Mobile World Congress Survival Guide (for North Americans): Part I

Over the next 5 days, Barcelona will transform itself into Mobile World City as 75,000 attendees, some bringing family and friends along, make their way to Mobile World Congress. Are you going to Mobile World Congress for the first time? If you are, the following tips may prove useful.

With 1700 exhibiting companies from every sector of the mobile and wireless industry from every corner of the globe set atop more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space, Mobile World Congress brings to Barcelona, Spain one the world’s largest collections of pickpockets, scam artists and petty thieves. After all, 75,000 attendees are expected to pour a half-billion dollars into the local economy. With their many dinners out, late-night networking parties and business-oriented pub crawls, tens of thousands of non-Spanish speakers visiting Barcelona the last week of February are very enticing marks.

If you’re a MWC noob, this is but one of the challenges you might have to confront that people like me learned to address the hard way. For fellow mobile industry colleagues making their first trip to Mobile World Congress, this series of tips should help make your first trip to Mobile World Congress not only successful, but easy and fun.


Before You Go

Sign up for an international roaming plan for voice, messaging and data. Plans are typically sold by the month, and you can buy one just to cover the time you’re in Europe with prepaid minutes, messages and data, and discounted rates for overages.

Install and setup a mobile security app like Lookout, Where’s My Droid or Find My iPhone that lets you track, remotely lock and erase all your personal data.

Before You Turn on Airplane Mode

You’re settled into your seat for the flight to Europe. Before you switch on airplane mode, go into your settings and switch off international roaming. It probably is already off, but just make sure. Once you take your phone back online from airplane mode, if roaming is active your phone may start using data in the background, and you don’t want to incur unnecessary roaming charges.

Get a Local SIM Card

If you can get your hands on an unlocked phone, you can use a local SIM card which will let you have local rates for voice, messaging and data. Maybe you have an older, out of contract smartphone sitting in a drawer somewhere, or you know someone who does. Your carrier should unlock your phone if it’s no longer in-contract. There are also many guides online and services that can help you unlock your phone yourself. Once unlocked, the phone will accept a SIM card from other carriers. Note: your phone has to accept a SIM card, so phones from Verizon and Sprint, unless they are “world phones” probably won’t do you any good.

There are several places around Barcelona where you can buy a prepaid SIM card. I’ve heard you can pick one up inside the Barcelona airport after you land at Crystal Media, a Spanish electronics retailer. Yoigo, Movistar and Vodafone have retail stores located all around the city that all sell prepaid SIM cards, and you can get them at other locations as well. Wherever you go, and this is important, YOU NEED TO BRING YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU. No other form of identification will be accepted, and ID is required to get a SIM card. Bring your passport.

Of course, now you’ll have a phone number that is local to Barcelona. Remember it, and socialize it with colleagues and friends.

Use VoIP

If you have a premium Skype account, you can place free calls over Wi-Fi to mobile and landlines back in the U.S. and Canada. You can use other VoIP apps, but most require the person you’re calling to also have the app. So plan ahead.

Keep it in Your Pocket

There will be scores, if not hundreds, of brand new, top of the line smartphones on display at Mobile World Congress; yours doesn’t have to be one of them. Never, ever, ever leave your phone out in the open, such as putting it on a table at a restaurant. You may be in the middle of a texting conversation where texts are coming every 10 seconds. The temptation will be to just leave the phone in front of you to be able to quickly respond to each text. DO NOT DO IT! Never, ever, ever put your phone on the table at a restaurant. If you finish this article and only learn one thing, let this be it this: NEVER, EVER, EVER put your phone on the table at a restaurant.

Let’s pretend this is a hypothetical scenario I made up to illustrate my point: Say you’re at a tapas bar waiting for a friend who is at this very moment on her way to meet you at said tapas bar. While texting back and forth, you leave the phone on top of the table. But it’s cool, it’s in your hand, so what could go wrong. Suddenly two “deaf” men walk into the restaurant begging customers for money. Because “they can’t hear” you, and even if they could, they probably don’t speak English, they have signs that explain why they need your money. They come to you in pairs. One stands and makes a fuss while the other comes over to you and puts the grungy sign down on your plate. ON THE VERY PLATE YOU’RE USING FOR YOUR FOOD.

It’s horrible and you’re disgusted. You know these people are just scamming you for money, and you won’t give them any. Soon the waiter comes and shoos them out the door. The problem is, they were not scamming you for money. They wanted that phone you just had a second ago on the table. In all the commotion, you didn’t realize the phone was no longer in your hand. Where did it go? Under that grungy sign. And when the waiter came to shoo them away, the man with the sign grabbed it off the table, skillfully grabbing your phone along with it.

Never, ever, ever put the phone on a table in a restaurant.

But let’s say you forgot this important rule, and your phone was stolen. What do you do next? The first thing you do, and do it as quickly as you can, is contact your home carrier and cancel the phone. Kill that phone as quickly as possible. If you got one of the mobile security apps I mentioned earlier, you can remote wipe it from your PC, so get to your PC and remote wipe it as soon as possible. Every second you delay is another second your phone is calling North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the International Space Station, any place where it’s expensive to call. And who knows what will happen to your pictures and private data.


  • Get an international roaming plan
  • Make sure the international roaming setting is turned off before you land in Europe to avoid unnecessary data charges
  • Find an unlocked phone and get a local SIM card
  • Use VoIP for free calls to back home
  • Keep your phone in your pocket