Test and space: Barcelona telecommunications festival raises hopes for a “hybrid” fair

A person walks past a screen during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, ​​Spain on June 30, 2021. REUTERS / Nacho Doce

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BARCELONA, July 2 (Reuters) – His biggest act may have been televised on a screen, but a smaller, quieter “hybrid” Mobile World Congress (MWC) has given others hope that the events in person can be successful in a pandemic.

For those who made it to Barcelona, ​​there were no drunken evenings, with far fewer gatherings than in previous years and the only alcohol on offer reserved for hand sanitizing.

This week’s MWC must-sees were a negative COVID-19 test, an FFP2 face mask, and a digital contact tracing badge for the approximately 30,000 who passed through its test stations and followed a one-way traffic system to reduce the risk of infection.

At each booth, an army of volunteers religiously scanned contact tracing passes, while others were on every corner to remind visitors who did not maintain enough distance or whose masks had slipped to follow. the rules.

The events industry, which includes lectures and performances and was valued at $ 1.14 trillion in 2019 by Allied Market Research, has been brought to a halt by the pandemic.

While some businesses have moved online, industry participants have been working on ways to get back to normal.

One show waiting to see if MWC has been successful in minimizing the spread of COVID-19 is Europe’s largest tech conference, Web Summit, which continues preparations for an in-person show in November in Lisbon.

“We’re thrilled to see people attending tech gatherings… The MWC was the first to come back in person, it’s never easy,” Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave told Reuters, adding that the companies would now be more interested in attending such events.

The limitations and appeal of a hybrid model were highlighted by Tesla CEO (TSLA.O) Elon Musk’s keynote address on his $ 30 billion Starlink business, which despite being aired by webcam, generated the largest audience buzz of the MWC. Read more

Its organizers had presented the Barcelona show as a step towards normality ahead of its next edition in February 2022 and most attendees welcomed its return despite its reduced scale and the absence of known names like Ericsson (ERNT.ZA), Sony (6758.T) and Nokia (NOKIA.HE).

“COVID-19 challenged us. We had to develop new health and safety protocols and a hybrid platform, but we did,” said Mats Granryd, the association’s general manager. telecommunications industry GSMA, which suffered heavy losses after the cancellation of last year’s MWC. .

Although several large exhibitors such as Huawei (HWT.UL) have reduced their physical presence and overall attendance has been less than a third of previous years, attendees in Barcelona were happy to be able to rekindle or build old relationships. news.

“We had some interesting discussions, although they had a different and more serious tone this year. But the most important thing was to do it (…) to show that there is life after or despite COVID”, Orange (ORAN .PA) told Reuters CEO Stéphane Richard.


Another contrast was the hallways of the three MWC pavilions, up from 10 in the Fira Exhibition Center in 2019, emptied as the week went on, leaving it mostly deserted on Wednesday evening, when most exhibitors organized. their closing parties.

And the absence of some big names has also rocked the hierarchy of exhibitors, with the void being partly filled by small startups and hard-to-digest companies like TelcoDRs.

Its founder Danielle Royston took over the Ericsson exhibition stand and created the most visited stands by reserving the American rockers Bon Jovi and offering around thirty startup spaces to present their products.

By sharing a crowded space in the MWC startup arena, the newcomers attracted more visitors than some of the big booths.

Lower prices for booths and tickets have also helped startups, said Consuelo Naranjo, Marketing Director of Austria’s Authentic Vision, adding: “We just had a meeting with a spokesperson from a small Italian village, that we would not have encountered otherwise. “

Even elders like Spanish Telefonica (TEF.MC) have noticed the effect of a more diverse crowd.

“It’s true that (MWC) lost that ‘Wow!’ factor – but the people who came are much more network-oriented, and you can spend more time with startups, which is positive, “Andres Escribano, director of Telefonica IoT & Big Data, told Reuters.

Reporting by Clara-Laeila Laudette and Supantha Mukherjee; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Alexander Smith

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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