Navigating the MWC 2024 Maze

Seven members of team Babel entered Barcelona’s enormous Fira for Mobile World Congress this year. 2024’s edition of MWC was my sixth, putting me right in the middle of that pack; three have seen (many) more, three have seen less. 

That’s quite a fun place to be. You get to hear stories of shows gone by, the old Fira, Cannes, 3G, dotcom boom and bust etc. while also feeling okay about sharing advice on how to get between Hall 2 and 7 without running into too much traffic, where the least-busy-but-still-edible food is and how stands plastered in 5G messaging haven’t actually changed much since 2019.

Now, if you want a thorough technical unpicking of the show, there are plenty of journalists and analysts I can refer you to. I’m here to recap my middle-of-the-pack experience of a very ‘middle’ feeling Mobile World Congress and its messages for the industry. 

Buzzwords without the buzz 

I volunteered to write our show summary blog before we went out to Barcelona, partly because I’m due one (sorry team), but also because I wanted to find a reason to get out and explore the show. One of the downsides of being a good agency that stacks client diaries full of briefings is that you don’t get as much time to walk the floor as you’d like. 

However, having got around as much as the blisters on my feet would allow, I reckon I could have written this blog before leaving Gatwick and it wouldn’t have needed too much editing. The big predicted themes rang true; AI and APIs, regulation and consolidation, a bit of “5.5G”, a smattering of open and disaggregated, and a small helping of sustainability. 

Catalonia declared a state of emergency at the start of February after more than 1,000 days of drought – an ironic backdrop for a show where the enthusiasm to deliver interesting takes seems to have dried up. It’s as if the industry got distracted by those Willy Wonka memes when they should have been revising and just decided to copy their neighbour’s homework. There wasn’t much buzz at all around the show floor this time – the most ‘exciting’ star was an, admittedly impressive but also creepy, AI robot on the e& booth.

Babel team at MWC 2024

Connectivity World Congress 

That’s a shame though, because I think there were interesting narratives out there, that just got lost because the show agenda still seems to prioritise the same names. One thought coming out of the show is whether the show should be called Mobile World Congress at all. I’ve felt this for a few years now, but 2024 was unique in that the GSMA touted more than 100,000 attendees – essentially bringing the show back to its peak – following a year of pretty significant job cuts from the major operators and vendors. The main theme was also about how AI will create “operational efficiencies” (PR speak for redundancies).

So where did all those people come from? Well it has to be said that the Chinese contingent were back in full force after a few more years of COVID-related travel restrictions than elsewhere, and that played a part, but also the show isn’t really dominated by mobile players in the way it once was. One of the biggest pieces of news going into the show in the last two years has been an acquisition by HPE (Athonet and Juniper respectively). The most interesting briefings I sat in focused on open optical, and the energy requirements for data centre interconnects (yes younger Declan, you have just described that as interesting). The halls are just as full of cloud companies that pitch offerings directly to enterprises as they are with NEMs and MNOs.

A Monday keynote from some of the big operators once again called for a “fair share”, well maybe when it comes to setting the agenda they’ve actually had more than a fair go. Next year it would be great to fully lean into what the show is – Connectivity World Congress (the name might need some work) – and put some fresh faces up on stage instead of the same tired old blokes. Speaking of…

Here Come the Men in Blue

Back at MWC22, I messaged a journalist about how to find me at a stand: “don’t worry, I’m easy to spot. I’m the white guy in the blue blazer”. A bit of a tongue-in-cheek remark about how one-pallet the show is (and also a damning indictment of men’s smart casual fashion). If Will Smith reckoned back in ‘97 “The good guys dress in black” (remember that?) then the telecoms guys still dress in blue.

Since that text, I’ve sworn to never wear a blue blazer to a trade show again, but also to pay more attention to how many women are at MWC and in what roles. I don’t have the official numbers, but from a gut feeling, it did seem there were more women present. However, in the way that 1 feels more than 0. 

Being in an agency and supporting clients at the show is a bit odd in the sense we work with lots of fantastic women, in comms, in tech and of course many talented, insightful journalists and analysts, but when it comes to the subject matter experts on the other side of the briefing, there’s still too many blue blazers around. 

Quick bytes


  • There wasn’t much mention of 6G this year, definitely not as much as I thought there might be.
  • There were also far less ‘gimmicks’. Yes e& had their AI bot and SK had their VR copter thingy again, but other than that it was mostly just robot dogs – no steak and no sizzle. Ouch. Give a guy a fancy VR lightsaber battle through a 5G roaming connection with an actor on the other side of the world or something!
  • Sustainability messaging was pleasingly restrained in the booths, not because it isn’t important, but because (hopefully) actions are now starting to speak louder than words. The last couple of years have felt more talk, and dare I say greenwashed in places. By contrast, this year’s talk was where it mattered, in the backrooms. Numerous briefings I sat in saw a journalist ask whether sustainability was high on the agenda, and each time, regardless of the client, the answer was a resounding yes with confirmation that it is now first line and in bold in many RFPs. Progress has been slow, but maybe we’ve turned a corner.

Rising above the middle with great company

If the Fira itself gave me a ‘meh in the middle’ feeling, then the outside of the Fira reminded me why we actually all board the plane every year – reconnecting with great company.

This is the first year I really felt a part of the industry, with people tapping me on the shoulder to ask how I’ve been. Dinners and drinks with clients past and present, exchanging rye smiles with journalists and analysts as you walk past, convinced they are listening to the same speech for the 4th time today and then confirming as much later that evening.

Out of those two trios of Babel either side of me, this MWC was a first for Marina. I remember teasing her on Monday morning when we first walked in and she saw how big the stands are and realised for the first time the scale of the thing. But coming away from MWC24 I realised you don’t really go for the stands, you go for the people. You don’t really see MWC so much as taste it. And it tastes like garlic aioli, Albarino and breath mints.

We’ll always go en masse as an agency because the connections make it more than the connectivity, so see you again next year Barcelona. 

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