MWC 2023: robot assistants, magnet-propelled trains, and immersive displays

Over 80,000 visitors and 2,000 exhibitors in Barcelona at first major post-Covid edition

A sea of people at the 2023 Mobile World Congress
A sea of people at the 2023 Mobile World Congress / Pau Venteo
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

February 27, 2023 06:19 PM

February 27, 2023 06:55 PM

If you live in Barcelona, you don't need to work in the tech industry to notice there's something going on these days. Crowds of mainly men in suits in the metro. Trouble getting a table at your favorite city center restaurant. All taxis seem to be booked. It's Mobile World Congress time again - we all know the drill. 

This year there will be around 2,000 exhibitors and over 80,000 visitors from all over the globe at what is to be considered the world's most important tech trade show from February 27 to March 2.

This is still 30,000 short of the pre-Covid attendance record, but if you go to the Plaça Espanya station during rush hour this week it will leave you scratching your head. We really had even more people here four years ago? 

And speaking of Covid, this year's edition is the first with no health and safety restrictions in three years. The overwhelming majority of attendees seem more than happy to put the years of masking and social distancing behind them, with very few wearing face coverings. 

"It feels a bit odd being in a place with so many people, but it all seems very cool and very smooth so it's a little bit like it used to be," said Graham Oxby, who works for Community Fibre, a London-based internet service provider. "It's always good to be here and to see what's new in the industry and catch up with old colleagues as well, which is great," he told Catalan News. 

Not only mobile industry exhibitors

Huawei, Samsung, Microsoft, Orange, Vodafone, Telefónica… The big mobile industry names are all here at this year's edition, which revolves around, in the words of the organizers, "Velocity, Unleashing Tomorrow's technology today."

But contrary to what the event's name suggests, there are actually quite a few companies - 40% of exhibitors, to be precise - that are not directly related to the mobile industry and instead focus on transport, finance, or logistics, for example, but are still here to present the latest in 5G, 6G, immersive technology and FinTech. 

This is the case of Hyperloop TT, which has offices in Los Angeles and Toulouse. The Hyperloop, the company's CEO Andrés de León explains, builds off of Elon Musk's futuristic idea for a train-like mode of transport in magnet-propelled capsules

"The capsule is propelled by a linear synchronous motor and it levitates with passive magnetic levitation that allows us to move people at 1,200km/h," he told Catalan News beside a life-size model of the Hyperloop. The company, he said, plans to pilot a 10-km circuit in Italy before building a 50-km track between Venice and Padua.

Others, like Saudi Arabia's stc, dabble in telecommunications, but boast a wide variety of digital services, from financial technology, to digital media, or cybersecurity. Their immersive display was a hit among many passersby who, without warning, found themselves followed by their own colorful digital shadows on a large screen beside them. 

Catalan robot assistants

Head over to the Catalonia pavilion and one of the first things you'll see is a demonstration of a robot assisting an elderly man, who is accompanied by a concerned daughter, in a medical setting, improving their interaction with the doctor. 

Cristian Barrué of Catalonia's very own Institute of Industrial Robotics said he hoped this display would help provide people with a vision of what robot assistants can do in the future, as well as help "attract the attention of people" and possibly lead to collaborations. 

Barrué works for one of the more than 330 Catalan companies at this year's Mobile World Congress, of which just under a third have received support from the Catalan government's Trade & Investment Agency.

His was far from the only Catalan robotics startup. My Cook's Ingrid Mosca told Catalan News about how her company manufactures "a really good kitchen assistant."

"You can search for recipes because it has a cookbook with more than 4,000 recipes," she said proudly. 

And like Barrué and all the other small Catalan firms at the event, she hopes the Mobile World Congress will serve as a networking opportunity, especially with foreign companies.

"Hopefully we'll expand abroad," Mosca said. "It's an important event to make our brand more famous in the global market."