What Happened at MWC Barcelona (Mobile World Congress) 2021?

MWC Barcelona (formerly known as Mobile World Congress) is the world’s biggest and most influential mobile event. Although the GSMA was forced to cancel MWC in 2020, 2021’s :event did go ahead, in hybrid form, from 28 June – 01 July. According to the GSMA, 120,000 people accessed MWC21 Barcelona across virtual platforms and physically in the Fira Gran Via, with 20,000 attending in person. During the four-day event delegates from 117 countries and territories attended in person, with this reach increased to 165 when including those present online. MWC21 Barcelona was one of the first major industry events held in person since the start of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

For the past 10+ years,  Women in Telecoms & Technology has hosted a post-MWC event to provide news and views from the show for those of us who weren’t able to make it to Barcelona. We were pleased to be able to run our event again this year, although ours was fully virtual, on Zoom.

WiTT founder Stephanie Liston, International Strategic Advisor, Board Director, Lawyer and Regulator, led lead our panel. She was joined by:

  • Wenbing Yao, CSO | VP Business Development and Partnership, Huawei;
  • Lara Dewar, Head of Public Relations & Communications, GSMA; and
  • Dr. Mike Short, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for International Trade.

In 2019 MWC saw approximately 107,000 attendees, 2400 exhibitors and 400+ operator companies. 208 countries were represented.

In 2021 there were approximately 20,500 in person attendees and 100,000 online views across all channels every day, 43 pavilions, 35 countries and territories represented internationally and 133 delegates at the ministerial panel.

This year the GSMA focused on three “C”s that characterise the mobile industry:

1. Challenging the present
2. Championing the future and
3. Caring about the world

We need to carefully consider the 50% of the world population that do not have access to the internet, the illiteracy quotient of those who may have access but not be able to participate and the coverage gap — even in the UK.

Key areas covered by the conference included:

  • 5G and the potential for 6G.
  • IoT, AI and other new technologies and the role they will play in automotive and smart cities
  • Connectivity and the need for diverse technologies
  • How will telcos define and differentiate themselves from Cloud providers? Some regulators are now starting to think about cloud
    (a bit late to the party) as horizon gazing. Cloud coined as a term in 1996!
  • Cyber Security and the lack of “trust”, with vulnerable customers critically at risk.

Keynote presentations and other highlights can be viewed on the GSMA’s MWC website: https://www.mwcbarcelona.com

Our panel discussion covered range of topics:

Lara Dewar of the GSMA talked about the success of the very strict health protocols that were put in place, including touchless environments; digital registration; and digital badges. Although there were 20,000 visitors on-site rather than 100,000 she felt the energy was still palpable.

The virtual elements of MWC aren’t likely to go away any time soon. The GSMA plans to continue to bring the best of live and virtual events together in best way they know how.

MWC LA will take place in October; the GSMA will be back in Barcelona from 28 February to 3 March of 2022.

In a normal year the event receives 4,500 media mentions; this year there were almost 24,000. There was a shift from being a platform for others to share their news to being the news. There was an atmosphere of good will. People wanted to see the show come together safely.

Wenbing Yao addressed a number of areas in her remarks — from telco regulation and OTT, to 5G development and standards, to energy efficiency and consumption. Although a number of equipment providers cancelled their attendance at MWC this year, Huawei returned, as did many of its customers. Huawei also held a “green forum” prior to the opening day of MWC.

Mike Short reminded us that mobile can contribute to all 17 goals of the UN’s Sustainable Development goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals).

He saw the smaller show as a positive in many ways: it meant that all exhibitors were together in one Fira, rather than having start-ups in a separate location. The gave attendees easier access to all exhibitions and potentially created more synergy.

TelcoDR made a very large splash at MWC, bringing discussion of the cloudification of networks to the fore. Mike saw this as a world of change.

Elon Musk was this year’s keynote speaker; he talk ranged from from starships to satellites to Tesla to batteries. His Starlink network was touted as a complement to telco networks, rather than a competitor or replacement.

Mike felt that while progress has been made, there’s still need to do more on inclusion.

For the full discussion, please see the video of our event on the WiTT YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/QgC1gEVt-7o


Speaker Bios

Panel Chair

Stephanie Liston
International Strategic Advisor, Board Director, Lawyer and Regulator

Stephanie Liston specialises in providing international strategic, legal and regulatory advice in relation to a variety of types of projects and commercial transactions across multiple jurisdictions and industry sectors.

