MWC and Barcelona, a love story

The city's charms, the power of its hotel sector and the slickness of the Fira brought to the Catalan capital an event it now considers its own

"The only place when talking about the Mobile World Congress (MWC) is here, people around the world say: I'll see you in Barcelona." Aleix Valls, CEO of Mobile World Capital Barcelona, points out to VIA Empresa to what extent the city and the fair, which begins on Monday, have become inseparable. This year is the 12th time that the congress is held in Barcelona and there is talk of little else, yet few people know the true story of how it came to the city. A meeting in Madrid, a boastful French fair director and the intuition of those in charge of Fira de Barcelona have a lot to do with it.

Pere Camprubí is the director of Fira de Barcelona's External Business Area, which identifies potentially interesting events in order to bring them to the city. "These congresses are born in a meeting of 100 people and are growing," he tells VIA Empresa about a fair that has grown at the exponential rate of the industry. "In 1995 there was a meeting in Madrid and it was decided it would be held in Cannes, but in the end that city proved too small," he recalls.

Before coming to Barcelona, the mobile industry congress was held for 10 years in the French city. "Fair professionals met at the XM Europe, which was absorbed by the International Union of Exhibitions and Fairs. In 2002, it was held in Cannes and its director boasted that until 2005 he had a really cool fair called the 3GSM World Congress," he says. "That put us on alert, and we saw the chance to bring it here in 2006 and so we began to pursue it," he adds.

In 2004, the EIBTM fair was held for the first time in Barcelona and heads of LSO visited the Fira de Barcelona desk inside the Turisme de Barcelona stand. LSO was the travel agency that worked for the mobile industry congress; their interest in knowing more about the Montjuïc facilities signalled the chance to get the congress. Soon after, executives from GSMA came to the city to see Montjuïc's congress facilities for themselves.

It is often said that Paris and Milan were also interested in getting the fair that at the time brought together little more than telecommunications engineers. For Camprubí, however, Barcelona had no rival. "We were in the right place at the right time with a timely proposal," he points out. With years of experience at getting congresses, the Fira de Barcelona head explains that the important thing is to offer a good combination of city and facilities. "The venue is the clearest condition and GSMA liked Montjuïc for its old-fashioned look and its industrial surroundings inside the city," he says.

Cannes held the congress for the final time in 2005. Ceded

PAs for Barcelona, the GSMA fell in love with the Catalan capital straight away. "They loved the feature of the sea, which had been a value of Cannes. The large companies rented boats to get to Cannes, whose port was next to the congress. They did the same here in the first year with some activities in the port," says Camprubí. Barcelona also had a beach, a port, was a Mediterranean city... and with a powerful hotel sector. "This was a limitation in Cannes," notes the Fira head.

Pulling together
"While the Fira was the first filter, Turisme de Barcelona and the Convention Bureau quickly helped out so that everyone got involved," says Camprubí. He is grateful for the unanimous support of the City Council and the Catalan government, but he is especially thankful to the efforts of Jaume Tomàs and Josep Gual (president and general manager of the Fira), as well as Joan Gaspart at Turisme de Barcelona. "The work done by the Fira was a technical job. But Joan Gaspart played a decisive role in making sure everyone pulled together in the same direction. He was the city's great salesman."

  Attendees Exhibitors Journalists
Cannes 2005 34.900 600 1.200
Barcelona 2006 51.000 962 1.900
Barcelona 2017 (forecast) 101.000 2.200 3.900

In 2006, the congress finally arrived in Barcelona under the name, Mobile World Congress. "The fact that the name changed in 2006 was a coincidence," points out the Fira de Barcelona head. "It used to be the 3GSM because of 3G technology, but with the arrival of new technology it was clear that the name had to change".

The first contract with GSMA covered the 2006 to 2009 editions, which was later extended to 2012. However, the key moment came a year earlier, in 2011. "GSMA launched an international contest for all cities to bid for the congress for 2013 to 2017, Camprubí recalls. By that time the event had plenty of suitors and so it had to be tied down.

"Among the contest's conditions was a mobile technology development project, in which the Mobile World Capital Foundation became the instrument we invented to promote the sector," says the Fira de Barcelona head. It is an instrument that in large part explains the event's continuity in Catalonia. "With Capital, Barcelona was presented to the world as the ideal city to hold the mobile technology congress," says Aleix Valls at the last Techno-Lunch organised by CTecno. "We put the emphasis on digital transformation," he adds. In 2015, the contract was further extended to, for now, 2023.

The causes of the love
Love does not last forever and what seemed marvellous at the beginning over the years can become routine. Ensuring that the flame between GSMA and Barcelona does not go out requires, according to Aleix Valls, "different ingredients". The first is the growth of the congress itself. "It began as a fair for telecommunications engineers, but mobile solutions have converged with the Internet and caused the sector to flourish with a global impact in the industry and on society," he points out.


Obviously, Barcelona is the other ingredient. As Therese Jamaa, General Manager of GSMA, says, "I first saw it from the outside, as a participating company, Barcelona is a welcoming city, with talent, it is very open and very tolerant. The city itself is phenomenal, there is art and good food, but there is no need for me to sell it, it does that for itself." Valls also points out that "the city has thrown gelled with this congress due to the excellence of the operation and as a welcoming platform." In short, "it has managed to position itself as a meeting point for the industry."

The CEO of Mobile World Capital also points to the speed of innovation in this sector and its similarity to that of fashion. "You constantly need to launch new products to stay ahead in the sector. The MWC has managed to become the fashionable fair, the obligatory place to launch these novelties." Setting the calendar of the industry has created a virtuous circle. "If it is the place where everything new is presented, it is the place I have to be," says Valls.

This week at the MWC there are not only manufacturers of aerials or terminals. "There are also car companies, talks and conferences by many different people. It has read well how the digital transformation of society could be represented within the fair," points out Valls. For the moment, the MWC continues in love with Barcelona. While there are love stories that do not end well, there are also love stories that never end.
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