Attendance estimates vary, but this year the Mobile World Congress held these days in Barcelona will host approximately 30% of attendees than a normal year. To verify this, you just have to walk through the pavilions, already reduced to three compared to the usual nine. There are no crowds and some exhibition areas are so spacious that they appear soulless. Even so, many have come to the call of the GSMA (the association of event organizers) for this peculiar edition of the fair. But who has come and why have they made this decision?
There are plenty of representatives of emerging technology companies, with half a pavilion dedicated to them – a sixth of the space – and many others distributed among the different exhibitors from the countries. One of them is CortiCale, at the booth in Italy, which has created a brain interface system for medical applications. The goal is to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy or ALS. Representing the startup The CEO, Giuseppe Santella, 61, and the CTO (head of technology), Fabio Boi, 33, have come. They are at the Mobile because it is a showcase to show their technology to other companies and they have not hesitated for a moment to come , despite the issue of the pandemic. Boi points out that the vaccination campaign in Italy is going well and that is why both are already vaccinated.
The same goes for Gideon Rottem, CEO of DeeYook, and with his CTO, also in his thirties. His ultra-precise location technology startup is on the booth in Israel, where 57% of the population is already vaccinated with two doses. The reason for which they have come has something symbolic. Last year, in their first year, they were going to a technology fair for the first time. It was the Mobile World Congress2020, canceled due to the explosion of the pandemic. “In all this year there have been no events. So this is the first one we go to, as originally planned, ”says Rottem. Last year would have been a start-up moment for them and this year it is a start-up moment, although in this they coincide with all companies in general.
When asked what they expect from the event, Rottem responds sarcastically. “Not much. It will be a quiet edition ”, he acknowledges. But he says it is also a way to start over with events and business meetings. “I think there will be a spirit of relaunch and a positive attitude. Everybody wants to go back to normal ”.
Emerging companies rub shoulders with the great exhibitors of some companies, such as Telefónica, Orange, Accenture or Huawei. The Spanish operator has brought its CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete, who has given a conference and visited the 950-square-meter booth, strewn with demonstrations of 5G use cases. For Telefónica, the physical presence in Mobile is one more step towards normalization. Just over 200 people have come, a reduced delegation if we take into account the deployment of other years.
From the operator they point out that it was important to be in the Mobile also for technological reasons. They affirm that it is a crucial moment in this regard, as it is a stage of change. The digital transformation of companies, public administrations and society, in general, is in full swing.
Others simply want to take the pulse of the market. There is a general attitude of expectation due to the fact that MWC 2021 is the first major event to be organized after the start of the pandemic. But caution is also noticeable. Company delegations have been reduced and lower-level employees, who used to come here to learn, are staying home this time.
The South Korean exhibitor has kept the same space that it was going to have in 2020. “Although this year the participation is minimal, we have considered that we had to participate, because Korea is the most connected country in the world and the new Korean government has created a specific program focused on the growth of the country by investing in digitization ”, says Jerónimo Gracián, deputy director of KOTRA Madrid, the country’s trade and investment promotion agency. All those who come from this Asian country have been vaccinated at least two months before.
Little presence of China
The visibility of country exhibitors, who stand out from the signs displaying company names, makes this Mobile almost look more like FITUR than a technology congress. Even so, it is an edition with less diversity of nationalities. Attendees from China, which were plentiful in previous years, are in short supply. It is not surprising because on the return, the Asian country demands a month of quarantine.
Travel restrictions have also impacted on the multiculturalism of company teams. From Orange they point out that the majority of their delegation comes from European countries. They are the ones who have it easier to move in the community sphere. Some employees of the operator, who in previous editions came from African countries, have not been able to attend due to the difficulty of entering Europe.
In total, the French operator has brought in 80 people, far fewer than the 350 who have come in other years. “It’s like a restart for the telecommunications industry. Although there are few of us who can attend the Mobile World Congress, probably everyone is happy to meet again with collaborators and competitors ”, says Béatrice Mandine, vice president of Communication, Brand and Engagement of the group. “I see a kind of spirit of rebirth. This last year and a half has been difficult for everyone. “
Both Telefónica and Orange have huge exhibitors, clearly oversized for the size of this edition. The French company has an explanation. “When Mobile 2020 was canceled, the booth was ready, because that was two weeks before the event. It was not built but it was all prepared in boxes. And we’ve kept those boxes since last year, ”says Mandine.
For MWC 2021, the company has gone to the boxes provided for the previous edition of Mobile. Some boxes that had been stored somewhere for more than a year, as if frozen in time, waiting. As normality awaits its moment, which after becoming a block of ice in March 2020, is gradually thawing.