How does a city handle the world’s biggest technology conference?
Barcelona will answer that question this coming week when it hosts the Mobile World Congress (MWC) again. It starts Monday and promises to be the largest mobile conference and trade show of its kind ever held.
After renewing the contract with the GSMA for another five years, Barcelona will continue to be the Mobile World Capital and host the largest, most profitable tech conference in the world until 2023.
This year the GSMA expects 2,100 exhibitors, more than 95,000 delegates, over 4,000 journalists and analysts, and 160 government delegations. Under the slogan “Mobile Is Everything,” the show will showcase the latest trends, devices and technologies for mobile, IoT, connectivity and networks.
Barcelona has prepared thoughtfully for the event, adding extra public transportation, including the new Metro Line 9 South, which connects the airport directly with the fairgrounds and the rest of the subway network.
All MWC attendees receive a special four-day public transportation pass giving them access to all metro, buses, trams, and regional trains free of charge. In addition, special buses shuttle people between the city center, airport and fairgrounds, and the major hotels.
At the time of writing, Metro workers had threatened a partial strike during the show. If an agreement is not reached with the union by Sunday night, the metro will only work at 50% capacity on Monday and Wednesday from 6.30 to 9.30 h and from 16:00 to 20:00 h, and with 30% capacity the rest of those days. The metro will operate normally all other days. [Editor’s note: The strike will go ahead. The city council announced Sunday that no agreement had been reached with the union.]
Most taxis in Barcelona are equipped with contactless payment terminals that accept both standard and contactless credit cards, plus mobile NFC payments. Users of Apple Pay and Samsung Pay can use their apps to pay as long as they have registered a European credit card.
Security will be tight. This year for the first time the GSMA required delegates, exhibitors and service personnel to register using a passport or ID card, entering the information that is usually required for an international flight. That information was then passed to the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, who have been running basic background checks on everyone attending.
Random security checks will also be made at the Fira de Barcelona facilities. Plainclothes policeman will be present at the show looking for suspicious activity, as some thieves have purchased tickets in the past to steal expensive devices in the fairgrounds.
This year the GSMA is encouraging all delegates to download and use the official MWC app which includes the digital badge to enter the show. For the first time the app works with bluetooth instead of NFC, allowing users of older iPhone models to use the special digital badge lanes. Unfortunately, the app requires at least Android 5.0 (lollipop), iOS 8 or Windows 10 to be installed. Using the traditional nondigital badge requires showing an official picture ID (Passport or ID card) to enter.
To ensure all delegates enjoy fast, unlimited, and unbroken connectivity, the Fira de Barcelona will operate one of the largest WiFi networks ever installed anywhere, with several thousand access points in both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, and one of the fastest fiber-optic networks in Europe.
While the MWC disrupts the normal pace of the city, the economic impact is enormous. The GSMA and the city estimate the show will generate more than € 460 million ($512 million) and create more than 13,000 temporary jobs in the Barcelona area.