MWC 2018 will still be in Barcelona, probably, we think: GSMA

barcelona protest catalan independence
Image credit: Pere Rubi /

For those of you who have been wondering what recent events in Spain will mean for next year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the GSMA has an answer for you: assume it’s still on until you hear otherwise.

The GSMA’s flagship global event has been hosted in Barcelona since 2005, and under the current arrangement with the Barcelona City Partners, the city will continue to host MWC up to 2023.

With the issue of Catalonia independence now reaching fever pitch, some MWC regulars are undoubtedly wondering what impact this will have on the event, regardless of whether Catalonia’s declaration of independence – which was signed but suspended last week by Catalan president Carles Puigdemont – is accepted by the Spanish government.

Apparently enough people have asked that the GSMA felt compelled to release a statement on Friday addressing the issue. However, it didn’t say much. In fact, this is the whole thing:

The GSMA has an agreement in place with the Barcelona City Partners making Barcelona the Mobile World Capital and host city of the GSMA Mobile World Congress through 2023.

The 2018 edition of Mobile World Congress will take place in Barcelona from 26 February to 1 March 2018.

The GSMA continues to monitor developments in Spain and Catalonia and assess any potential impact for the Mobile World Capital and Mobile World Congress.

In short: watch this space.

Which is fair. Despite its forecasting abilities when it comes to predicting that mobile investment will make the world a better place, the GSMA can’t realistically know what the outcome of the Catalan independence movement is going to be or what it will mean for Catalonia, Barcelona and MWC. There is plenty of debate on both sides over how Catalonia would far as an independent nation, especially economically (which will depend in large part on whether Catalonia will be part of the EU – a prospect the EU reportedly isn’t thrilled about).

But really, we won’t know until it happens.

If nothing else, it’s probably too late for the GSMA to consider relocating the 2018 MWC elsewhere, if only because it’s unclear where else it could go. MWC is a logistically massive undertaking for any city to consider hosting, and while cities such as Paris and Amsterdam made overtures to the GSMA back in 2015 when it looked as though the existing contract with Barcelona might not be renewed, in the end the GSMA managed to reach an agreement to extend the contract with BCP to 2023.

Even if Paris, Amsterdam or some other city were up to the challenge, it’s unlikely they could be ready to host a major event like MWC on just six months notice. I’m sure the GSMA would just as soon take its chances that it will be business as usual in Barcelona come Feb 26. And if it’s not, there’s very little they can do about it at this stage except keep tabs on the situation.

Presumably the organization is also reviewing its physical security policies. If Spain ultimately rejects Catalan independence, things could get ugly fast and stay that way. MWC regulars already know that MWC tends to be a magnet for activist groups protesting all kinds of things, often unrelated to the mobile industry. Catalan independence is one of them (some of you may have noticed leaflets being handed out whilst walking from the train station to the Gran Via). It’s fair to assume that if Catalan independence doesn’t happen, protesters will make their feelings about that known outside MWC. And if it does, pro-Spain protesters may show up and make their feelings known about that.

And if both groups show up …

Well. Better have a plan for that. Because they may not stay outside. (Greenpeace didn’t.)

While they’re at it, the GSMA might want to review its cybersecurity postures – after all, we live in an age where hacktivists are a thing and can potentially do far more damage than onsite-protesters just to make some political point.

So … see you in Barcelona maybe?

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