How to approach Mobile World Congress?
As I mentioned in my last post, I am now preparing for my trip to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in two weeks. As with many things, I find that I can be better organized when I write my thoughts out. Hopefully, someone reading this will find it useful as well.
MWC is a BIG show. Not quite as big as CES, but getting close. I think they had something like 80,000 attendees last year. Getting there is not easy, flights are crowded, hotels employ ‘surge’ pricing that would make Uber blush. And it is crowded. There are a lot of frustrations with the show. There is a strain in the blogosphere this time of year with people lamenting that they have to go, or celebrating that they do not. This is followed in a few weeks by people complaining that they will never go again.
That being said, I would not miss this show for anything. (Well, almost anything, I had to skip 3 years ago for the birth of my second son, but that is the only time I have missed the show in almost 10 years.)
So if you are going, or are thinking about going, it is important to understand what the show is and is not. I attend because it is the most efficient work week of the year. I can do 80 meetings in a week, plus two cocktail receptions and a dinner each night. There is no other event which concentrates this many people in the mobile industry in one place, nothing else comes even close.
However, it is important to remember, Mobile World Congress is a Telecom Operator event. The point of the show is for anyone who sells anything to an operator to meet all the carriers’ decision makers. If you are not interested in carriers and what they are doing, think twice about attending.
Take Google as an example. When they launched Android, they had to first evangelize the operating system to handset makers. And since most handset makers sell a lot of phones through carriers, Google knew that they would be able to find their audience at MWC. That lasted to about 2012, after that, it was clear that Android was the leading OS for handset makers not named Apple. There was no one left to evangelize, and Google stopped having a booth at the show. They still send attendees, but they have a much quieter presence as there is no need to do mass promotion.
If you are a developer of apps for consumers, and probably for the enterprise, there is no reason to attend the show. You do not want to promote your app through the carriers (Just trust me, you do not want to do that), and so there is little reason to show up at the event and camp out in Hall 8 (i.e. the back). Last year, several of the ad networks did have sizable booths, but their showing in Hall 8 is really an exercise in marketing to the European app community, arguably a niche better reached through other events.
For some of the very large Internet companies (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) some presence makes sense if you want to tap into the carriers for wider distribution, but that is a relatively finite use case not meriting a large presence. Send your corporate development team to sign a few deals and figure out if zero rating is going to take off.
But for anyone in the hardware and component space, MWC is still the place to go. It is a great venue to launch products, or to promote recently launched products. For instance, my last employer launched a major product just ahead of the event, and were able to demonstrate working silicon at the event. Half of our meetings, and some of the most important ones, came about through word of mouth. One engineer told another about our demo, and everyone wanted to stop by and see it for themselves. This led to a level of interest high enough that it effectively kicked off the process that resulted in our sale six months later. If you want to build buzz for your app, you run the gauntlet of PR and tech blogs. If you want to build buzz for a telecom or radio product, you show off that product at Mobile World Congress.
This year, I am searching for the next interesting thing to do. I outlined the sectors I will be watching in my last post, but I also hope to encounter the unexpected and find something (or many somethings) new.