It should have been a celebration.
Instead I found trembling, white faced friends and colleagues staring blankly into space. Clutching their phones like life lines, they muttered under their breath about the number of meetings they had had over the last hours and days. Sixty three said one, who then sank into a sofa and tried to find his ‘happy place.’ Over a hundred, said another, trying not to weep openly.
The scenes were reminiscent of Prisoner of War films and we could only imagine the scenes: – it is three in the morning, and suddenly the Salesman is awake and screaming, dripping with sweat, ‘it is convergent, I swear it. And real-time, I promise.’ And then the realisation that there is no meeting. That, finally, for a short while, there can be rest.
During the chaos, the aftermath, we experienced the guilt of those who had stayed behind, had not been there for The First Offensive. You were not here, said one, gulping – for The. First. Day. His eyes lost focus as he recalled the horror, the human gridlock, the feeling, so he said, of ‘being squeezed.’ His hands worked in automated anguish at the logoed stress ball he would now carry for a long time.
We came for innovation, for motivation. For leadership.
The only innovation we found was a waterproof, bendy smartphone. It was pink.
What we came away with was a feeling that we had been optimised.
Everything worked, with clinical precision. Logistically it was flawless. But large, larger than large telcos had taped over their creaking telco cultures and employed large, larger than large, advertising agencies to take pictures of gender neutral young people laughing at screens and loving their [insert name of telco] life. Which was cool, of course. And yet the WiFi didn’t work properly. So, oddly, various telcos will make a fortune out of roaming revenues. Even keynote speaker Neelie Kroes was presumably ‘roamed.’ Probably by Vodafone.
And was it worth it?
Some veterans said that the huge cost of being there is so clinically sliced from you that the operation is impressive in its own right. Particularly the part where you have to sponsor Mobile World Asia as part of the package. Clearly, Asia comes to Barcelona. Others said that it takes up so much time, there is simply no way it can be worth it. Others even dared wonder (looking around just in case) whether they would be back next year.
Others, though, could not believe how many CMOs they had entertained. CMOs who wanted to get their hands on a billing system!
Has it peaked? Is it, after 20 years of growth that matches that of mobile itself, about to do a Nokia – that company you might recall that used to produce mobile phones, after it started life as a tyre company? Or will it carry on, like a well oiled battleship whose rudder has fallen off and no-one noticed?
The problem is that it is the Mobile World Congress and much as you love it, or love to hate it, the fear of not being there and being seen to be there will outweigh the whispers and the threats for some years to come.
Indeed, as industry luminary, market strategist and amateur wine taster, Tony Poulos, said – ‘they will probably need to expand it next year. Probably as far as Madrid.’
Perhaps being optimised is not as bad as all that. Certainly KLM could use a little help – it took a team of six over an hour to get 130 people through security. But more of that later.
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