Industry News for Business Leaders
FeaturedIndustrial IT

Mobile World Congress 2023: The Show Is Back with a Shift Towards B2B

Mobile World Congress 2023: The Show Is Back with a Shift Towards B2B
MWC 2023 (Credit: GSMA)

The Barcelona fair has just closed its doors. Our journalist Andrea Nepori was at the show. He observed a notable transformation from a consumer-centric approach to an increasingly industry-oriented one. Since the pandemic, Mobile World Congress has been transitioning towards B2B, catering more to the industry rather than the general public.

From February 27th to March 2nd, around 88,500 attendees from all over the globe visited the stands of the Mobile World Congress 2023 at Fira Barcelona, where more than 2400 exhibitors, sponsors, and partners were eager to show their latest products and innovations in telecommunications and adjacent fields. The latest edition of the global event attracted the largest crowd since the last pre-pandemic edition of the show. Regarding measurable success, it was the best edition of the show after 2019, a record year in its own right.

MWC is Back in Full Force

As an attendee, walking through the exhibition floors during the busy three days of the event already confirmed what the final attendance numbers would show: the MWC was back in full force. Brushing shoulders with strangers on crowded booths to check out products and demos, shaking hands, and meeting business contacts and old friends in person—the show delivered everything one would expect from the leading global telecommunications event of the year. 

According to John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA, the industry association behind the MWC, everything exceeded the best hopes. As the company explained in a press release, exhibitors and partners reported that their expectations have been surpassed as well. For some, the result in terms of deals and leads was even better than the record-setting 2019 edition. 

Yet the show was different from what it was before the pandemic, not for what it represents for the telco industry, but for the players it now tends to attract. My chats with journalists, analysts, and fellow media colleagues during the show confirmed the feeling of a strong shift towards B2B applications and products, with less and less space left for consumer brands to show their new devices or host launches and dedicated events. 

A Strong Shift Towards B2B

Nicole Scott, Show Producer for the Bloomberg TV show Beyond Innovation says that the show felt like it bounced back fully from the pandemic lows. Still, she also confirmed the impression of a more business-focused event than in previous years:

“I was at the canceled MWC in 2020 and visited last year as well: I can say that this year’s conference is definitely back to normal. It feels fully engaged, It was busy, and everyone was excited to do business. So much so that I noticed some over-excitement about news that was not so exciting, just for the sake of being back. MWC also seems to be shifting towards a more B2B approach, although I think there is still a place for B2C media, especially with brands picking the event to show off their concept products. If companies want to maintain broad market awareness, B2C is still the way to go. To an extent, smartphone launches will also remain important, especially for Chinese brands that need the MWC stage to reach global relevance”. 

Asked about the perceived shift in target, GSMA’s PR Director Nick Miles explained that MWC Barcelona has always been an important event for leaders across industries to connect, do deals, and drive positive impact across their business:

“MWC creates a unique platform that allows amplification of thought leadership and industry announcements, the content of which is up to the individual organization making an announcement. It is the largest global gathering of policymakers who enable the digital economy and delivers the key decision-makers necessary to make deals. We create a mix of inspiration and deal delivery, and that’s why organizations count on this event”. 


Different Market Perspective

In simpler words, GSMA envisions the MWC as a platform for the telco industry to come together and make things happen, to discuss and present ideas, and to push the industry forward. Consequently, MWC is a neutral stage that follows the general focus of the telecommunications industry. What’s really changed from previous editions and pre-pandemic times is that consumer-oriented products like smartphones are not centerstage anymore for vendors and solutions providers. Moreover, the role of mobile devices as innovation drivers for the telecommunications industry has faded due to growing commoditization and market saturation. 

Carolina Milanesi, Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, confirms that MWC has not necessarily “shifted” but reflects a different market and industry than what we might remember from before the pandemic.

“The reality is that telcos generate very little revenue from consumers. While they do earn revenue from providing connectivity for phones, PCs, wearables, and XR devices, the majority of their business comes from B2B. I believe this trend will continue in the future. Therefore, carriers or component vendors do not need consumer buzz at trade shows to grow their business. Historically, compared to CES, MWC has always been more business-focused. However, this year it was even more evident. This might also be because the consumer part of the automotive and connected mobility market is not as exciting as it used to be for the mobile market. In other words, it is not the show that has shifted, but the market’s perspective and where the money comes from”. 

Back to Physical Events

What has stayed the same is the trade show’s human aspect and the importance of meeting in person. Milanesi says that this year’s edition proves that, even after the pandemic, trade shows have a chance to stay relevant in a digital-first world.

“The impression you will take away from this show is that there is still a place for an event like the Mobile World Congress. I honestly believe that the value of attending this event is about building personal relationships. Meeting people I have worked with for the past three years for the first time in person is invaluable. Once that personal connection has been established, work can also continue to happen on a virtual level”.

Scott shares this view and believes that relations-building and meeting in person are still valuable assets for companies like GSMA that can make events like MWC happen.

“The primary reason I attended the conference was for networking. While in Barcelona, I met old contacts I hadn’t seen in ages and had the chance to chat, listen to their presentations to visitors, or visit other booths with them. The serendipitous moments around in-person networking were the true joy of attending the conference. Giving you the time and space for this kind of interaction is the number one benefit of attending MWC.”