On today’s show we’re talking about conferences. Who needs them? Are they worth all the effort, expense and time?

Nothing has impacted modern life more than mobile technology. In fact, if you’re listening to this podcast, 85% of you are listening on a mobile device, either iPhone or Android. The continued evolution of mobile technology is a global effort with companies from around the world involved in the invention, design, development, deployment, localization, monetization, and promotion of mobile platforms, devices and applications.

Yesterday, the GSMA, sponsor of the Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile conference in the world cancelled the conference, scheduled to be held in two weeks in Barcelona. This conference is massive in its scale and impact.

Its cancellation also raises questions about the utility of conferences in today’s environment. Let’s dig into the details.

It’s the first time in MWC Barcelona’s 33-year history that organizers have called off the event, which draws more than 100,000 participants from across the world to check out the latest innovations, pitch to investors and do deals. That’s right, 100,000 attendees. Hotels are booked months in advance. Short term rentals are booked months in advance. Poor unsuspecting tourists come into a city that is over-run by the event.

The direct economic impact of the conference in Barcelona is estimated at $490 million dollars. The show provides temporary employment for over 14,000 people.

This year, the list of big-name attendees started to crumble on Feb. 7, when Swedish wireless equipment maker Ericsson pulled out, saying it couldn’t ensure the safety of staff and customers. The first Asian company to pull out was Korea’s LG. As others pulled the plug from Sony to Nokia, Vodafone and Deutsche Telecom, it became harder for those remaining to justify their presence.

The booths from the world’s largest equipment manufacturers are extravagant multi-story structures. Many of them include built-in conference rooms in which exhibitors can hold client meetings. Some of the booths cost more than $2M to construct. Booths are limited to 6 meters in height or about 20 feet. These three story structures are extravagant and eye catching.

Why even hold a conference? Why is it needed? Do customers, many of whom work for government, or quasi government agencies really need to see all that extravagance?

From an exhibitor perspective, the question is always whether trade shows generate any additional business. Do people walking up to your booth become customers? Are the people in your booth existing customers who you would have retained anyway?

There are over 1,200 exhibitors and the attendees include experts from all aspects of the wireless industry.

When I was attending, I was representing my company that manufactured chips that are used in mobile devices. We were meeting with equipment manufacturers who would ultimately use our chips in their devices.

It’s an opportunity to compress timeframes. When I go to conferences, I hold multiple face to face meetings in a single day. Sometimes I’ll hold seven or eight meetings starting from early in the morning until late in the evening.

I’m able to accomplish in four days what would realistically take four months. When people are in conference mode, they put the office on hold and focus to maximize the efficiency of meeting people at the conference.

When I attend a conference, I don’t pick up the glossy literature. I don’t load up on free pens or sunglasses. I focus on meeting people, from dawn till late.

Later this month, none of that is going to happen. The big question is, who is going to absorb the cost of the cancellations?