a week in wireless

A Week in Wireless – Reflections on MWC 2015

As you would expect the Informer felt compelled to attend the annual telco industry jamboree that is Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. If any reminder were needed of what a massive and vibrant industry we work in this is definitely it.

Since the show moved to the new Fira, stands have become even more extravagant. A visit, for example, to Ericsson’s ‘stand’ revealed half a hall walled off to a kind of Ericsson theme park, albeit with the improbable theme of ‘stuff that mobile operators might find useful’. Elsewhere Huawei had performed a similar manoeuvre, while ZTE’s stand was overrun with young women in sparkly dresses and fur coats as if the company was making some kind of homage to the 70s.

Getting around the place is a bit easier now that the Fira has an elevated walkway, but there is still no avoiding the frequent need to navigate floods of human traffic that seem to be fleeing in slow motion from some unseen threat. Maybe it’s the Wifi Black Hole that crops up frequently and randomly when you least expect it.

The show put on two free wifi networks and, somewhat redundantly, included the password in the network IDs. Rather than litter the entire show with sufficient cells to make the coverage ubiquitous, you generally had to head for this central walkway to get a connection, but this was far from guaranteed.

The thing about variable connectivity is that it can be all-encompassing. The Informer has written before about the modern addiction to being online. We are now so dependent on being plugged into the matrix constantly that any disconnection brings on panic attacks. What’s the point of doing anything if you can’t immediately share it with the rest of the world and what if you miss stuff other people are doing online while you’re in digital purgatory? This must be what being in prison is like.

So when you’re on the periphery of the show you nervously reconcile yourself to being disconnected and try to focus on the meeting at hand. But you’re secretly counting the minutes until you can return to the warm, comforting embrace of the internet and thus stare obsessively at your smartphone for the first sign of wifi life. The cruellest times were when your phone confidently proclaimed a connection but no data was forthcoming. This leads to hypnotic transfixion with your phone to the exclusion of everything else.

Try to imagine this phenomenon combined with a concentration of humanity that makes Oxford Street in the summer look like a desert and you get a lot of people bumping into each other – not in a good way. It was worth occasionally standing by the side of the main thoroughfares to observe this protracted game of human dodgems. Extra sport could be had by trying to predict collisions as early as possible and also from watching the startled expressions and reproachful semi apologies of the protagonists, momentarily wrenched from their additions by a fellow sufferer.

Further compounding the traffic problem were frequent impromptu dramatic performances on some stands. It seems that people are incapable of not stopping and gawping when shouted at by some sales type and this created instant bottlenecks. Those few individuals able to resist a lecture on the unique properties of snake oil were then forced to virtually climb over each other in scenes reminiscent of wildebeest herds traversing crocodile-infested rivers.

Apart from the excellent company, one of the major compensations for visiting stands that in the connectivity wilderness was the catering. It seemed there wasn’t a stand that didn’t feature a cornucopia of finger food and assorted booze. Ericsson World featured entire restaurants, while Mycom OSI was an afternoon favourite thanks to its healthy respect for the healing properties of alcohol. A personal favourite of the Informer was the WeDo stand, which featured delicious Portuguese custard tarts and fortifying slugs of port, while the dinner of the week was hosted by the incomparable Mary Clark of Syniverse.

For all its exhausting chaos and ironic connectivity issues there is no substitute for MWC. It’s possible to get set up for the rest of the year on the basis of all the useful conversations you have there and there sheer amount of commercial activity that appears to take place is the engine (alongside a number of excellent Informa events, of course) that drives our industry. Thank God it’s over.

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