One of the most important events of Barcelona’s year returned on February 28, when the Catalan capital welcomed back the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Until March 3, Barcelona again became the centre of the tech world after the pandemic had led to the event being cancelled for two years. A cut-down version of the fair took place at the end of June, but even the organisers admitted that it was more about keeping the ball rolling, as the MWC is considered an event that Barcelona cannot afford to lose.
As it is, the organisers predict that visitor numbers at this latest version of the fair will unlikely exceed half the 109,000 who attended the last full MWC in 2019. Nevertheless, the expectation is that the fair will have an economic impact for the city of 240 million euros. The prestige that comes with hosting the world’s foremost mobile technology fair is also nothing to sniff at.
Attending an event of the magnitude of the MWC is worth experiencing, and so when I had the chance to accompany a journalist friend last June, I jumped at it, even if it was a reduced version and otherwise I had little reason to be there.
I learnt my lesson about turning down opportunities like that back in 1988 when I was still at university. A friend invited me to the concert at Wembley for the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela (who was still in prison at the time). At first I turned him down; I was short of cash, had exams, and was no fan of Dire Straits or Whitney Houston. Fortunately, he persuaded me to go and I got the chance to attend a major event (Whitney Houston was amazing!).
Anyway, back to the MWC. I went in June and enjoyed wandering around the various stands, taking in demonstrations involving holograms, robots and drones, and having a number of eye-opening chats with some of the exhibitors. Throw in a decent lunch at a nearby restaurant and a few freebies I picked up along the way and I’d qualify the day as a success.
Yet the experience was not trouble-free, and ironically the problems I encountered were often technology related. You can no longer just get a ticket and turn up at an event these days, as there’s a whole series of hoops you have to jump through just to get past the front door.
First you have to go through a multi-step registration process online and upload a series of images and documents (which in my case involved lots of scanning and swearing). You also have to complete a ton of surveys about your interests and intentions at the fair that trigger a swarm of emails offering newsletters and invitations for interviews and talks. The back and forth emailing is non-stop as you fulfil a seemingly never ending series of requests. You also have to install a mobile app that then sends you more messages and notifications. All the time you’re told that all of these messages, passwords, uploading, swiping, scanning and printing is designed to make your experience at the MWC as simple and stress-free as possible.
Typically, when I finally got to the fair after days of online preparation, my virtual hands-free digital pass wouldn’t work. I was told to stand to one side while the rest of the queue made its way through, then the assistant did all she could to get the automatic barrier to open and let me in. She eventually gave up, manually opened up a side gate, and with a flick of her head indicated I should pass. I pointed to my bag. I still hadn’t passed it through the heat-mapping, holographic, x-ray scanner. The expression on her face suggested that she would make an exception.