This story was updated at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Feb. 22, 2012
Many U.S. wireless industry professionals are getting ready to travel to Barcelona, Spain, for next week's Mobile World Congress (MWC). Organizers of the event expect more than 60,000 people to attend the Feb. 27-March 1 convention, but first, they have to make sure those attendees can move around the city.
The metro and bus workers from TMB announced plans to strike during MWC. GSMA released a statement today saying it remains hopeful that a strike can be averted before the show starts, but it has developed a "comprehensive contingency plan"and is ready to activate the plan should it become necessary.
"The contingency plan outlines alternate transport options for getting to and from the venue and also describes the additional security measures the police are putting in place to ensure the safe passage of our attendees," GSMA said. "We will also be taking steps to help attendees enter the venue more quickly, including expanding the access points to the Fira and increasing the registration points on site and at the airport."
GSMA says it will make the specific details of the contingency plan available to attendees on Saturday through a number of mechanisms. Attendees who are in Barcelona will be able to access the information at the hotels and the MWC registration points on site and at the airport. Attendees, particularly those who have not yet traveled to Barcelona, can also get the information through GSMA's Customer Care Centre.
The GSMA is encouraging attendees to register and pick up their badges on the weekend prior to MWC to minimize congestion. Registration is open on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Registration desks at the airport will be open from Sunday through Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"While we completely understand and appreciate the concerns around the uncertainty of this situation, we want to assure attendees that the GSMA is taking every possible step to ensure a successful Mobile World Congress,"GSMA said.
Once attendees figure out how they're going to get to and from the venue, they will notice the Fira is as crowded as ever. Exhibit space is up by 5 or 6 percent this year, and some of that is literally up in the air – as in the booth/exhibits are expanding upward rather than outward, according to GSMA Marketing Director Michael O'Hara. Google, which occupied a huge swath in Hall 8 last year, will be back with even larger quarters this year.
Last year, the crowd seeking to get into Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote created a near stampede to get in – it was shortly after Microsoft announced its deal with Nokia. O'Hara does not expect a repeat of that scenario. "We're going to be ready for it,"he says.
Once again this year, keynotes will be held in the mornings and evenings, with Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. on Monday evening and Google's Eric Schmidt on Tuesday evening. New this year is "Networking by Moonlight," with refreshments in front of the fountain from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday.
The association deliberately moved the date of the show to the end of the month to avoid conflicting with the Chinese New Year, which happened last year, and Valentine's Day. Next year, MWC is set to move to a bigger, more modern space in Barcelona. The event will lose some of the charm it has enjoyed by being near the National Palace but it will gain about 50 percent more space.
Dan Hays, principal at PwC's PRTM Management Consulting, says he applauds the various associations for taking a proactive stance to spread out the timing of their events. (CTIA this year has moved its spring event to May 8-10 in New Orleans.)
At next week's MWC, Hays and his colleagues expect the usual litany of device announcements, but in the device segment especially, the real news is more likely to be about the continued growth of the Asian device providers relative to their European and American peers. He also expects to see a lot more in the mobile payments space, as well as continued talk about LTE and small cells.
Whereas one of the prevailing themes at last year's show was the move to small cells and the focus was on technology and communication of intent, this is the year that the rubber hits the road and it's about execution and solutions that enable operators to deploy small cells at scale, he says. PwC includes Wi-Fi, femtocells, pico cells and hybrid solutions, including DAS, in the small cell category.
While this year promises to deliver another big MWC, it's worth noting that some believe the mobile Internet is just in its infancy. One panel moderator literally wrote the book on it. Well, he had help from co-author Collins Hemingway, who worked with Bill Gates on “Business at the Speed of Thought."
Robert Marcus, chairman and CEO of QuantumWave Capital, co-wrote "The Fifth Wave"with Collins; the eBook goes on sale Monday for $9.99; more information is available here: http://www.fifthwavebook.com/.
Marcus also is moderating the panel discussion "Mobile Cloud: Competitive Landscape"at 2 p.m. Monday in Hall 5. Speakers will include Olaf Swantee, CEO of Everything Everywhere; Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare; and Francisco Varela, director of Global Platform & Games Partnerships at Youtube/Google.
Marcus says he is one of those people who actually thought the mobile Internet was going to hit the big time in the late 1990s. He gives credit to Apple and Steve Jobs for being "the flame that lit the fire," but adds that the fire had been simmering.
A Paris resident who moved to the United States and spent 10 years at Microsoft before returning to the French capital, he saw the European dominance in mobile and the changes that occurred to put Silicon Valley at the top of the game. But he says there remain great centers of innovation around the world, in cities like Munich, London, Berlin and more. Many of them will be represented at next week's show as entrepreneurs gather from all corners of the world.