MWC17 - A beginner's guide

By Ben Hutton

13 Feb 2017

Mobile World Congress - What I wish I knew last year

Well, this is less a Mobile World Congress guide - and more what I wished I had known the first time we had gone. This will be xDesign’s second time attending as part of Scottish Development International’s stand and with less than two weeks until Mobile World Congress 2017 - I thought it might be useful to share what we learned from last year.

What Industry are you in anyway?

At a Keynote, on the first day last year, I found myself talking to the two people on either side of me. The first chap tells me he won a competition to be there, had recently changed career to be in digital, and has just done a three-month Joomla course. I say that xDesign builds mobile apps and digital solutions. The guy on my right tells me he puts satellites into geosynchronous orbit. And while it wasn’t, technically, a competition, in top trump intros I felt he won. Because you know, space.

You see while the mainstream press coverage is about all the shiny things at MWC (last year it was mobile health products, phone launches and VR) it is, actually, still a Telco conference. There is a lot of talk about small cell backhaul systems and people there build masts and put cables into the ground and make actual, real, stuff. Equally, there are a tonne of stands with new advertising platforms for apps, and cross-platform development tools and all the soft handed, sickly town child things in which I’m interested. Which leads to…

The total variable quality of talks and presentations

On the one hand, it was good for nostalgia’s sake to see someone busting out the “space” theme from PowerPoint 2007 – on the other hand maybe have a bit of practice before coming on? And it’s not always clear exactly what someone will be talking about, and certainly not how well they will be doing it. So, I sat and saw Karim Khoja, the CEO of Roshan, talk about bringing Mobile to Afghanistan – a fascinating talk simply delivered. The chief executive officer of Ford – Mark Fields came and gave one of the most polished presentations I’ve ever seen, the whole thing was slick and shiny – and he announced Ford points, and Ford stores, and features of the Sync 3. He’s apparently in his fifties but easily looks like he’s in his thirties, but a good "in his thirties", not like me, like someone drew a face on a deflated football.

I watched Stripe launched Atlas (the service that helps you incorporate your company in the U.S). And at the time it felt good that I was at these keynotes, these lauch events. But in retrospect,I'm not a journalist - how valuable was that timeliness? I spent more time queuing and waiting and being bored than being engaged. The majority of talks, certainly the keynotes and announcements are online in about 24 hours from when they happen. So what was the point of me being at them? Naturally you need to decide for yourself, but there might be more productive things for you to do than sit in that main auditorium.

Size Matters

The show is approximately 100 000 square metres of space. To fix that in your mind that’s 4 or 5 times the size of the SECC (for my fellow Scots) or about the size of Alcatraz for those of you coming from the San Francisco side of the US, or ten Manhattan blocks for those on the other coast (thanks, )


That matters because it made us late a few times to a few things, my pedometer app told me I did 13 miles a day – and so it was all mentally and physically exhausting – at the cost of performance.

So, if your plan is simply to “walk the show” then that’s the same plan as – I’m just going to walk ten blocks and knock some doors and see what happens – in short, a bad idea. This was our plan last year; I assure you it’s a bad one because…


There are broadly two types of stands – large stands and little podiums (generally linked to a country – or at 4YFN). By and large, all apply the winning strategy of trying to obfuscate what exactly they do by creating names, slogans and demo videos that are like the riddles a troll would tell goats on a bridge. Examples? (answers at the bottom) here are a few slogans: - Orchestrating a brighter world

  • Always with you
  • In search of incredible

The big stands are still often staffed by pure “exhibition/marketing” people, often hired for the event with a shallow pool of knowledge which is the complete flip side of the smaller stands.

On day one you will see a row of shining lights as small(er) exhibitors face their laptops forwards proudly to show their demos, and then these lights start to blink out as those people decide they want to get on with some work and standing at a podium for 12 hours has lost some of its lustre. By the time we got to them on the third day of the conference, it was a complete crapshoot for identifcation and enthusiasm – we should have done these people first.


Two horrible clichés to throw at you now - “you get out what you put in” and “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” In short, you’ve got to have a gameplan. If you are making an effort to go somewhere for four days, then you should have spent a considerable amount of time planning and contacting people already (there’s still time). We’ve found people are surprisingly happy to meet – especially outside of the event at one of the many, many, many post-conference things you’ll be invited to.

As for it being a Marathon, well I actually mean you have to plan for activity months after the event. Post event many people are bombarded with emails that start with “we met at MWC”. In our experience that was almost entirely nonsense, but for up to a month afterwards, we could have as many as ten companies a day using that line – selling everything from branded trainers (which I faintly regret not getting) to offshore development houses. So, when you do your follow ups – well it gets lost in the noise. We didn’t know that at the time, so this year we’re going to address it directly with people we meet – using Linked-in more to message instead of e-mail.


There are lots of little talks that happen throughout the hall – these are excellent ways to see people with a particular interest but will mean running around on day one to build yourself a schedule! Equally, some events in the evening are particularly worth attending. None more so, of course, than the Whisky Reception at the Scotland stand…

Quickfire other stuff- The WiFi sucks. Get a sim card – or use your data package

  • The food in the venue sucks (and is incredibly expensive to boot) – the mall near 4YFN has a bunch of good places to eat!
  • Get your pass at the airport! For the love of God just get it when you land – it's incredibly easy they have people signposting your way to it when you land, (you also get free tube travel). If you wait to collect it on the day it’s a walking dead style horde you’ll you be throwing yourself into
  • Everyone seems to speak English, I’m not proud of my lack of language knowledge (Lo siento, no hablo bien español) but it was never a factor in the conference or the city centre.

Meet us.

If you are coming to #MWC17 and you want to meet there or before - connect with me on Linkedin, or by email ([email protected]), or by picking up the phone (0131 339 3838) - I’d be delighted to talk to you.

(xDesign are a Mobile development and Digital Solutions agency in Edinburgh - working with the World Health Organisation, PayPal, Abellio, NHS, and a variety of startups and small businesses to create software that lives in your pocket -

Answers (All seen at Mobile World Congress 2016) - Orchestrating a brighter world - NEC

  • Always with you - China Mobile
  • In search of incredible - Asus

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