3GSM for £100

Well if that hasn't caught your attention I don't know what will!

Having worked in the wireless industry since University (almost 10 years now), I'm no stranger to attending conferences. They're a great way to meet potential customers, to gasbag with old acquaintances and to take the pulse of the entire industry.

The first conference I went to was entitled "The WAP Congress" and it was in the late nineties. It was in Cannes - a beautiful spot and a good opportunity for me to brush up on my increasingly rusty French. It was at this event it all became crystal clear to me that WAP was going nowhere. A whole stack of operators had predicated their business plans on internet levels of growth combined with a walled-garden style access policy. It was doomed, and it was pretty frustrating that people couldn't see the writing on the wall.

Flash forward seven years, and finally we're seeing the unravelling of this plan. 3 announced a flat-rate internet tariff for their subscribers a month or so ago (with their "X-Series" phones) and this has generated real buzz in the industry. Could we actually start to see internet-style growth in data use? I sure hope so.

But, as usual, I digress.

The issue with conference attendance, particularly the big ones, is that companies are generally fairly strict with their budgets. It's widely seen as a bit of a jolly and while it's fine for the senior execs and the sales guys to go along, engineering staff are rarely allowed out to see what all the fuss is about - and this is widely despised. Engineers like a good jolly as much as the next person and to deprive them of this is a trifle short-sighted. I find that travelling brings out the creative juices and leaving the laptop behind is a great opportunity to think hard about what is really happening in the business without the constant pressure of email, ringing desk phones and project deliveries.

Being a new company, and therefore having very little budget for marketing, what's a CEO to do when 3GSM, the industry's biggest and brashest event, comes knocking?

Well, after prevaricating for several months, I finally decided to bite the bullet and attend. But I was determined to attend on a budget, and in fact to do so for as close to £100 if possible. No company I have ever worked for managed to get anyone to 3GSM for less than about 10 times that amount so I have set myself quite a challenge.

So, how did I do it? Here's some inside information and tips on getting to 3GSM on an aggressive budget;

  1. Get a free ticket.
  2. Fly cheap.
  3. Sleep on the floor.
  4. Eat twice a day.
  5. Take the train.
  6. Party hard.

1) Get a free ticket.

It's a little known fact that with every display stand you buy at 3GSM comes a small pile of exhibition-only passes. These tickets retail for about €600, obviously a budget-buster. For every company who has a stand, big or small, the number of tickets you get generally means that you're going to have a stack left over.

Responsible organisations give these away to people. After all, it spreads goodwill and they're yours anyway to do with what you want. They invite friends from other companies as guests. Unfortunately, I discovered that several very large companies in the wireless space sat on a very large ticket allocation and didn't give them away. This is bad for everyone and stops people who can't afford to go to 3GSM from attending.

Thanks to the guys at d2see I got a free exhibition pass which I was most pleased with. They did the right thing and gave them away on the Mobile Monday London mailing list which was brilliant. Without those guys I would have probably been unable to attend - so thanks!

2) Fly cheap.

It seems that every year when talking to people about 3GSM there are rumours about how every flight is booked out and that it's impossible to get to Barcelona without having a rich uncle or too much venture capital. Frankly, this seems to me to be slightly...exaggerated.

About 3-4 weeks before 3GSM I just booked my flight on Ryanair to Barcelona Girona airport (about 1 1/4 hours northwest of Barcelona). It set me back all of £67, including a bag and all taxes. People were claiming that it was just not possible, but I think many were going to Barcelona airport and were therefore paying a slightly insane premium. So go a little further out of Barcelona and you will find it is cheap and it is possible.

3) Sleep on the floor.

Given the size of the event, it's pretty unlikely that you aren't going to know at least someone out there who's still working for a big outfit and who's paying above the odds for a large room. So beg. Ask around. Find someone you know who is staying in a hotel and sleep on the floor.

It's pretty rare to find a hotel room (outside of Japan) that doesn't have enough floor space for an additional body. So make the most of those rooms, and if you're lucky you might even find that one of your friends is in a twin room with an extra bed! But even if you can't, sleep in a hostel. Even on the busiest days of 3GSM the hostels were all empty. Do you really need a hotel room?

I packed a sleeping bag and a Thermarest and a compatriot kindly volunteered a patch of carpet for me. Yeah, it wasn't exactly the most comfortable experience but it worked and I survived. Rough it!

4) Eat twice a day.

3GSM has plenty of food stands inside, but these all look pricey and a bit measly with their portions. I decided instead of blowing my budget buying sub-standard food I would spend my euros somewhere else.

In the centre of La Rambla in downtown Barcelona is "Cafe de L'Opera", a nice little joint which serves cooked breakfast a l'Angleterre. Although I ended up with a cold frankfurter on my plate, which was a little bizarre, for 12 euros I had a huge breakfast with double-sized orange juice and a cappucino. Not pretty, and a little lacking in carbs, but it will see you through the day.

It also has the side benefit that you make the most of your time in 3GSM by visiting stands while the crowds go and get lunch. You can always find your way to stands where people are serving up food as part of the attraction (I had afternoon tea courtesy of Yahoo! who were graciously giving out ice cream at their stand) but frankly 3 meals a day is a bit of a luxury anyway.

Eat hearty, eat twice.

5) Take the train.

In their infinite wisdom, the team organising 3GSM ensured that everyone was issued with public transport passes for their entire time at Barcelona. And guess what? Every single day, 5pm rolled around and the queue for taxis out the front of the event was completely crazy. Why?

Well, because all these people think they are too important to catch the train.

That may seem a bit harsh, some people may have been staying in locations where the public transport network didn't reach, but frankly I think that's pretty unlikely. The Barca residents mostly seem to make do with the train and bus, so frankly, why shouldn't you?

I used it for all my transport (except to and from the airport, which at €21 took a substantial portion of my budget) and frankly suffered no long-term damage. The Barcelona trains are generally clean, quiet and unlike the tube there is great mobile coverage throughout. So lose the attitude and take the train.

6) Party hard.

Finally, remember that 3GSM has some great parties going. Try to secure invitations to networking events and parties before you go and you'll probably get food and drink served to you there. It keeps you to your budget and it's additional networking time.

Being one of the keenest BREW supporters in Europe outside of Qualcomm, we were invited to the BREW and MediaFlo bash while at Barcelona. It was very cool to see all of the Qualcomm bigwigs there, including Paul Jacobs, the CEO. They're a really cool and down-to-earth crowd.

But there were probably 10-20 other parties every night. TI had one, Nokia had one, Motorola had one. There was a "Swedish Beers" event which I unfortunately missed on Tuesday night. There was a "BeatBrew" event (free beer!) I also missed on Wednesday night.

Get yourself invited to some parties and you will find that the hospitality will keep you from blowing that budget!

Some final thoughts

The key to doing these things is thinking creatively. Every year, countless backpackers manage to crisscross the globe and survive on practically nothing. Why aren't you thinking the same when it comes to growing your business and marketing your company?

The level of waste at some of these events is a little embarrassing, and by taking advantage of some of this you can ensure that you have a great time, network with the greats and keep to a miniscule budget.

Total spent for 3 days at 3GSM, including flights, meals and transport? : £104.50.

Nick Clarey
in Opinion

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