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How to do Mobile World Congress in one day for £156 (plus entry!)

I am accustomed to spending thousands going to Mobile World Congress. Typically, this is a straight business expense for me. I have to be there. It’s a great opportunity to discover new technologies, services, companies and individuals. Perhaps the biggest reason for going to MWC is the networking — and this shouldn’t be under valued. Yes, it’s possible to meet many people at other points throughout the year, the magic with MWC is that everyone is ready to meet, to explore, to ponder new ideas during this particular week.

This year, I had some significant work commitments. Normally I fly out on the Saturday or Sunday beforehand and I routinely stay through until the following Friday to make sure I can get round all the meetings and stands I need to. This year, I could only go for one day. It could be any day.

I picked Tuesday.

I reasoned that although it’s traditionally one of the busiest days at the show, the supporting infrastructure around the city is usually pretty quiet.

I wasn’t wrong! Here’s how I did it:

  • I booked a British Airways flight about 30 days prior. London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 is most convenient for me and I managed to get a return economy flight for £133. I selected a 730am departure. This put me on the ground at Fira Gran Via about 1030am. I then booked the last (if memory serves) flight out of Barcelona at 825pm, returning me to London at 940pm.
  • Consider the virtues of BA versus anyone else. Efficient service, you can use their mobile app and you get a sandwich and a drink. And Terminal 5 is brilliant.
  • Getting from the Airport to downtown Barcelona or to the Fira is usually an absolute arse when I arrive on the Saturday (and particularly the Sunday) because there are so many other people trying to do the same thing. Monday, I understand, is even worse. Whether it’s a taxi, train, bus, whatever, the delays mount up pretty quickly. I used the free-of-charge shuttle bus that whisked me from the Airport door to the Fira in about 15 minutes. Excellent.
  • I had to pick up my badge. That was highly simple. I didn’t bother with paper. I just presented my NFC-enabled phone with my pre-reg details loaded and my passport. I got my badge a moment later. Boom. I think I was ready to rock in Hall 1 by about 1107am. I know this because I did an Instagram tweet about this point.
  • I spent about 6 hours in the halls meeting people. This is absolutely not ideal — I’m used to spending days wandering around — so I had to keep on target continually, especially as I’d arranged a few interviews.
  • By about 5pm I began to think about exiting. By 530pm I had made a serious commitment to exit. I used the GSMA’s MWC app to confirm that the taxi queues outside the Fira Gran Via were already at the 20-minute mark. It’s important to give due consideration to the logistics required to move tens of thousands of MWC people around Barcelona. There are delays. I didn’t want to get stuck in a ’20 minute’ queue that took 80 minutes. I have heard (and experienced) similar.
  • Which brings me to the hack suggested by seasoned MWC visitor, Rafe Blandford. He recommended I get the bus or the tube to ‘somewhere else’ (e.g. Placa Catalunya or Placa Espanya) and pick up a cab from there. I hesitated for a few minutes watching the taxi queue grow and resolved to give this a go.
  • The tube/train stop is just across the road from the Fira. I popped across and found very helpful transport staff on hand to help with the ticket machine. I purchased a 2.85 Euro one-way ticket and hopped on the next train to Placa Espanya (where the old MWC events used to take place at Fira Montjuic).
  • Boom! I hopped off the escalator and immediately spied three empty cabs (with their green lights on) waiting for business. I strolled across and jumped in. I was at the Airport 20 minutes later.

Now, I actually could probably have stayed on location for another hour or so — but I wanted to leave enough room to avoid missing my flight. I was playing it very, very safe. (I should also have tried out Hailo which is available in Barcelona.)

Leaving at 530pm allowed me to avoid the crazy queues. Indeed things were beginning to get rather busy by the time I got on the train, with queues for the tube backing out quite far. It’s rather amazing how quickly things get clogged up when thousands of people have the same idea.

So if I’d left it any later, I worry that I could have arrived at Placa Espanya and found zero cabs. And then not have been able to find a Hailo.

I’m pleased to report that this methodology worked nicely. I got to take in *some* of the show. However I have also been able to balance this with my work commitments — and I’ll even be able to go along to the NotAtMWC event taking place in London on Thursday!

My total expenditure was thus:

  • BA flight: £133
  • Barcelona tube ticket: £2.50 (roughly)
  • Taxi from Placa Espanya to Barcelona Airport: £20 (roughly)
  • So rough total: £156.

There’s one other key consideration point with Mobile World Congress: Getting in the door costs money. At least £600 for standard entry to the exhibition. There are ways of avoiding this. If you’re particularly keen to avoid having to buy a pass (who wouldn’t be?), I strongly recommend developing a relationship with one of the bigger industry players. They receive an allocation of tickets that they routinely give away to anyone they deem deserving. Some of the niche players with stands also get a bundle of tickets that they often don’t bother using. Again, strike up a relationship — talk to them and see if they can help. They often go to waste.

Don’t forget that if, for example, you buy thousands of pounds of text messaging credits every month from a supplier, the chances are they probably have a stand or a presence at the show and could probably be pressed into giving you one of their spare tickets for next year.

Press passes aren’t an option  for most — they’re incredibly difficult to come by. The GSMA rigorously filter out anyone who’s clearly just knocked up a blog the week before in the hope of getting free entry. If you genuinely start an online mobile publication and prove yourself across the year, you should be able to get a press pass. The GSMA are really clear here, though — there’s no automatic guarantee that you qualify — and even past approval doesn’t mean you get in the door automatically the next year.

Finally, if you’re a speaker, you obviously get a free badge — a very funky gold one. It’s definitely worth ‘submitting papers’ to the MWC conference team for 2015 soon if you’d like to participate. This is also quite a stretch simply because there just isn’t a lot of space available so you’ll need some stimulating ideas and a bit of credibility for the GSMA to consider including you.

Right then. MWC in a day. Done!

I’d very much welcome your suggestions and hacks in the comments.


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