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View from the airport: Networking at MWC 2022

From Wi-Fi 7 chips to tech boycotts, MWC’s return to Barcelona was like no other

When I joined IT Pro in February 2020, five weeks before the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Mobile World Congress (MWC) was one of the first news stories I covered – albeit in a wholly unprecedented way. 

Instead of trend predictions and previewing announcements, I spent my first days as a tech journalist writing about mass exhibitor cancellations. I believed, at the time, that I’d eternally missed the boat on travelling to a major tech conference, be it in Barcelona or Las Vegas. After two years of covering international events from the confines of my London flat, however, I’m relieved to report I might have underestimated the industry’s ability to recover and adapt to COVID-19.

As far as tech conferences go, MWC is considered the stuff of legends and its “be there or be square” reputation was further solidified by stories of scandal and intrigue told by my nostalgia-ridden coworkers. Hence, the moment I received my invitation to attend MWC 2022, I jumped to dust off my suitcase and started packing. In contrast with the stories of two years ago, the delights of Wi-Fi 7 and extended reality (XR) awaited us in Barcelona.

Contrary to many, I was lucky to have a flight to MWC that actually made it as planned, although the inferiority complex that came with attending my first tech conference was boarding the plane alongside me. Nevertheless, by Monday I was distracted by the bright lights and splendour of exhibitor stands, which stretched across seven massive halls. I hadn’t seen that many people in one indoor space in the last two years of my life, except for maybe Westfield Stratford on a Saturday afternoon. I was further shocked to hear, too, that this year’s event was much smaller than the last time MWC took place in earnest in 2019.

On Monday, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon took to the stage to announce the launch of the world’s-first 5G AI-integrated modem-RF and a Wi-Fi 7 system-on-a-chip (SoC), as well as Lenovo’s first Snapdragon-powered laptop, the ThinkPad X13s. The occasion was less than celebratory, though, and new hardware came off as quite a frivolous matter in face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Amon graciously acknowledged the elephant in the room, extending his “thoughts and prayers” to everyone impacted by the armed conflict.

Ukrainian protesters slogans, including "no tech for aggressor", MWC22

Sabina Weston/IT Pro

This year’s MWC also notably lacked a Russian Pavilion, with many Russian companies and executives banned from attending due to international sanctions. One of the companies that did attend, however, was cyber security giant Kaspersky, whose stand I visited in search of a statement regarding tech boycott demands

By the end of the first day, I was exhausted. I had, however, been invited to an awards show taking place in an upscale Barceloneta restaurant and I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eat tapas with the view onto some yachts. I didn’t know anyone at the event, but I quickly befriended a few middle-aged V-level executives from Canary Wharf and we were soon engaged in a conversation about cigar etiquette – until one of them decided to ruin the moment.

“I like your red lipstick.”

“Thanks,” I replied, naively hoping that he actually appreciated my makeup.

“You know what I’d like you to do?” he asked. Before I could answer that I didn’t, in fact, want to know, he was already asking me to kiss him. Thankfully, one of the men present stood up to him, but the glimmering lights of the marina weren’t as appealing to me after that, so I left. On the way home, I couldn’t help thinking about the executive’s wife and two young daughters, which he so lovingly showcased on his phone’s lock screen.

A large yacht taken at night during an awards show at MWC 2022

Sabina Weston/IT Pro

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Wall-to-wall briefings coloured the remainder of MWC, and everyone I spoke to shared the same opinion: the current 5G offering is only the tip of the iceberg. Combining 5G with everything from cars and industrial IoT, to AI and the so-called metaverse, will dictate the biggest industry trends for the next few years. These interviews sadly overran, meaning I missed the bus back to our hotel, although the beautiful weather sparked some impromptu sightseeing as I embarked on a 55-minute walk back, albeit with a 2kg 2015 MacBook Pro in tow. 

Despite a few uncalled-for situations, I thoroughly enjoyed the biggest MWC since COVID-19 first struck. I’ll treasure these memories, and I know that I want to travel the world in search of news – and maybe a modicum of respect for the few women that do exist in the industry. Whether a programmer or news writer, we should all be able to just do our job without being solicited – but that’s just my humble opinion, I thought to myself, while carefully packing a bottle of Spanish wine for my flatmates into my suitcase. 

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