Reporter's Notebook: MWC trades castles for putting greens

The mobile show's new location came with some surprises

The Mobile World Congress exhibition in Barcelona closed its doors on Thursday, with a sudden rain shower sending the last attendees scurrying off to their hotels. It's been a gargantuan affair that saw pretty much everyone who is anything in the mobile phone industry (minus Apple) make some sort of announcement. Following are a few side notes that probably didn't make the headlines, from IDG News Service reporters:

After several years at an aging exhibition center called Fira Montjuic in the thick of historic Barcelona, Mobile World Congress this year moved to Fira Gran Via, a few miles away in an ultramodern district that seems to be sprouting high-rises right out of the grass. In exchange for having a castle on a hill to look up to every day, attendees got a smartly designed, 240,000-square-meter convention center as sleek as a modern airport. Yet there is a sameness to the eight connected halls, to the point where attendees frequently found themselves going in the wrong direction. At least there are people-movers.

With twice the area of the former site, Fira Gran Via offers a few breathing spaces. Among them are "networking gardens," themed outdoor spaces within the walls of the convention center where showgoers can relax on a nice day. One favorite was the Greens Networking Garden, which featured a set of tiny artificial-grass putting greens for practicing strokes between meetings.

However, there were some teething pains at the new site. Both ARM Holdings and Acer griped to one reporter about their booth locations. In Acer's case, the company thought it was signing up for a booth on the main drag of the hall, next to the colorful Nokia booth. Instead, because of an apparent misunderstanding, Acer's spot was tucked away in a corner behind an eBay booth. It turns out that it's hard to visualize a booth position in a convention center you've never seen, and Acer staffers said they'd be sure to pick a different spot for next year.

Organizers put NFC (near-field communication) to the test for attendees, sponsoring a weeklong "NFC Experience" in which users could buy food and drinks, get coupons at shops and restaurants around Barcelona, learn about tourist sites, and use a special express lane to get into the show. They even supplied free NFC phones to some journalists to try out the technology. One surprise for newbies was that NFC taps have to be aimed quite precisely to line up the chips in the phone and the device it's communicating with.

An "NFC Badge" downloadable to any NFC-capable phone saved people the extra step of showing a photo ID every time they entered the conference. Instead, users took a picture of themselves and loaded it onto the badge. At the gate, they had to open the badge app, place the phone on an NFC reader and tap the badge so the guards could let them through. Still, it was something new to try out. Yet at the biggest mobile trade show in the world, surprisingly few attendees used the NFC express lane.

After several days of chilly but clear weather, a storm blew in on the last day of the conference and grew into wind-whipped rain just as closing time approached. GSMA had made specially branded black umbrellas available to attendees, but just when the final crowds were pouring out of the show, staffers got down to their last giveaways. It looked like a near riot as scores of tech-savvy showgoers scrambled over each other for the spring-loaded rain protectors. Bodies were shoving and umbrellas flying, and then the hordes went out to brave the walk to the nearest subway station, approximately 200 meters away.

(Agam Shah contributed to this report.)

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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