GSMA: Bullish on Barcelona

9:35 AM -- Despite the industry-wide clampdown on staff travel and the shrinking prospects in the telecom sector in 2009, the GSM Association (GSMA) still believes its giant Mobile World Congress tradeshow in Barcelona this coming February will attract as many people as last year -– 54,000. (See GSMA Preps for MWC.)

The GSMA says it has as many exhibitors booked in as last year (1,300), and says current reports from local partners suggest hotel room bookings are up slightly, while registrations for the event are up compared with this time last year.

You have to admire the GSMA's optimism. There's no doubt the show is the most important in the global mobile sector's calendar, and will still attract many attendees looking for the technology and applications that can take their networks and services to the next level.

But EuroBlog already knows of one major mobile company that has cut its delegation by more than 80 percent to just a few hundred, and it seems likely that will be a pattern. Who knows, maybe the event will attract more visitors from the increasingly important "emerging markets" to make up the numbers.

EuroBlog's guess -- following a few large glasses of vino collapso and some back-of-the-envelope scribbling -- is that the show will pull in about 35,000 punters, which is still enough to keep Barcelona's now infamous pickpockets busy. (By the way, the GSMA says it's working on tightening the security at this February's event...)

Those that do attend will find an event still very much focused on what the GSMA's chief marketing officer, ex-Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) exec Michael O'Hara, calls "a top line growth agenda."

That means an emphasis on issues such as: all things mobile broadband (HSPA and beyond...); mobile banking and financial services; online applications, including search engine and advertising opportunities; and mobile innovation.

There's less emphasis, though, on technologies and strategies that will help operators increase efficiencies and reduce their operating expenses. For example, the potential offered by Ethernet-based backhaul deployments isn't given any prominence during the event's four days (though it is due a mention in a technology evolution session on the final day). (See Carriers Don't Trust Ethernet Backhaul?, T- Mobile Busts Backhaul Bottleneck, Carriers Face Backhaul Conundrum, and Battling Mobile Backhaul Costs.)

"Green" issues do get a look-in, though, including a plenary session on "sustainability" and a seminar on "green energy," which has a specific focus on "maximizing energy efficiencies and use of renewable energy sources to power networks," according to a GSMA spokesman. Oh, and there's a Green Power Pavilion on the show floor.

The impact of the global economic meltdown on mobile operators is going to be addressed during a closed meeting of carrier CEOs on the Monday. Speakers in the open, general conference sessions are expected to address the impact of macro financial issues as part of their presentations.

Oh, and Kevin Spacey is turning up as host of the MOFILM Mobile Short Film Festival and to give a mobile entertainment keynote speech.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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