Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016


February 17th, 2016 - Posted by Mark Presser

Organised by the GSM Association, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the world’s leading expo for the mobile and related industries. Attended by the leading businesses, executives, and researchers in the mobile industry, the event has become a staple on the calendar for thousands of patrons in the mobile/technology space. Last year, 95,000 walked through the door at the MWC. This year, that number is expected to reach six figures.

The event regularly sees the release of hot new gadgets, and together with the ever exciting Consumer Electronics Show (CES), sets the pace for the year to come in mobile technology. This year, virtual reality and drone technology are likely to be amongst the most talked about trends emerging from the show. Rumours of a Galaxy S7 announcement from Samsung already fill the air, adding to the sense of excitement that surrounds the event.

Also, on the menu for 2016 is big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is again to be a prominent theme, with increasingly more technology converging to create a further connected world. With exponential increases in data volumes expected over the coming years, the mobile world will be a buzz with the potential that big data holds for developing their offerings.

With the 30th annual MWC just around the corner, we thought we’d take a look at how the makeup of the world-leading event has changed over the past year. Whilst a lot of the big players remain the same, there have been more changes in the demographic of the world’s biggest mobile trade show. From a country by country perspective, we talk about some of 2016’s biggest movers:


After having no exhibitors in 2015, at MWC 2016, Bangladesh will have four firms (Brainstation 23, Datasoft, Nascenia, SDSL) exhibiting stands this February. All the firms specialize in application development for mobile platforms. The highlights the growth in demand for intuitive mobile software worldwide, and the high production standards offered in emerging economies such as Bangladesh.

The growth in the Bangladeshi mobile industry is bolstered by strong improvements in their mobile technologies, as the country pushes toward a ‘digital Bangladesh’ by 2021. Although inflation remains high, the Bangladeshi economy held up well in a volatile 2015 due to strong domestic demand. The strong consumer demand for mobile services has helped foster growth in the local mobile industry.

Egypt & Hong Kong

Another two nations who will have significantly greater presences at the MWC 2016 are Egypt and Hong Kong. WWhileEgypt has jumped from a sole exhibitor last year, to ten exhibitors in 2016, Hong Kong has doubled its exhibitors from 14 to 28 at this year’s event. The growth in Hong Kong’s exports to MWC is no surprise given the city offers one of the most transparent and efficient start-up communities in the world. It is likely that because of Hong Kong’s vibrant entrepreneurial community, we will continue to see more of them in the years to come.

Part of these 14 extra exhibitors from Hong Kong this year are three application development houses, again demonstrating that growing mobile penetration (particularly smartphone) and the popularity of Software as a Service (SaaS), are driving the need for development expertise worldwide.

This is a theme consistent with Egypt’s increased presence at the show, boasting four new development focussed firms. Despite a less vibrant startup community and what remains a tumultuous political and economic climates, more Egyptian firms have been able to attend this year’s MWC than in 2015.


Another success story of MWC 2016 is China. As has been the case for years, the People’s Republic are arriving in Barcelona with an array of consumer electronic and other manufacturing-intensive showings. Suffice to say, China has a significant presence at both the CES and the MWC.

Whilst many of the established technology giants are losing floor space to firms from emerging economies, China is boasting a 16% increase in exhibitions, an impressive feat by any measure. And all this after a year in which ‘fears over Chinese slowdown’ was an all too common phrase.


Unlike China, Japan has not experienced growth in exhibitors at the MWC 2016. Having sent 27 exhibitors in 2015, this year only 15 firms will be making the cross-continental trip to Spain. As expected, big Japanese vendors such as Sony and Fujitsu will be making the journey, but it is nonetheless a substantially smaller crew. This may be the side effect of a sluggish 2015 for the Japanese economy.


Likewise, Italy is sending a dramatically depleted fleet to this year’s MWC. There were 28 Italian-based companies in Barcelona last year, this year that number has decreased by 50% to 14 firms.

Considering business confidence in Italy fell to its lowest in almost a year this January, it is not surprising that we are seeing decreased exhibitors from Italy. However, amongst the companies attending that were not there last year, there are four new software development or cloud services firms, a common theme at this year’s MWC, and a promising sign for the future of Italy’s mobile telecoms sector.

So, what’s the difference?

This year’s MWC demonstrates the change in demographic (toward emerging economies) that I have touched on before in this blog. So called ‘mobile-first economies’ have become a breeding ground for tech startups, challenging the dominance that established nations have long held in the industry, and in turn encouraging them to reach new heights via disruption and deregulation.

So, we thought that while we were at it, we’d also take a look at the structure of the businesses that will be exhibiting at this year’s MWC. We conducted an analysis of the 2016 exhibitor list and came up with interesting results:


It seems the real storytellers this year will be the vendors. That includes application developers, data analytics firms, and mobile payment services, amongst other vendors. Those are some very promising subsectors of the mobile industry.

Within mobile technology, the vendor space can often provide the lowest barriers to entry due to the high setup and overhead costs that are often associated with network operators or systems integrators. This explains the explosion of application development firms and many of emerging economies like Bangladesh. It also accounts for a high degree of churn amongst vendors, as businesses are less entrenched, and thus, markets are increasingly competitive.

This structural makeup of MWC 2016 is consistent with an increasingly cloud-based approach in the mobile and associated industry trends. Additionally, the elusive IoT is driving much of this innovative thinking and is stimulating demand for more intuitive products and services in the industry. Although many of the big players are the same, the smaller businesses are what give MWC soul come February 22nd.

So operators (Vodafone, MTN, Orange, etc.) and systems integrators (Samsung, Sony, Microsoft, etc.) make up a significantly smaller proportion of exhibitors, they are often the ones who steal the headlines at MWC because of high-profile keynotes and much-anticipated product launches. This year looks like it will be no different, with LG, Samsung, and Lenovo all hinting at some exciting hardware announcements. However, underneath the noise, there will be a legion of vendors, some much smaller, but to whom the experience of MWC will be invaluable.

Country Breakdown

Click here to download the complete exhibitor dataset including contact information and stand number.

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Mark Presser

Economist at Novatti

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