MWC and Barcelona: a partnership built on innovation, collaboration and mutual success

MWC and Barcelona: a partnership built on innovation, collaboration and mutual success

The world’s largest connectivity event, MWC Barcelona, has a long association with Barcelona. Here, MWC’s John Hoffman looks at this special relationship.

The GSMA has been bringing its flagship MWC event to Barcelona for what will be 18 years in February. I believe that Barcelona and MWC are inextricably linked. The city is more than a destination – it is a part of the experience of MWC and we are grateful for this unique public-private partnership.

I’m often asked “Why Barcelona?” and, to me, the answer is clear. Barcelona is one of the great cities of the world, and for good reason. It is alive and vibrant. It boasts a winning combination of fantastic hospitality, gastronomi, culture, world-class tourist attractions, gorgeous beaches, great transport links and beautiful weather. If that wasn’t enough, it has also earned a reputation as a global technology hub, attracting investments in innovative startups and connectivity. Instead, of asking why MWC is in Barcelona, the question should be – “Why would we go anywhere else?!”

MWC Barcelona 2023 hosted almost 90,000 attendees and more than 2,400 exhibitors, from dynamic startups at 4YFN to industry giants. A truly global convergence of creative and entrepreneurial minds with more than 200 countries and territories represented. This community reflects the initial vision of MWC as a unifying force, emphasising how mobile technology transcends political, geographical and cultural boundaries.

MWC also brings together the largest global gathering of policymakers who enable the digital economy and is considered by global governments as a unifying event that enables better outcomes for societies around the world. In 2023, the GSMA Ministerial Programme at MWC convened its highest number of ministerial delegations with nearly 200 from over 150 countries, all looking to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support a more connected tomorrow.

Building a Beneficial Public-Private Relationship

Attracting global top tech talent, MWC raises Barcelona’s profile on a global business stage and creates a year-round legacy that continues to deliver for Barcelona, the people of Catalonia and Spain. In the face of disruptive global economic headwinds, the economic impact of MWC packs a mighty punch for the people of Barcelona: this year, MWC contributed €461 million to Barcelona’s economy and created more than 9,000 part-time jobs.

It is an achievement that we are proud to celebrate with the community and since 2006, the numbers are even more remarkable: our MWC event has generated an economic impact of approximately €5.8 billion and more than 150,000 part-time jobs across Catalonia. It is my great hope that this unique public-private partnership continues to create the environment necessary for MWC to thrive, grow and reflect the technological breakthroughs being delivered by its community.

MWC has surpassed even my wildest imagination and that’s saying something! It happens because of the commitment of the GSMA, and the Host City Parties including Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, Fira Barcelona, Mobile World Capital and the people of Barcelona. Since the establishment of the MWCapital foundation in 2012, we have brought together the Host City Parties to build legacy programmes around mobility. We call this our “committed community” because we know we cannot do this on our own. We need local support and assistance to make a real difference and make an impact. This collective of people is driven by the belief that convening this community matters and pulls off the impossible every year – through upheavals and natural disasters and yes, even a global pandemic.

Despite, and maybe even because it’s been through so many tumultuous moments, we successively build on the platform that is MWC and look forward to continuing this mutually beneficial, public-private relationship for years to come. It is a precious gift that we do not take for granted and every year, we cannot wait to create new experiences that freshen MWC, amplify its vibrancy and make it unique and innovative. An essential part of this is using the latest digital technology in many aspects of the event. Using cutting-edge technology can be cool but it can also be a risk.

Take our 2023 pilot of the Breez program, which used facial recognition as part of our committed community plan to help support crowd management processes. While it’s used in airports and civic gatherings around the world and is a trusted technology, I am disappointed to say we are taking a step back and suspending its use. The truth is, sometimes the pace of technology outpaces societal norms – a little like the conversation about generative AI. New tech often pushes boundaries until policies and practices catch up or are designed to manage them.

Future First with MWC and 4YFN

In 2023, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the first mobile phone call but really, MWC Barcelona is no longer mobile first, or digital first – we are Future First. It is the largest and most influential connectivity event, a meeting place for leaders, innovators and changemakers taking on the world’s most complex societal and industrial challenges. Only MWC brings the people and key players together, showcasing today’s innovations in our Connected Industries space to the event’s zone dedicated to new ideas and creativity, Journey to the Future.

Mobile World Congress – MWC – some call it the Mobile – but think about it – mobile isn’t really mobile. It is digital transformation across business industries such as fintech, transportation, manufacturing, retail, biotech, media, smart cities and much more. And people who work in these vertical business sectors are voting with their feet: less than half of all attendees at MWC work inside the mobile sector.

At the 2024 edition, we are looking forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of 4YFN, the global digital and tech startup event, showcasing global tech entrepreneurs and the best of the local startup scene. It’s a great opportunity for business leaders of the future; the hunt for the next digital ‘unicorn’ starts at 4YFN.

With MWC just around the corner, I hope you share my excitement for what the future holds for the show because today mobile connectivity is shaping our lives and industry more than ever before and it’s going to take all of us – businesses and communities – to get there. I could not be more proud that this unmissable industry event is the centre of innovation, discussion and debate, and the place where leaders in the ecosystem chart the future to achieve the full potential of technology.

I look forward to welcoming you to MWC Barcelona 2024 from the 26-29th February. See you there! And thank you for letting us call Barcelona home!