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Mobile World Congress 2018

By: Scott St. John

Mobile World Congress is upon us once again. If you are one of 2,300 lucky companies headed to Barcelona between February 26th and March 1st, you are most likely in the final throws of preparation.  And, if you are one of the 100,000 plus anticipated attendees, or one of the many Pipeline readers considering going to Mobile World Congress 2018, you are probably wondering what’s in store this year. We’ve put together the below guide to help you navigate the show.

In a nutshell, it seems Mobile World Congress 2018 will look a lot like Mobile World Congress 2017. According to Michael O’Hara, CMO for the GSMA, the “hottest topics” at MWC 2018 will be 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR), the Internet of Things (IoT) – which sounds a lot like last year. But, there are some differences worth noting.

The 2018 conference sessions include over 40 tracks developed around eight key themes: Networks, Future Service Provider, Applied AI, Digital Consumer, Content & Entertainment, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Tech in Society, and Innovation. The keynotes include some interesting sessions, such as a spicy debate on Monday featuring the CEOs of Vodafone and DT; the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai; and Andrus Ansip, the European Union’s Vice President of the Commission and Commissioner for Digital Single Market. If debating digital policy and regulation doesn’t get your engine revving, then you’re in luck on Tuesday. Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso and Zak Brown, Executive Director of McLaren Technology Group will be exploring the impact of mobile technology on motorsport. Other keynotes will cover AI, robotics, IoT Security, Creating Better Content & Media, and more. I won’t go into much more detail in this article as you can easily view the full Mobile World Congress Agenda online, here.

In a statement provided to Pipeline, O’Hara said he is “expecting more than 108,000 attendees” at MWC this year, which seems to be another way to say they’re expecting this year’s attendance to be on par with last year. O’Hara did say that he expects to surpass 2017’s numbers, although I suspect it will be only marginal. Over the last two years, the explosive growth of this event seems to be slowing. The GMSA’s new event ventures in Singapore and the US, will also likely have an impact on those who are willing to make the trek to Barcelona this year. Other factors, like the regional instability between Spain and Catalonia, may also detract from the show's attendance.

When asked about the current regional-political tension, O’Hara stated, “we have continuously monitored developments in Spain and Catalonia to assess any potential impact for Mobile World Congress. To date, the political situation in Catalonia has not disrupted recent events held at the Fira de Barcelona venues where Mobile World Congress is held, and we are looking forward to holding a successful 2018 show. Regarding security – the security of all Mobile World Congress participants is of paramount importance, and as always, we have worked closely with local authorities in reviewing and refining the comprehensive security plans we have in place to address any possible security threats that may affect Mobile World Congress.” 

That's all fine and good, but Mobile World Congress has been a place for both protests and political appearances in the past and Catalonia’s declaration of independence is still hanging precariously in the air. Since the declaration was made in October of last year, Spain took control of the regional government by enacting emergency powers under article 155 of Spain’s constitution sparking wide-spread demonstrations, riots and protests. The independence party leaders have since fled, exiling themselves in various countries to either prepare for or in an attempt to avoid being called in front of Spain’s Supreme Court for rebellion and sedition. At the moment, things seem at a bit of stalemate. However, the separatists since won nearly 50 percent of the votes needed to control the regional legislation. While not enough of a majority to challenge the Spanish constitution for regional independence, it does indicate significant continued support for the movement. To make matters worse, the independence party leaders have been called to answer to the Supreme Court this month – which has led to bantering in a tit-for-tat between calls for evidence and a vote on Catalonia’s independence.  Essentially, all the pieces are in place to have a repeat performance of last October’s protests, with a potentially stronger showing from both sides.  The GSMA’s “continuous monitoring...to assess any potential impact” doesn’t give me a high degree of confidence and I, for one, think I’ll sit this one out.

But that doesn’t mean you have to and I know many of you will be there, one way or the other. For the many more brazen than I, we have put together the following list of key companies participating at Mobile World Congress this year to help guide you through the show.



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