Mobile World Congress 2017: What to do, who to see and where to party

Mobile World Congress - what's going on?

With Mobile World Congress upon us, The Drum takes a look at what's going on in Barcelona including the best keynotes, demos, and parties.

Over 100,000 people will descend on the Catalonian capital for Mobile World Congress next week, one of the biggest tech conferences of the year. Not for the faint-hearted, the five day event is notorious for its scale. The endless exhibition halls of Fira Gran Via are no mean feat, as attendees find themselves lost amid the weird and wonderful gadgets on display.

“The best thing is, the whole world of mobile, digital and technology is there in one place,” says David Black, managing director of branding at Google UK. “The worst thing is, the whole world of mobile, digital and technology is there in one place. The sheer scale is spectacular, exhausting, vast and enjoyable. Getting from one hall or stand to another can take half an hour.”

For those in the business of media and marketing, the event is an opportunity to take home valuable insight into the very latest in mobile technology. Industry presence is still relatively small compared to Las Vegas’ CES, but with panels on innovations in media, content and consumer advertising on the schedule, familiar faces in the world of marketing are likely to be seen. Big names such as Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and Shane Smith, co-founder of VICE Media, are just some of the major keynote speakers on the line up.

MWC also has more to offer than the conference during the day. The official MMIX party takes place on the Tuesday in the city centre, and features an exclusive performance from indie rock band Glass Animals.

So with all of this to factor in - not to mention networking events, tapas and bar crawls down La Rambla – how on earth do you make sure you don’t miss out on the important stuff? The answer: a solid strategy.

“As has been the case for the past four years, I am heading to Barcelona with a tight plan,” says Scott Curtis, MWC veteran and European mobile strategy and development director for Publicis Media.

“The first time at MWC, I went to the event with a blank slate, and it was not the right approach – it was overwhelming and hard to navigate. In order to get the most from the conference, a lot of preparation work is necessary to identify what exhibitors I want to have conversations with. This year, we have about 200 exhibitors on our hit list that are focused on current and emerging trends like robotics, mixed reality, internet of things, and zero UI.”

Clearly plenty of exciting topics will be up for debate, as themes such as AI assistants, VR and the digital economy recur throughout the agenda. Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that many of the key themes are not necessarily new: “The reality is that MWC is more about evolution than revolution,” says Rafe Blandford, mobile strategist at DigitasLBi.

Wary not to believe the hype around everything at the event, Blandford also notes: “There’s a lot of attention around 5G and the idea it will act as a key enabler for the fouth industrial revolution. There’s no doubt that this is true, but 5G networks will not arrive commercially at scale before the end of the decade.”

Though you’ll likely come home exhausted, it’s all well worth it, according to Publicis’ Scott Curtis: “Having conversations with an automotive tech start up from Estonia, or a Korean company making wearables for lazy pets is truly awesome for providing inspiration to take back home. The sheer amount of cool stuff and great thinking within the halls at Gran Fira is one of the very high points in my year.”

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