MWC 2023 – First Impressions

We have just returned from MWC 2023 in Barcelona. Next week we will publish a series of notes on the high (and low) lights of the event. Here we want to provide some very high level thoughts on the show, and convey the overall vibe.

The first question everyone not at the show asked us was “How did it compare to 2019?”, the last show prior to the pandemic. And the simple answer is that the show is back. Unlike CES which artificially densified the halls by shutting down 40% of the floor space, the Fira Europa was filled to capacity with exhibitions. There was a little bit more space dedicated to keynote stages, and quite a bit more of government-sponsored booths padding things out, but there we no gap in the exhibition space. In fact, in the hinterlands of Hall 8, they actually radically reduced the average exhibition space down to a single desk, all of which were occupied, which means the total number of exhibitors is probably up. All the major companies had fully staffed booths, including large contingents from a number of Chinese companies, who probably had to book their space back when attending the show meant two week quarantine on return. The official attendance figure is over 80,000, which is pretty close to our guess of about 80%-90% of the show pre-pandemic. Bustling, but not overcrowded

Another question we encountered frequently was “what was hot at the show?”. The honest answer to that is nothing. Conferences are no longer good venues for launching consumer products. Between 5G not offering anything compelling for consumers and the reality that all phones have looked the same for years meant there was no big buzz around anything that most people care about. As one executive quipped to us “It says a lot abut the show that the only thing everyone is talking about on Day One is a new logo.”

He was referring to the unveiling of Nokia’s new logo. New logos always attract initial criticism, and Nokia’s (let’s call it) aggressive design choices definitely opened up the field for humor. “It represents their product portfolio … it is missing a few key pieces” or “They did a group buy with Kia Motors, but they had to divide up the letters between them.” The Nokia logo has not meaningfully changed in something like 50 years, and now that the company is no longer a consumer company, it makes sense to rebrand dramatically, and why not make it really colorful at the same time…

Beyond the superficial we found the show to be incredibly productive while at the same time largely unexciting. Productive in that we started the show with 20 meetings and had another 20 impromptu meetings. We learned a lot, much of which we will share in upcoming posts Unexciting in that the industry is moving very slowly. There are a lot of important trends and technologies out there, but progress on many of the big topics of the day is glacial. So stay tuned for semis, Open RAN, Nokia and Ericsson at sea, a photo tour and more.

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