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No writing on the wall is bad news for the GSMA

Great booths up, attendance down. And as for next year....

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Confirming your stand is an awesome ritual, which makes the selection of a new Pontiff seem quite trivial, for some companies. You have to do it, or the prime location you have had for a decade is lost; next year you find yourself tucked away in a tent. I know companies which got taken over – smallish, not necessarily unprofitable, but unprepossessing outfits – purely because they had first pick on a big booth in Hall 1.

"A year after we bought them, we de-merged," giggled one CEO. "They went back to GSMA and asked for their booth back. 'No, it belongs to your parent company,' they were told. How we laughed!"

Not for 2010, I don't think. Already, on Tuesday, people were saying: "There's no way. We'll wait till September, and see if anybody else is booking, but even then, there will be new prime spaces going begging. Why, we may even get a better site!" What they made of Wednesday, I can't tell you from the evidence of my own eyes, but a colleague was there Wednesday and Thursday, and his description (and photos!) are summarised:

"Empty. All gone home."

Before the show, I asked Alcatel-Lucent what they were expecting to do at the show. "Nothing. We're doing an analyst day on the Sunday before the show, but very little at the show itself," they said. "We don't see it as a backhaul show any more," added my source – a very senior source, I might add.

It's not just the money GSMA rakes in from exhibitors and delegates that makes the Congress so profitable. The City of Barcelona, benefits too.

Last year (and all previous years) the fact that the show was in town was unmissable. Any building with scaffolding on it (always plentiful) was turned into a poster for one of the big handset companies. This year, I saw a neat little advert on the revolving doors of a central hotel, for Microsoft. Otherwise, pretty much nothing. I made it from the airport to the Fira without seeing more than one banner. Barcelona makes money from those - it will miss them.

On Saturday night, I got a seat at a nice restaurant at around 10pm. That was February 14, when you'd expect red roses and hearts to occupy all those seats anyway. Add the Congress, and you'd reckon it was hardly worth looking for a table unless you booked last month – normally.

Next year better be better, or we're in deep… ®

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