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Barcelona has big mobile dreams

As the home for Mobile World Congress until 2018, the Spanish city is aiming to be the planet's premier showcase for mobile technology.

Barcelona has big mobile dreams. Kent German/CNET

With a lovely Mediterranean location, an Olympic history, and a wealth of Modernisme architecture, Barcelona, Spain, is one of the planet's top tourist destinations. And if city officials have their way, the Catalan capital will be known as the "Mobile World Capital," as well.

Since the annual Mobile World Congress trade show moved to Barcelona from Cannes, France, in 2006, the city has invested heavily to keep the event, which attracted an estimated 67,000 attendees (and their expense accounts) over the course of the 2012 show last week. And last July, Barcelona got its wish when it beat out Paris, Milan, and Munich for the right to host the show until 2018.

The Fira's Montjuic and the Venetian Towers Kent German/CNET

Adam Sedo, the press chief at Fira Barcelona, the city's exhibition venue that houses Mobile World Congress, attributes the city's win to its experience with hosting large events, a commitment to driving investment in Catalonia, and a desire for Barcelona to be the center of all things mobile. "This is part of an effort to attract people to all of the Barcelona area," he told CNET. "We want to be a living city lab for testing mobile technologies and how they shape our lives."

To get there, the GSMA, a global industry association that organizes the event, also designated Barcelona as the first Mobile World Capital. Though that sounds like something born out of a marketing focus group (which it probably was), Sedo says that it means that Barcelona's plans go far beyond the four days when the largest wireless trade show comes to town.

The new towers at the Fira Gran Via Fira de Barcelona

Not surprisingly, attracting business to the area (the "Mobile World Hub") will be a prime effort, but at the public level, the city will open a year-round venue to showcase wireless technologies. Located in Barcelona's center on Placa de Catalunya, the Mobile World Centre will be something of a museum of mobile for tourists and residents.

Each summer, the city also will host the Mobile World Festival, a weeklong series of sports, entertainment, and cultural events that highlight mobile technologies while reflecting Barcelona's strong regional identity. Specific events will include Formula 1 racing, the Sitges Film Festival, FC Barcelona football club matches, and art exhibitions at the Picasso and Joan Miro museums.

Come each February, however, Mobile World Congress and the international spotlight it brings will be the focus. And starting next year, the show will move to a new venue, the Fira Gran Via . Finished last September, the new complex has 240,000 square meters of exhibition space across eight buildings. That's more than three times the available space at the show's previous venue, the Fira Montjuic.

Designed by Japanese architect Toyo Ito, the new buildings make bold and modern statements while lacking the historic charm and hillside terraces of the original location. Still, Sedo says that the twin towers in the new complex are Ito's interpretation of the Venetian Towers that stand at the entrance to Fira Montjuic.

Similarly, though the Fira Gran Via's location outside the city center may appear to be less inconvenient, Sedo says it will be easily accessible via Barcelona's commuter train network or a 10-minute drive from Placa d'Espanya and the Montjuic complex. What's more, it will best the other location by offering a direct connection to the airport.

Of course, we'll have to wait until next year to see just how these promises hold up. The 2013 Mobile World Congress will take place February 25 through 28, and CNET will be there to bring you the story.