MWC: IMA is MIA (For the Most Part)

I have been back from Mobile World Congress for about a week, giving me enough time to process what I saw, heard and experienced during the show – both from the Israeli companies in attendance, as well as from the traditional industry “giants.”

Before I touch on what the Israeli companies (more than 150 of them) were making noise about over the course of the four day event, I would like to take a minute to focus on my big takeaway from MWC 2012.

Having attended the show twice previously, I was really looking forward to the news that the 2012 edition was certain to produce. The truth however, is that despite incredible hype, there were not that many exciting headlines coming out of Barcelona this year. Of course, there were some really cool new smartphones and tablets that were rolled out during the show, and the Ford Motor Company made some noise with its “connected car,” but beyond that, it seemed that the 2012 version was a rerun of 2011.

This, I think, is due to a number of factors – first and foremost, the mobile industry’s most innovative member, Apple, does not participate in trade shows, choosing instead to unveil new products at its own carefully scripted events. Second of all, and I think this is much more important, at this point, everyone in the industry knows that the future of mobility is all about a technlogy called LTE – basically, if you are a mobile device company and you are not building your device to be LTE-compatible, you are going to be in serious trouble.

Now, that being said, the LTE market is still developing, and while it does, the current 3G market (and hence 3G-enabled devices) will still be relevant, but looking a couple of short years down the line, mobile will be LTE.

We saw a few more new LTE devices introduced this year, but nothing so spectacular. Today, device makers are starting to roll out LTE-ready phones, tablets and routers, but they were already doing that a year ago. However, as LTE becomes increasingly popular around the world over the next couple of years, we should expect to see some pretty incredible and powerful LTE devices introduced at Mobile World Congress – returning the “wow” factor to a show that seemed to be lacking it in 2012.

Similarly, many of the Israeli companies at MWC 2012 failed to impress. Of course there were some exceptions, but unfortunately, (yet in sync with the general feeling over the course of the show), nothing announced by the Israeli companies at the event was of great significance.

However, even more alarming than the lack of real news from Israeli companies at MWC, was the “absence” of Israel’s leading mobile advocacy group, the Israel Mobile Association (IMA). While the IMA was in fact, at the show, it was largely rendered irrelevent, as I will explain below.

As opposed to previous years, when it had a prominent pavilion in a central location, this year the IMA pavilion was much smaller and was assigned a location in “an off the beaten path” hall, leading to much less foot traffic, which probably meant far fewer meetings and an overally much less productive show for the 15 or so companies that decided to go to Barcelona with the IMA. In past years, the IMA pavilion was a hive of activity, with approximately 70 companies, thousands of visitors,  and hundreds of meetings – this year, the IMA’s pavilion was a great place to catch a power nap.

The spotlight shifted instead to the Israel Export Institute, which was able to sign close to 75 companies to join its centrally-located pavilion. I visited the Export Institute’s pavilion numerous times during the show, and each time, the “buzz” was significantly louder than the one being created by the IMA.

The reason for the shift away from the IMA was simple – money. Start-ups, especially Israeli start-ups, generally do not have large marketing budgets, and while they all agree that attendance at MWC is a must, many have realized that the Export Institute, (despite its relatively new entrance onto the MWC scene), and its MWC offering that is one-third the cost of the one offered by the IMA, presents a much more appealing option.   

I understand that the IMA has a business to run, but in the process of chasing a stronger bottom line, it is has sacrified its real mission – successfully helping Israeli mobile technology companies promote themselves and their innovative products to the world.

Maybe 2013 is the year that the IMA, just like Mobile World Congress itself, recpatures its former glory. Let’s hope.

About the Author
Matt Krieger is the Deputy Managing Director of Finn Partners Israel, where he leads the strategic marketing and international technology group. In his role, Matt helps the company's clients - ranging from small start-ups to large publicly-trade corporations - secure coverage in leading media outlets around the world. Prior to joining Finn Partners, Matt was a busines reporter at The Jerusalem Post, covering Israel's technology industry, the stock exchange, the Bank of Israel and the country's import/export sector. Matt made Aliyah from the U.S. in 2008 and currently resides in Jerusalem.