The Mobile World Congress 2013 gears up in Barcelona

It’s been a long day of traveling, but a sunny day in Barcelona can lift a lot of spirits.

I’m heading to Mobile World Congress. This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. MWC is still an important conference (I’m thinking of you CES), and Barcelona is a great city.

I’ll be posting on industry events during the coming week, but I also hope to capture a little bit of the experience beyond the press releases, demos and meetings. Think of this as a guide for planning your trip next year.

The first thing to know about MWC is that the show is big. Something like 70,000 people attended last year, and it creates a sense that foreigners are overrunning the city. That started at the airport when I was departing the U.S. When they called boarding for “Executive Platinum” cardholders, 100 people rushed the podium. The hard-core road warriors were migrating.

This year MWC is at a new venue. Barcelona has great mass transit. But on Sunday the metro was empty except for the line heading out to the Fira, the conference venue. That platform was crowded with people who exuded “telecom.” And I saw two friends in line.

Moving the show to the new venue has caused all kinds of consternation among long-time attedess. Everyone remembers last year’s transit strike, and the Fira Europa is in a remote location. The old venue was in the middle of town, and very compact. No meeting was more than a 5 minute walk from the next meeting. The new site is much bigger, which is why they moved it. Still, any gathering of attendees (for instance in the waiting lounge of the airport for a five-hour delayed flight) will eventually have someone fretting about the new locale. A good cure for this is to say, “I remember when the show was in Cannes 10 years ago. They never had enough hotel rooms, and we had to rent a car and drive an hour each way.”

Personally, I think all this anxiety about the new venue stems from something deeper. Five years ago, this was a telecom conference. The big exhibitors made switches, antennas, signalling sytems, testing boxes, subscriber databases, and microwave radios.

Today, half the show is apps, mobile software, and tools for making apps and mobile software. This conference literally used to be filled with men with grey beards. The grey beards are now in a shrinking minority, and no one is quite sure what that means. It’s a new industry.

Regardless, registration is now much easier. Its a sunny day in Barcelona. And now it’s time for sangria and paella.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Photo credit: VentureBeat/Jonathan Goldberg