As we move into the latter half of January, our thoughts are already turning to what for many in our industry is one of the event highlights of the year. I am of course referring to Mobile World Congress, which takes place this year from 22-25 February.
Yet aside from a few days in the beautiful city of Barcelona and the opportunity to catch up with colleagues past and present, what does MWC really provide in return for the sizeable investment - both in time and money - that many OSS/BSS companies make in attending this event every year?
First, some facts: according to figures from the GSMA, MWC again broke all attendance records in 2015 with more than 94,000 attendees from 200 countries. That’s a pretty staggering figure, and certainly dwarfs the visitor numbers from the former Cannes days.
For sure, there is a certain mystic surrounding MWC, which can trace its roots back to the 1990s when it was first established as GSM World Congress. The fact that the event found its first home on the glamorous French Riviera is perhaps one reason behind its continuing allure - not to mention the lavish parties that used to be thrown in the heady days of the telecoms sector in the late 90s, before the industry crash and the ruinous 3G auctions brought about a period of austerity that has never quite gone away.
For the bigger companies, a presence at MWC must surely still be a no brainer. It’s a place where they can meet all their customers in one place, for example. Stands get bigger and flashier every year and increasingly offer more interactive features to attract passers-by as well as potential investors.
The event is also a good indicator of change. Just think of the number of cars that are now displayed in some of the halls. As the Internet of Things continues to gain momentum, more products arrive at the show that would have been unimaginable at MWC only a few years ago.
But is such a major event worth it for the smaller vendor? After spending an eye-watering amount on travel, hotels and a modest stand, is the smaller OSS/BSS provider assured of getting enough value from its efforts?
Certainly, the most important driver for the smaller vendor is the potential to seek out prospective customers and partnerships. Such companies are less interested in the glitz and glamour of the show and more focused on coming back with some concrete sales. The problem for them is: how do they cut through the noise and make their presence felt? Is it actually possible to do so at an event with 94,000 people - one that is dominated by big and brash companies that will always be able to shout louder, even when they haven’t got that much to say?
I don’t have the answer to these questions, but they are questions that I think we should be continually asking ourselves. Has MWC outgrown its use for the small company, and are we actually being sucked in by what is increasingly becoming a myth rather than reality? If you believe there is still value in attending, how do you make yourself heard? I’d be interested to hear your views.