Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been a fixture in my calendar for more than a decade. It’s a place to hear about the latest developments in mobile, speak to some of the biggest names in the industry, and catch up with friends in the bars and restaurants of Barcelona.
But this year, like many other people, I was a remote participant. Although there was an MWC last year this was the first congress to be held in the traditional spring timeslot since 2019, and for many people it may have been the first major event they had attended since the pandemic began.
It is estimated that around 60,000 attendees roamed the multiple halls of the vast Fira complex over the course of the week, a significant reduction from the 100,000 that are usually present, and there were some notable absentees in terms of exhibitors, with the likes of LG and Apple the biggest no-shows.
But this contraction isn’t necessarily negative. MWC had long outgrown the mobile industry and spread into other areas of technology, such as connected cars. It was hard to keep track of all the developments and to navigate the venue.
MWC 2022 was, from a remote perspective, a far more focused event that concentrated on the key topics in the industry. There were new devices, of course, but also discussion about the next phase of 5G (opens in new tab) rollout, the ongoing convergence of IT and telecoms, the development of the Open RAN ecosystem and sustainability.
> Huawei says it refuses to ‘retreat from the international market’ (opens in new tab)
> HMD Global is no longer just the company that makes Nokia phones (opens in new tab)
> MediaTek is coming for Qualcomm's smartphone crown (opens in new tab)
Our reporter on the ground, Joel Khalili seemed to agree: “The overwhelming consensus among the companies and fellow press we spoke to was that it was great to be back, and importantly, back in person.
“The strict health protocols may have been a little burdensome, but proved that events of this scale are viable as we begin to exit the pandemic (the appearance of new variants notwithstanding).
“A few big names were conspicuous by their absence this year, but that's more of a reflection of the conditions than the relevance of MWC.
“In any case, there was plenty to dig our teeth into. Qualcomm in particular had a stellar show, with a series of new products that continue to push the boundaries of what 5G can do. But as did MediaTek, which is attempting to unseat Qualcomm in the flagship smartphone market.
“The opportunity created by private 5G was also a major talking point, but the likes of Dell, Microsoft, Fujitsu, HPE and more all had to fight for attention as vendors flood to the space.”
The cancellation of MWC 2020 was the first sign for many people that the world was about to change. It was a huge challenge for the organisers, and some wondered how MWC would remain relevant in a changing world. The success of this year’s event demonstrates the future viability of the concept and MWC 2023 will likely see attendances return to pre-pandemic levels.
But this year was a smaller, more focused affair and all the better for it.