As a dual American and British citizen who has lived and worked in the US, UK and British Virgin Islands, Stephanie has extensive knowledge and experience of international and emerging markets.

Stephanie is an acknowledged international expert in a wide range of technologies and has been a leading partner in the most respected communications law firms. She has significant experience in helping businesses navigate their marketing and communications strategies to address the broadest and most valuable markets.

She served as an Independent Member of the BT Equality of Access Board from 2013 to 2018, as Chief Legal Advisor to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission in the British Virgin Islands from 2015 to 2017, as a non-executive Director of Ofcom and as a member of its Audit Committee from 2005 to 2008, an advisory board member of Orga Systems GmbH from 2010 to 2014, a Director of the European Competitive Telecommunications Association from 2000 to 2005, and co-Chairman of the Communications Committee of the International Bar Association from 2004-2006.

Currently, she is Non-executive Chair of the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority (with responsibility for general competition regulation as well as sector responsibility for Air and Sea Ports, Postal Services and Telecommunications); Chair of the UK Broadband Stakeholder Group; Senior Counsel to Mishcon de Reya LLP; Senior Advisor to Frontier Economics; Chief Executive Officer of Sequoia Way Limited; Associate Director of Innovation Advisors; and Founder and Director of Women in Telecoms and Technology.


Dr Mike Short, CBE FREng FIET
Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Trade

Dr Mike Short CBE, after 30 years in telecommunications with Telefonica, joined the Department for International Trade as the Department’s first Chief Scientific Adviser in December 2017. Mike leads the science and engineering profession in the department and ensures its policy is informed by the best science, engineering and technical advice. He advises on the technical aspects of future trade deals as DIT looks to create new arrangements following Brexit, and works with the UK’s research and innovation communities to boost scientific and engineering exports. He also sits on Council of InnovateUK (part of UKRI) and is a Visiting Professor at Surrey / Leeds / Salford University.

Mike has over 40 years’ experience in electronics and telecommunications and served as Vice President of Telefonica, the parent company of the 02 mobile phone network, for 17 years to December 2016. In this post, he managed the launch of 2G (GSM) and 3G mobile technologies in the UK and led 4G/5G research and development for Telefonica Europe. His career also includes the promotion of international technical standards in mobile technology, and he is also a former Chairman of the Global GSM Association, the UK Mobile Data Association, and President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). He was honoured with a CBE in 2012 for his services to the mobile industry.


Lara Dewar
Head of Public Relations & Communications

An experienced Global Head of Communications & Chief Marketing Officer, Lara is an inspiring leader, connector and innovator. With over 20 years experience across the financial services, energy, charity and telecoms sectors she has challenged the status quo, leveraged market opportunities, repaired damaged reputations and successfully led through crisis situations.

An impactful Executive who combines strategic insight, a deep understanding of purpose and an engaging communication style to connect the vision to the people and deliver meaningful results for stakeholders.
Lara thrives in complex environments, and is highly adept at building relationships and growing influence across global structures.

Her work has included attracting new & innovative Partners & Ambassadors such as; Meghan Markle (Duchess of Sussex), Twitch, Universal Music & Omaze.

She moved to the UK 2 years ago, with her two children who are her best work and a deep source of inspiration. She adores swimming and downhill skiing and throws amazing dinner parties.


Wenbing Yao, Ph.D.
Vice President, Business Development and Partnerships
Huawei Technologies (UK) Co., Ltd.

Wenbing joined Huawei UK in 2008 and took up the role of VP Business Development and Partnerships in 2018. She has also been appointed the CSO of a Tier1 global account since 2019. She sit in the TechUK main board and UK5G Advisory Board till early 2021. Between 2017 and 2018, Wenbing was with Huawei Corporate Elite Team on telco transformation, driving strategic projects on operation automation, NFV and SDN. From 2012 to 2016, Wenbing was the Director of Strategy and Marketing for Huawei UK and Ireland, responsible for developing mid- and long-term business strategy; driving market breakthrough in strategic areas such as 5G, IoT, Smart City, Big Data etc. She also led innovation and market communication activities during this period. Before 2012, Wenbing held various positions in a global key account in Huawei, leading solution marketing and industry collaborations.

Wenbing received her Ph.D degree in Communication and Information Systems from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China in 2001. She was a lecturer in wireless communications at Brunel University from 2003 to 2008 and a research fellow from 2002 and 2003 in heterogeneous networking technologies and mobile healthcare systems.

Wenbing lives in Basingstoke, and is a keen badminton player and a dog lover.