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One consultant's plan to fill Ericsson's stand and save MWC21

Danielle Royston is trying to perform emergency resuscitation on an MWC Barcelona show that looks in danger of succumbing to coronavirus fears for the second year in a row.

The former CEO of Optiva, who now runs her own consulting business, has made an offer to take over the Ericsson booth, currently set to be vacant after the Swedish vendor this week cancelled its participation in the June event.

She is deadly serious, too. Royston's idea is to fill a booth normally given over to basestation equipment and pickled herring with an entourage of public cloud specialists. "This is just a huge opportunity to pivot MWC to make it all about the public cloud," she tells Light Reading. "This is the exiting of the old guard to allow disruptors into the space."

Quieter than usual.
Quieter than usual.

Royston, for the avoidance of doubt, is an unashamed public cloud evangelist. In her previous role at Optiva, she clashed with the board, eventually quitting the telecom software vendor, after complaining about the slow pace of its transition to the public cloud.

She says she plans to reach out to "hundreds of software vendors" and has already been approached by a few of them directly, after announcing her intentions on Twitter. One requirement is that participants be "public-cloud positive," she says. "I don't want anyone talking about on-premises." Royston has also approached the hyperscalers, eyeing a chance to assemble AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure in one place.

Million-dollar questions

The million-dollar question is whether she can afford the exhibitor fees. It is unclear how much Ericsson pays for its Hall 2 real estate, but the sum is unlikely to be small given a) the vast area it covers; b) a perception that MWC is a pricey event for exhibitors; and c) Ericsson's $27 billion in annual sales.

But Royston insists she has the financial muscle to replace the Swedish equipment giant. "I am very well funded," she says. "I have a set of private equity backers that believe in the change I am trying to drive, and they are right behind me cheering me on."

Importantly, she says the GSM Association (GSMA), the organizer of the event, is "pumped" about her plans. "We appreciate that not everyone will attend in person," it said by email in a cagey response when asked to comment. "Recognizing this is true for our exhibitors and sponsors, we have worked on options and developed ways to modify their MWC experience. We welcome participation from the entire mobile ecosystem and look forward to seeing Ms Royston at MWC21."


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Its enthusiasm would be understandable. MWC Barcelona has been a regular money-spinner for the GSMA and its cancellation last year blew such a big hole in the organization's finances that layoffs were confirmed later in the year. A GSMA spokesperson previously told Telecoms.com, Light Reading's sister site, that one fifth of the staff would leave.

Nevertheless, there is some awkwardness at play. Many of the companies that Royston champions are a challenge to the traditional model favored by Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, ordinarily the very largest event sponsors. A public cloud invasion of MWC could be an uncomfortable reminder for the traditional GSMA paymasters of the broader cloud threat. Royston is hardly politic about the big equipment vendors, either, complaining about their "tired old messages."

Empty spaces

The chief risk is simply that nobody goes. Royston believes disruptors will have more appetite for travel, and that "legacy people" are happier to "sit out" this year's show. She expresses confidence in the health-and-safety plans announced by the GSMA.

Yet since Royston first aired her intentions, Nokia has also cancelled participation, depriving MWC of two of its largest sponsors. Oracle and Sony are also reported to have dropped out. Further withdrawals will increase the pressure on the GSMA to scrap the entire show, as it did last year, and run it as a virtual event.

"When Nokia and Ericsson pull out, it becomes very challenging for it to go ahead," says Patrick Van de Wille, the chief communications officer of InterDigital, a research company and regular exhibitor at MWC. InterDigital has also backed out, he confirms.

If Royston can pull off her cloud coup, it would go down as a marketing triumph. She clearly hopes to raise the profile of TelcoDR, the advisory company she set up after leaving Optiva. Even with a few thousand attendees, a Hall 2 presence would give Royston a very large pulpit on which to stand and preach.

Her enthusiasm and positivity are certainly infectious. She talks of replacing the Ericsson smorgasbord and coffee stand with a live music area, or even one for tennis, a sport she plays to a high level (she is currently ranked 37 in the world by the International Tennis Federation in the over-45s category). As improbable as it might seem, after a year of COVID-19 misery, it could be just the restorative that MWC needs.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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