Mobile World Congress 2008 Diary - Sunday

Email overload, lunch bribes and the obligatory reference to mobile porn...

Email overload, lunch bribes and the obligatory reference to mobile porn...

It's February and there's a red circle burning a hole in my calendar. No, nothing to do with Valentine's Day but rather the date that ends up wrecking every mobile aficionado's love life: Mobile World Congress - or 3GSM, as was.

This handset-touting circus is coming to the seaside city of Barcelona on 11 to 14 February (as if you didn't already know). I can at least be thankful I don't have to celebrate my birthday at the airport, unlike my silicon.com predecessor, Jo Best.

I arrived in Barcelona late this Sunday afternoon - in time for the first wave of MWC parties. I've counted at least five events touting for business this evening, promising free drink and tapas aplenty. However, with so much to pack in tomorrow - the opening day of Congress - I'm planning as quiet a night as I can get away with.

The mobile industry is descending en masse upon la ciudad, hoovering up hotel rooms and booking out restaurants and party venues 'til the sangria-sellers turn pink with pleasure. Last year's event saw more than 50,000 punters milling around the sprawling Fira de Barcelona exhibition complex - and this time they're hoping at least 60,000 will come and see what all the fuss is about.

And what a fuss.

Around 1,300 exhibitors are billed to be touting all manner of mobile wares. And judging by the hoards of emails that have been assaulting my inbox daily since Christmas, every tiddler on the tiny screen is hoping to get their big break at MWC. If I saved all the dates I am being asked to save I would be harder to get hold of than a PR on payday.

This year's crop of contenders for your eyeballs includes more than a handful of femtocell vendors, plus makers of blogging tools, video apps, audio 'solutions', cameraphone tools, multimedia management apps, iPhone-inspired touchscreen technologies… not to mention purveyors of mobile fashion accessories (Shiny Shiny fans take note).

There is also a company touting a Wii-inspired virtual reality technology and another offering a noise suppressing tech that means you can talk on the phone without having to shout to make yourself heard.

I suspect that would come in very handy at MWC as 60,000 souls - all bristling with cutting-edge mobile technology - convene to talk, well, cutting-edge mobile technology.

With the inevitable tsunami of marketing, companies are clearly pushing the boat out to get their message across. Pledges - or plain bribery - finding their way into journalists' and delegates' inboxes include offers of free lunch if you pay a visit to such-and-such a booth at such-and-such a time, and/or free wine, free wi-fi access or even a free USB modem provided you're willing to hand over your mobile number. I've also had an invitation to a free Spanish cooking lesson. Decisions, decisions…

But of course MWC is not just a showground for newbies with their weird and wonderful wares (and as many instantly forgettable names starting with 'mobi' you can think of) - the event is a must-attend magnet for mobile royalty - from the Arun Sarins to the Jim Balsillies, plus the networking big cheeses (think Cisco's John Chambers). In all, there are some 250+ conference speakers - from top-line CEOs on the keynote circuit, to celebs, to beardy analysts chairing worthy roundtables discussing mobile society. So pretty much something for everyone.

Well, everyone except Apple fans - who know to go to Macworld instead.

On a celebrity tip, attendees of 2006's Congress may remember Craig David filling them in on his penchant for gadgets. This year a one-day 'entertainment conference' on the Wednesday - called, rather dubiously, Mobile Backstage - will play host to Robert Redford and Isabella Rossellini, among others. The latter is billed to "showcase and discuss her role in the making of a series of mobile short films titled GREEN PORNO". That's one discussion I'm really looking forward to.

Meanwhile the 13th annual Global Mobile Awards, which is scheduled for Tuesday night, will be hosted by that very sharp-suited purveyor of repartee, Graham Norton. As an aside, I once saw Norton walking his dog around silicon.com's old stamping ground, St Katharine's Dock, dressed down to the point of invisibility in a beige jogging pants/white t-shirt combo. Expect something a lot more showy for this occasion.

The award for best use of web 2.0 for an MWC teaser goes to Motorola for a YouTube video promo which suggests they are quite possibly planning some sort of 'revolutionary' multimedia handset concept thingy... (Now where have I heard that idea before?) If handset convergence is elementary surely PR agencies shouldn't need to try that hard to get the message across. But I guess shouting in a storm is always going to be a bit of a nightmare.

Stay tuned to silicon.com for more from MWC, including my daily diary