MWC Lite came back to Barcelona

After 28 months, Mobile World Congress came back to Barcelona, much smaller and with significant absences, but with a renewed interest in meeting on-site, focusing on 5G, OpenRAN, and massive IoT.

It was a strange feeling for most of us attending the show. Almost two and a half years after the last edition, we were back at Fira Barcelona for MWC21.

I have been covering MWC since the 2013 edition, watching it first hand become the largest tech conference for the communications industry. The 2019 edition attracted over 110,000 visitors worldwide, leaving an economic impact of over € 500 million in Barcelona. Additionally, the GSMA reported that business deals of over $55 billion happened during the show.

I don’t have to tell you what happened last year, just that MWC Barcelona was the first large technology show canceled due to the pandemic.

Four months later than the usual dates, this year’s show has been quite different, but successful in bringing people together at the exhibition floor and during the conference sessions.

Tight security and health precautions

For MWC to happen this year, the organizers had to put strict rules for capacity, social distancing, testing, and other restrictions. All people present at the show, including exhibitors, speakers, staff, attendees, and even authorities, had to submit a valid PCR or antigen test done within 72 hours. Vaccination certificates were not accepted. So, if you needed to attend the four days of the show, you had to do the test twice.

Fira Barcelona allocated a large section of Hall 1 for antigen testing, with results in 10-15 minutes. I did mine on Monday morning and, after receiving a text message with a negative result, my digital badge turned green, and I was able to enter the exhibition.

No physical badges this year; everything was on the MWC app. Well, it is the Mobile World Congress, right? You just had to make sure you juiced up your phone every day. At least, the GSMA app was not such a power drain as in previous editions.

Not many international travelers, but lots of locals

Apart from the fact that many international corporations decided to skip MWC this year, not many international visitors were at the show. To compensate for this, the GSMA offered exhibition access tickets to residents in Spain for €25 ($30), and Fira Barcelona also gave away free tickets to registered attendees of previous trade shows. 

Some large international corporations were present, including several Chinese firms. Huawei, ZTE, and others had large booths staffed by their European-based employees. 

Despite all efforts from the organizers to fill up space, you could see significant gaps in the exhibition area. Also, this MWC was only using three of the eight halls of Fira Gran Via, and 4YFN, the show for startups, which usually takes place in the old Barcelona fairgrounds, joined MWC using half of one of the halls.

Lots of discussions about OpenRAN, Standalone 5G, and Massive IoT

We had several talks about OpenRAN at the conference, and operators are now starting to embrace the technology. However, traditional carriers are reluctant to open their networks, fearing the possibility of losing some control of their data and operations. Something similar happened a few years ago with the embedded SIM (eSIM), which gave customers a better choice at changing carriers, but now almost all of them support the technology. 

Also, new standalone 5G networks are beginning to light up. All the commercial 5G networks in operation are based on 3GPP Release 14 and 15. Release 16, which will start being commercially available next year, will allow LTE-M and NB-IoT technologies to connect to the core 5G networks, enabling massive IoT on 5G.

Furthermore, release 16 will enhance and enable features such as network slicing, critical for private networks, and critical infrastructure. 

GSMA Intelligence hosted several talks at the show. We had the opportunity to talk to Peter Jarich (interview coming soon) and Sylwia Kechiche about this and other topics around 5G and IoT.

Cloud City was the star of the show, with live concerts in a massive booth

If there was a place that had a lot of action during the show, it was TelcoDR’s Cloud City! Danielle Royston’s move to grab the massive 6,000 m2 booth previously reserved for Ericsson was a success, and big crowds were always present at the pavilion (within capacity limits).

Danielle, who I had the pleasure of interviewing three months ago, was the star of MWC, giving one of the best keynote speeches, advocating for Public Cloud as the means to leverage the power of today’s networks. 

Additionally, to attract the thousands of young people attending MWC for the first time, she hired Rosario, one of the most famous Spanish pop performers, a well-known DJ, and Bon Jovi, who gave a concert at the booth on Tuesday evening.

During the Bon Jovi concert, security had to disperse the crowd that congregated just outside the pavilion. Many people, including some employees, had to leave the booth to comply with capacity restrictions. 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Danielle on Wednesday. She was elated about the results during the show and the popularity of her booth. About the next MWC, which is supposed to happen in February 2022, she said they are definitely coming and, if Ericsson is not asking for their booth back (they have a long-term contract with GSMA), she will retake it.

MWC 2022 will be back on the usual dates 

Hopefully, next year we’ll be back to almost normal at MWC Barcelona. The show will be back at the end of February, and the GSMA is confident that most of the exhibitors and delegates from previous years will be back for the event.

For companies such as Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, NXP, Infineon, and others, it will be three years since the last time they have exhibited physically at MWC. I am sure they are eager to get back here to meet their customers, colleagues, and friends.

MWC 2022 won’t be, however, the same way as three years ago. The hybrid presence will be an essential part of the show, and hybrid conferences are here to stay.

Originally published on IoT Times as “A much different MWC, but good to be back meeting in person







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