Mobile World Congress 2021
Business 01/07/2021

MWC returns after two years with a minimalist hybrid version

The telecommunications congress protects itself against the virus and expects between 25,000 and 35,000 attendees

3 min
PCR test to enter MWC in Barcelona

BarcelonaThe 2021 edition of the Mobile World Congress will be an anomaly. Both due to the number of attendees (at most a third of the usual figures) and the format (many of the speakers will participate by videoconference) or the economic impact (the organisation has not even given figures). The telecommunications congress returns this Monday to the Fira de Barcelona in l'Hospitalet de Llobregat, which will host a minimal version of the event until Thursday, after the pandemic forced it to cancel in 2020.

The event expects between 25,000 and 35,000 attendees, far from the over 100,000 that gathered in the last edition in 2019. In fact, the GSMA tried - without much success - to encourage locals with tickets at €21 to attract professionals from Spanish companies. Some 700 companies from around the world will once again participate with their stands at the fair, while some 300 more will do so virtually without setting foot in Catalonia.

In recent months, MWC has once again faced a trickle of companies that decided to cancel their participation due to the health crisis. Thus, sector giants such as Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom will limit their presence to videoconferences. Among those who will appear on screen is the founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, who will give a talk on Tuesday.

The edition will also be smaller spacewise. Of the eight pavilions the MWC normally needs, only three will be used, with a total space of 100,000 square metres. The congress has been protected with anti-pandemic measures and will require attendees to present a negative antigen test before they can enter the venue.

The sanitary protocol has made one of the most characteristic images of the Mobile disappear. This year, congress attendees will not be walking around the Catalan capital with their badges around their necks, as they will only have a digital form and will have to show their mobile phones at the different access points. In addition, visitors will have to wear mandatory regulatory FPP2 masks (no corporate models), pass temperature controls, use hydroalcoholic gel and respect the social distancing.

The extraordinary conditions of this edition have also brought MWC and its start-up spin-off 4YFN together under the same roof. The parallel congress for start-ups will be held at the Gran Vía venue and will be attended by some 400 exhibiting companies from all over the world. However, not all the parallel events will be back in 2021. YoMo, the meeting designed to introduce students to the world of technology, has not been convened this year, nor has the XSide, the electronic music and innovation event promoted alongside Sónar, which was due to start last year.

Question mark over the economic impact

Although the GSMA has not made its own forecasts, some economic sectors have already shared their estimates for MWC's impact. The 4 and 5-star hotels arrive at this week of technological events with an average occupancy rate of 45%, according to data from the real estate developer 3Capital consulted by Efe. The firm notes that room rates have been halved in an attempt to offer more attractive prices for companies that will travel to Barcelona. The general director of the Barcelona Hotel Association, Manel Casals, admits that little more than 40% of the establishments in the Catalan capital will be open the week of the congress. Nor is there enthusiasm among restaurants and nightlife, which are not registering the reservations for dinners and parties for congress participants to which they were accustomed in previous years.

GSMA's goal, however, is none other than to overcome the pandemic obstacles of this edition and start working on a certain normality for 2022. "People ask me what the success of this edition will be. It's very easy: open doors, let people in and show the world that covid will not defeat us," summarised CEO John Hoffman on Friday.