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February 25, 2022

Mobile World Congress marks big return of visitors to tech trade shows

With Covid-19 infections generally falling, technology trade shows around the world are beginning to prepare for the return of delegates to real—rather than virtual—events.

One of the first big tests for this return to a degree of normality for trade shows (after nearly two years of largely Zoom-led events) will be Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, which is expecting up to 50,000 visitors to the event next week at the Fira de Barcelona Gran Via center.

MWC prepares for an influx

MWC, staged by the GSMA, is the world’s largest mobile event and is usually held in February or early March each year. It is attended primarily by device manufacturers, network equipment providers, representatives of wireless carriers, and the press—among others. Mobile phone manufacturers often use the conference to unveil their upcoming devices, but its appeal has spread beyond just the world of mobile phones.

In previous years, its attendance was generally around 100,000 people. So even the impressive 50,000 expected this year will still be only half of the show’s normal size. The show was canceled in 2020 after multiple companies withdrew as the global pandemic took hold. It became the bellwether event that convinced show organizers worldwide that they were going to need a new virtual exhibition model to attract visitors to their events.

Last year, MWC did take place, although it was moved to June rather than February and was a mixture of in-person and online events, drawing only 20,000 visitors. This year’s event will still lack some heavyweight industry attendees, with Sony saying it would not be attending and Lenovo saying it will only present online. Large players that are attending include Ericsson, Nokia, Verizon, Google, Qualcomm, Cisco, and Huawei. MWC says that 95 percent of the 1,000 speakers expected will be there in person.

The RSA Conference moves to June 2022

Aside from MWC, the world’s biggest security industry event, the RSA Conference, has shifted from its usual early February timeslot in the calendar, moving to June 2022. The impact of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been cited as the reason for the move.

The conference will now be held from June 6–9 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, its usual venue. Before the pandemic, the event was attracting more than 40,000 attendees each year and was a must-attend event for all the great and good in the cybersecurity industry. But the Asia Pacific and Japan edition of the conference fell victim to Covid-19 and was ultimately canceled.

A shift to digital trade shows

The last two years of virtual events have seen show organizers learn lessons from virtual attendee behavior and incorporate those learnings into how future events are structured.  Virtual events are now part of most event programs and frequently provide data that can be used in future event planning.

Event specialists believe that the online experiences of people over the last two years have had a significant impact on how people attend mobile events. For example, keynote sessions are likely to be shorter to match shorter attention spans. And there is a feeling that even those attending events in person are likely to prefer connection and entertainment over content. That means the creation of more TV-like experiences, where delegates can interact with fellow attendees and speakers.

With the metaverse now part of the industry conversation, some organizers may be tempted to try and create an event in the metaverse. But recent unhappy experiences from early pioneers have shown that most people lack the technology, and organizers do not have the expertise. For now, trade shows in the metaverse will remain tomorrow’s world.