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11 Questions with the GSMA’s marketing chief, Michael O’Hara

I had a quick chat this morning with the GSMA’s Chief Marketing Officer, Michael O’Hara. I wanted to find out how things are going ahead of their flagship event next week.

Right, let’s get started. My questions are in bold.

– – – – –

1. Mobile World Congress (“MWC”) is next week. How stressed are your team right now?
:: laughs:: It’s going to be the busiest MWC we’ve ever had. We’re expecting a record year with over 60,000 attendees. We’re already tracking way ahead of our previous estimates for this year. So it’s definitely going to be busy!

2. Is this transport strike anything to be concerned about?
We’re hopeful that the strike can be averted prior to the start of the event, however I’d like to assure all your readers that we have a full contingency plan in place. We will use this if we have to. It outlines alternative transport options for getting to and from the venue and also describes additional security measures the Barcelona Police will put in place to ensure the safe passage of our attendees.

As you might expect this does add an extra factor as we prepare for the event!

3. Could you give us an insight into what it takes to deliver MWC?
It’s a massive effort. We start planning just as soon as we get back from Barcelona and we begin preparations in earnest in March and April. So it’s a full year-on-year effort and it’s challenging from a logistics standpoint. For me, I’m responsible for marketing — but also putting the conferencing programme in place. It’s a lot of work and, for me, the most important aspects of the event is ensuring we continue to deliver thought-leading content that gets people excited. The keynote is certainly cornerstone of the event. Here’s a few of the speakers we’ve got lined up: Bill Ford of the Ford Motor Company, Brett Taylor from Facebook, John Donahoe from eBay, John Riccitiello from Electronic Arts and Eric Schmidt from Google.

4. This is the first year of Barcelona as the “Mobile World Capital”, how are things going with that?
Ah, yes we will have some announcements coming about this at the event — we’ll be talking about what people should expect from the year ahead. It’s going to be great!

5. It seems to be that interest in MWC is getting broader and broader from a wide array of industries outside Mobile — are you seeing that?
Yes, we talk about embedding mobile in every aspect of our lives nowadays. I mean, for example, we’re anticipating 24 billion connected devices on the planet by 2020 and that in itself offers operators a huge revenue opportunity. We’ll be embedding connectivity in health devices, utility devices, smart metres, cars, education devices — it’s no surprise that this big trend is bringing in a very broad ecosystem to the event.

A great example of this trend is the Connected House which we’ll have on site at MWC. It’s led by AT&T, Korea Telecom and Vodafone. It will be showing off some future technologies that I strongly recommend you take a look at.

6. Regarding new attendees: What should they expect and how should they get the best out of MWC?
Well, let me start by saying MWC is big. I tell new visitors that it’s incredibly big so expect to find it rather challenging to find your way around. But we’ve got plenty of help in this regard. Perhaps one of the most important tips I could offer is to download the Mobile World Live app (available in any of the major app stores). This contains the schedule, the floor plans along with networking and matchmaking facilities. I strongly recommend downloading it before you leave!

7. Communications are always a nightmare at MWC, have you made any provision this year for the likes of WiFi?
When you put 60,000 people in a defined location like the Fira — and when you consider most of these attendees have more than one connected device, it’s definitely a challenge making connectivity available to all. We always work with the local operators in Barcelona to ensure we’ve got enough support. Plus this year — if you’re lucky enough to have an LTE device — you’ll see quite a few LTE networks around offering super-high bandwidth. WiFi is, of course, available and we hope that we meet everyone’s requirements.

8. How’s App Planet getting on? This will be it’s third year?
Yes — we’re expecting 12,000 mobile developers in the door this year, that’s up substantially from the 10,000 who came last year. The focus is definitely on applications and we remain very excited about this space. But look out for some announcements in this regard at the event! Plus, look out for Application Developer Conferences from the likes of RIM, Nokia, Samsung and WipJam.

9. Looking ahead what highlights are you expecting? Any sneak peaks?
Well, you’re going to see a plethora of devices launches on the Sunday. Plus from what we’ve read, Microsoft may make some announcements on Windows 8. But I’d like to highlight a first for MWC: Ford Motor Company is launching a car at the show! This is the first time they’ve ever done a launch outside an auto show. This really does highlight the broadening relevance of the event and it’s surely going to get a lot of attention.

In terms of other highlights, I recommend checking out the Ericsson keynote. They always do a superb job and this year, they’ve put a substantial amount of work into delivering what looks to be one of the most visually appealing keynotes ever. I’m keen to hear from Facebook — they’re a very important company to the mobile industry. I’m looking forward to hearing how they’ll be working with operators on-going. They’re such a hot company!

Don’t forget the Global Mobile Awards — this year they’re being hosted by comedian and songwriter, Tim Minchin. Winners will be unveiled on the Tuesday afternoon.

10. For those looking to network, what opportunities do you have planned?
We’ll have networking stations around the event plus this year we’re running “Networking by Moonlight”. On the Monday and Tuesday night, before you head off to dinner, come along to the beautiful fountains and join the networking party. This is open to all attendees. I also recommend checking out the matchmaking and networking facilities online and via our apps.

11Any final points?
Yes — this year, given the potential disruption, we’re recommending attendees consider registering in advance to avoid the crowds on the Monday morning. So if you can get to the Fira at the weekend, that would be a good time to collect your badge. You can also register at Barcelona Airport too — look out for the booths.

We do work closely with the Barcelona Police Force on safety, so I’d like to remind attendees to take adequate precautions. Other than that, be sure to have a great time — and please take off your MWC badge when you go out at night!

– – – – –

Michael, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Every success for the show and all things being equal (with the baby arrival), I shall be there!

And if you’re looking for more information on MWC, check out



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