Mobile World Congress 2021: back together in Barcelona
As I prepared to attend the GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the end of last month, I realized that I had practically forgotten how to pack my bags. This major industry event, taking place in Barcelona, Spain, would be my first official trip in almost a year and a half.
I was a regular traveler and a master in packing a small carry-on for a week. But I had clearly lost my talent. What should I bring?
Does anyone still use business cards? I hadn’t had for at least 15 months. Plug adapters – check; dressings – check; walking shoes – check. Not to mention the hand sanitizer, protective masks and a PCR test.
After a year of virtual meetings, I was filled with excitement – I couldn’t wait to get back to business, return to Barcelona and, most importantly, reunite with my colleagues.
The cancellation of MWC in 2020 was one of many shockwaves the pandemic sent us. So, the invitation to physically participate in a hybrid format this year came as good news. I was eager to see how the GSMA – the GSM Association, representing the global mobile communications industry – had planned this large-scale event in the midst of the global “new normal”.
As I immediately noticed, the organizers went the extra mile with pandemic measures for our safety. The official event app contained our digital badge (no more paper badges). The digital badge was only activated after a negative COVID test was uploaded and the daily health self-exam was performed. The badge would allow me to walk through the doors of the Fira de Barcelona conference center, which also housed an on-site COVID testing center. Temperature scans were performed on entry, social distancing requirements were applied consistently, and masks were mandatory except when speaking in a session.
Make inclusion the norm
The theme of this year’s conference was Connected Impact. It really said it all, emphasizing connectivity – and by extension, the digital divide – and the impact they have on our lives, our societies and the environment.
While future technological trends (5G in particular) have remained the focus of concern, COVID has paid greater attention to persistent connectivity issues in developed and developing countries. From the opening speeches that called for a new digital deal, reset or reinvention, congress attendees rallied around the need to create a trusted digital ecosystem for all.
I was delighted to join the “Bridging the Digital Divide” panel, where I noted the need to go beyond infrastructure and think about users. It means solving demand-side issues – like empowering communities with digital skills, affordability, accessibility, relevant content, languages, gender sensitivity and online safety.
The digital divide represents the new face of global inequalities. During a ministerial session on “Making Inclusion the New Normal”, I noted how the current cost of exclusion drains more of our savings than the cost of connecting everyone.
After the pandemic, we must defend a better digital future. Inclusive partnership must become our benchmark. In addition to being our end goal, inclusiveness must define how we achieve that goal. It means working together to expand our reach and meet the needs of disadvantaged communities, such as people in rural and remote areas, women, people with disabilities and other minority groups.
With the launch of the Partner2Connect digital coalition, which I announced in Barcelona, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) looks forward to joining forces with others to create a new inclusive normal. This new multi-stakeholder alliance aims to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the hardest-to-connect communities, including least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states.
Everyone, regardless of location, income level or any other factor, should be able to exploit digital technologies. But to get there, we will all work hand in hand.
Between sessions of the conference, I have had bilateral meetings with ITU Member States and members of the private sector. This gave me the opportunity to present some of our ongoing initiatives at the Telecommunication Development Bureau as well as our preparations for the next World Telecommunication Development Conference.
While I am grateful for how virtual platforms have allowed us to continue to connect with others, the kind of connection you feel when you sit face to face with another human – even with masks on – does not. can be compared.
It was a much more intimate MWC, but still so rich in content. Many thanks to the GSMA and the Spanish government for their enormous commitment to ensuring that the conference takes place in safe conditions.
Let’s join forces to achieve a Connected Impact for all.