MWC: all about networking?

It’s that time of year again. The time that industry professionals know only too well, as we see our schedules for the final week in February rapidly running out of space – we’re all preparing ourselves for the exhausting experience that is Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Well, unless you work at Microsoft or RIM, it seems.

According to the GSMA’s exhibitor list, neither company will have a stand at the show this year, although neither could tell me exactly why this is the case. I had a strange conversation with a Microsoft spokeswoman the other day about this, who said that they are not allowed to say anything about Microsoft’s plans for MWC. “So you can neither confirm nor deny that Microsoft will be there?” I asked. “We can’t say anything,” was the response.

Interestingly, Microsoft didn’t even have a booth or an official press event at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year despite CEO Steve Ballmer appearing on stage for Qualcomm’s (rather surreal) keynote. Perhaps the Redmond firm is now trying to emulate Apple, which does not appear at trade shows at all.

BlackBerry, despite the opportunity to showcase its brand new BlackBerry 10 platform, has also decided against exhibiting at the show, although executives will be present and the company has booked meeting rooms off-site in Barcelona. When I spoke to the firm, all hands were on deck ahead of the company’s biggest launch for years, so providing a reason for the firm’s lack of participation was something I was told I’d hear back about. But in BlackBerry’s case, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess why the firm won’t be there.

A stand at MWC doesn’t come cheap and budgets are tight for everyone these days, particularly in Western Europe and North America, due to the macro-economic climate. One suspects that if your company has seen its market share shrink to a fraction of what it was, as BlackBerry has, and recorded consecutive quarterly losses in your financial reports, all while investing millions of dollars in a new product, the CFO will look to cut any additional spend that he deems as extravagant.

Furthermore, BlackBerry can’t exactly exhibit as part of the Canadian pavilion – not when competing handset vendors often have entire halls to themselves. It’s pretty much a case of all or nothing for the firm, and it looks like it has chosen the latter.

Microsoft and RIM deciding against exhibiting at the show could be two isolated coincidences, however, despite having stands at MWC this year, HTC and Samsung have both confirmed that they will not be holding any press conferences at the show either.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, handset vendors made their big product announcements at the CeBIT show in Hanover, Germany. However, as the mobile industry gathered momentum, and in a bid to get a jump on the white noise of CeBIT, they began to gravitate more towards the operators’ show, unveiling their new products at what was then the GSM World Congress.

Now though, it seems that CES in Las Vegas provides a more suitable arena for firms that are looking to leverage cross-platform strengths—firms for whom mobile is just one part of the play. Crucially, of course, CES is a consumer event and it is the direct relationship with the consumer, free of operator mediation, that handset vendors are after.

The most high-profile launch at MWC 2012 was the GSMA’s rich communications suite offering, Joyn. So maybe vendors scaling down their activities at the show may not be a bad thing. After all, handset launches have a habit of stealing headlines and overshadowing less glamorous—but equally important—news about networks and operators.

So now it is incumbent on the network side of the business to ensure that there is plenty to talk about—and worthy of the mainstream media coverage that GSMA has long sought for its event—at what remains the most important event in the mobile communications industry. No pressure.

  • MWC20 Barcelona

One comment

  1. Avatar tim deluca-smith 05/02/2013 @ 2:29 pm

    It’s a very curious affair. These are the two companies in the race to become the “third ecosystem”. Now, this may seem like a rather prosaic title but IMHO it’s going to be the most interesting battle of the year. There’s likely only room for one and neither can afford to fail.

    The off-site approach for meetings serves a purpose but I don’t see how either of these brands can afford NOT to be front of mind at an event that is at risk of becoming a complete Android-fest…think about it, no Apple, no BB, no MSFT…Google will dominate.

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