21st September 2021
Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez at the inauguration dinner for the Mobile World Congress
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Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: biggest trade show in the Covid era

The Mobile World Congress took place this last week in Barcelona, after last year’s cancelled edition, and it has been the biggest trade show in the city since the start of the pandemic.

The wireless technology world trade fair normally attracts delegates from all over the world, with 190,000 attending in 2019, and is historically recognised as a flagship event in the global tech industry.

This year, with the conference running from Monday to Thursday, between 25,000 and 30,000 delegates from 143 countries attended in person at the Gran Via Congress Hall, with local attendees also being enticed to attend with tickets for as little as 21 euros.

Felipe VI, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez, Catalan president Pere Aragonès, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, at dinner with GSMA's Mats Granryd, for the inauguration of the Mobile World Congress
Felipe VI, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez, Catalan president Pere Aragonès, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, at dinner with GSMA’s Mats Granryd, for the inauguration of the Mobile World Congress. (Pool Moncloa / Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

There were 300 exhibitors and 600 speakers participating in the event, with 70% of the speeches and presentations ‘in person’ rather than via remote video links.

Many internationally recognised tech firms, however, did not attend in person this year, following a host of announcements in recent weeks as big names dropped out. These included Samsung, Google and Facebook.

The event was scaled back from previous years and had several measures in place to ensure the safety of delegates in attendance, including regular Covid testing and an almost touchless environment.

To allow the event to happen, Spanish authorities agreed to exempt exhibitors, attendees, sponsors and partners from travel restrictions that may have prevented them from entering the country.

Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez at the inauguration dinner for the Mobile World Congress
Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez at the inauguration dinner for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on 27 June 2021. (Pool Moncloa / Borja Puig de la Bellacasa)

Speaking prior to the event, the director general of GSM Association, the organisation behind the show, said that ‘obviously there is a huge difference from previous years. This show is going to be much smaller, much safer from a health and safety perspective’.

Those attending in person were looking forward to being back at the event. Regular attendee Lionel Anciaux, CEO of smart sensor company IOT Factory based in Brussels, said ‘last year without the Mobile World Congress we really felt that we missed something in terms of finding new partners and also getting to know the new trends in technology’.

However, many had chosen to stay away, including 350 speakers who participated virtually, with Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, being one of them.

The local economy was expected to benefit from the scaled back ‘in person’ attendance this year, but nothing like the impact that it has had previously. It is estimated that the show generated 473 million euros and 14,000 part-time jobs in pre-pandemic times.

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