.

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