Is it time for Mobile World Congress to evolve?

I’ve been back from MWC for over week now and it’s given me time to digest things and do a short roundup of the annual pilgrimage to Barcelona and think about what, if anything has changed from previous years. 

 

Let’s start with 'Mobile'

Ahead of MWC we knew that Samsung wasn’t going to be launching the next iteration of its Galaxy handsets, so this was always going take something away from show, especially given that in previous years, Samsung has been one of the most dominating manufacturers. It’s become the trend for manufacturers to hold their own events to launch devices and services, and for Samsung to take back control a little is of no real surprise given the year it’s had. For me, this year at MWC confirmed a definite plateau in mobile devices - rubber stamped by the attention Nokia received for launching a revamped version of the 3310, complete with re-imagining of Snake. Not that Snake, much like Point Break, ever needed any re-imagining. 

 

There’s no real differentiator between any of the top-end devices. Something that’s arguably been building for the last couple of years. Every manufacturer was offering up a 5-inch piece of black glass and metal that was only marginally different from before. Although no one appeared to notice that Nokia had managed to shrink a man and put him in a remote control car.  It seemed that if you were a handset manufacturer and you didn't have any sort of VR experience, then you obviously weren't part of the clique.

VR was EVERYWHERE. For handset manufacturers, there’s a reasonable link, but for others, the offer of a VR experience just seemed a little tenuous. Had it been MWC 2016, it might have worked to draw people in, but in 2017 this just seemed like the first generation app-rush - no real focus on the end result and why? A question we tend to ask a lot at FHA. If it’s not delivering an impact and a return on business objectives, it shouldn’t be done. 

 

Taking on the 'world'

One of the things i was interested in seeing was if the fact that, for the first time there’ll be an MWC Americas held later in the year in San Francisco, would impact on the usual American contingent coming over to Barcelona. From the diverse mix of people at MWC this year and the fact that official attendance figures said that well over 108,000 people came to the event, it seems my initial concerns were unfounded. However, there seems to be a separation between the MWC events. 

The tagline for the Barcelona event was "The next element" - as vague and nondescript as ever.  If you look at the MWC Americas tagline it's all about "The next tech element" - no real improvement there, but at least it's accompanied by a silhouette of a car. It doesn't take a genius to joins some rough dots and take a stab at what the GSMA might be planning. There were plenty of auto manufacturers on show in Barcelona at MWC and 4YFN - Off the top of my head Ford (which had finally provided a mobility solution to that pesky issue of getting me from my car to my front door),  Daimler and SEAT (part of the VW group) all had significant stands. However it seems that there'll be a much bigger auto-focus at MWC Americas, especially given that a lot of manufacturers, like FHA client Jaguar Land Rover, have innovation labs out there.

In Barcelona this year there was a definite feeling that the pendulum was swinging back away from handsets, toward mobile infrastructure - be that 5G, network security, connected services etc. It would be of no surprise in the near future to see the more consumer-focused elements of MWC migrate over to San Francisco, with Barcelona remaining the beating heart for operators and infrastructure providers.

We'll have to wait and see if the new MWC Americas event detracts from the usual Barcelona event and just what the GSMA's vision for it is, but it certainly felt that it was another year that MWC was slightly moving away from the sort of companies we tend to work with. For us over the last couple of years, 4YFN has been much more on point in terms of disruptive, fast-growth companies and larger corporates looking at the innovation space. For us, we'll continue to lean a little further towards 4YFN, simply because it's in our sweet-spot. But of course, in order to make an informed decision, we may well have to venture out West to check out MWC Americas. 

See you on the West Coast. 

NR