MWC is broken

Robbed in Barcelona MWC GSMAIts that time of year again, the annual pilgrimage to avoid being robbed in Barcelona, and compare 4 or 5 vendors’ radio access networks (RAN) at MWC (Mobile World Congress). Beyond the RAN and its deployment, which the industry does very well, the rest of the stuff at MWC is poorly thought through marketing drivel making the whole event a zoo, quoting Martin Geddes nice turn of phrase, “MWC is a zoo, and I find the kind with cute furry animals where you can bring your kids much more satisfying and better value for money.”

The fundamental problem is the GSMA is an event organizer first, and the industry’s trade body second. They are taking advantage of their monopolistic control over The industry trade show, MWC. They did not built it, Informa did that, then the GSMA took over and even kicked the nice TelecomTV guys out to grow their event organization and media empire. The end result is they squeeze about 50% of the marketing dollars out of the industry in one event, this figure is based on vendor discussions. I see the impact first-hand with trying to raise cash for TADHack and TADSummit. Talk with any vendor marketing exec that has to pay the bill for MWC, the quote is the same, ‘I’m here because we have no choice, the costs are ludicrous.’

Most telcos in attendance complain that their meetings in Barcelona are the same as the vendor meetings at their offices. And then there’s the ‘telco minders’, provided by the vendor paying for their trip, whose role is to avoid anyone else talking to their telco. Instead most of the meetings at MWC should be with new innovative companies or new innovative initiatives within established vendors, and critically frankly sharing with other telcos their experiences, e.g. the problems with RCS and what to do about them.

The GSMA is a not for profit organization and MWC should be a cost recovery platform for the industry to grow rather than run around in circles pretending ‘Everything is Awesome!’ The handsets are no longer under telco control, the device manufacturers now call the shots now on the communication experience, this is one of the reasons RCS continues to fail. As I’ve discussed previously there should be a reset on RCS. At least the Fring Alliance (best effort IP communication directory and interconnect) is having a go, and if they can get interconnect with Libon and Tu Go, then things get interesting.  BTW Genband, drop the OTT term, you provide best effort IP communications at a fraction of the cost compared to quality of service supported IP communications.

For me the event is too big, too defocused, and too much BS. Examples of the BS include:

  • Wearables – they are called peripherals the telco revenue opportunities are slim.
  • NFV (Network Function Virtualization) should be called telco special virtualization. Now on virtualizing the data center – absolutely yes, savings are possible as we’ve seen in many other industries over the past decade. BUT its a people, process and tech issue. Just going ‘Woohoo OpenStack!’ will not deliver the savings – people, processes and technology must all change, and open source needs to play a critical role to deliver the total savings. A NFV/Opensource demo you must see at MWC is from Canoncial / Ubuntu, Truphone, Telestax, Metaswitch and Fairwaves – to achieve the hoped for virtualization savings beyond the datacenter, a telco’s vendors will need to change.
  • The MWC by-line of “Edge of Innovation” is a joke, the vast majority of innovators are NOT in attendance, they are around the world innovating.  Only few few hardy souls travel to the zoo that is MWC. I try and provide intros between some telco CxOs and innovative companies, like Shango reviewed in this weblog, and innovative initiatives within large companies. Yes, people in big vendors use my services to get access to telcos without the vendor’s account thought-police in attendance, its a strange relationship between telcos and their vendors.

Dean Bubley gave a nice list of why as an analyst he now avoids the event, only poping in for specific meetings if he happens to be in BCN on other business

  • If I sign up as an analyst, I get 3-400 meeting requests, plus follow-ups. I spend 2 weeks of Feb doing email & scheduling, resulting in delay to all my other work
  • I end up having a 30/60/90 week: 30hrs sleep, 60 meetings, 90 units of alcohol. Not productive, and I never remember anything as it all blurs into one
  • Each 30-60min meeting involves an exec + PR minder who ensures they ram their 3 “key messages & announcements” into my skull, irrespective of what I actually want to talk about
  • Half of them come through London the week before anyway, and the other half I catch at smaller events where I can have a proper chat
  • The new Fira is in the middle of nowhere

The GSMA serves the industry, not the industry serves the GSMA. MWC needs to become a cost-recovery event so marketing budgets are freed up for more focused events where real conversations happen, as Dean points out. It needs to scale back and focus on solving 1 or 2 problems faced by the industry each year. For example RCS, either solve the problems or drop-it. RCS is increasingly not in telcos’ strategies, based on my communications with telco executives around the world. Such open wounds can not be left to fester. We all need to demand action by the GSMA change its approach to MWC, smiling and nodding that Alan’s latest weblog frankly points out the reality of the situation and proposed some interesting ways to solve the problems is not enough, action is required – forward this to your GSMA board rep or your CEO, demand change for the protection of your future, pension, children’s education, etc. The GSMA is frittering the industry’s future away while lining their pockets with MWC. Let’s stop the industry being robbed in Barcelona!