After 20 months of not attending any in-person events, I was excited to get to #MWCLA21 last month.  It was an opportunity to see speakers on a real stage as opposed to my laptop screen, to meet people in person (although masked), and even to attend an industry party or two.

Los Angeles County has strict COVID protocols, and the GSMA seemed to align their safety protocols well so the event felt safe.  Attendees were encouraged to upload their vaccination card into the Clear app (yes, the same airport security app), to gain easy access to the LA Convention Center.  Just like at the airport, the line with those attendees using the Clear app was much shorter and quicker.  Daily temperature checks were required upon entry to the venue as well as bag checks.  And masks were required throughout the venue.

Once inside, I noted the lobby was very quiet.  Gone were the seating areas that encouraged attendees to sit and visit with one another or catch up on work.   Attendees were encouraged to keep moving.  However, the upstairs restaurant area was busy with nearly every table taken pretty consistently throughout the show.  This was the de facto meeting hall.

The show floor was remarkedly smaller than in 2019, with all exhibitors in one hall as opposed to two.  The second hall was dedicated to keynotes and sessions.  There were no big industry announcements, or pronouncements from celebrity executives.  On the show floor, 5G and Open Ran were the hot topics—but more interesting were all the IoT applications (from smart city and smart building sensors to smart pillows and smart facial products) and the rather scary robot dog.

I’ve read some reviews about how quiet the show seemed.  Given many companies are still allowing the majority of employees to work from home and business travel continues to be impacted by COVID, I think we have to consider quality of engagement over quantity.  In speaking to vendors exhibiting, the majority were pleased with the event traffic and discussions.  The NetNumber team had several fruitful discussions with current and possibly new customers or partners.  With less running from one hall to another, one meeting to another, there is more time for discussions to go beyond the surface.

So, what does this mean for the industry and a return to events?  Does drawing a smaller but more interested group of attendees create a better experience for exhibitors and attendees alike?  I’ve heard that one large conference organizer is planning to host only in-person events next year—no more virtual or hybrid events.

Do you plan to attend industry events in person next year?  If so, is bigger better?  Share your perspective!


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