[FOCUS SMART CITY] Behind the beach, come and explore Barcelona’s connected streets!


Whether houses are representative of a city, they are the citizens that create the city,” wrote Rousseau in his Social Contract, an idea that the Catalan capital has fully embraced in setting up its smart city. Barcelona has long been a leader in the smart cities movement. Sometimes ranked number one and usually in the top 10, it is part of an elite of urban development pioneers, such as Singapore, Vienna, San Francisco and Copenhagen. Today, it is one of the few smart cities that are trying to integrate bottom-up and top-down approaches to urban digitization and are boldly striving to become what some call the Smart City 3.0. As proof of its interest in new technologies, Barcelona hosted the last Smart City Expo World Congress from 15 to 17 November 2016. In addition, the Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been held every year since 2006 in the Catalan capital. This project aims to harness the potential of these new technologies and use them as an engine of development to transform the daily lives of people and create new business opportunities. These two events are therefore confirmation that Barcelona is one of the most connected cities in the world.

Barcelona, a hyper-connected European capital

Being a smart city relies mainly on the use of innovative digital technologies and the Internet of Things to improve municipal processes. Barcelona has a long experience in this field, integrating intelligent sensors and Big Data analyses with all urban aspects, from parking and transport to waste collection, air quality and irrigation of green spaces.

Free Wi-Fi accessible to everyone. Barcelona Wi-Fi is a service offered by the City Hall that allows you to connect absolutely anywhere in the city. 461 access points are available, making this network one of the most important in Europe. Internet access is even available in national parks and gardens. A particularly convenient service for foreign tourists who need a connection to find their way around the city without wanting to see their phone bill explode with the local 3G.

Sensors detect empty parking spaces. In Barcelona, each parking space is equipped with a sensor (large grey circle embedded in the ground) which, thanks to its connection to the network, indicates to the driver who has downloaded a dedicated application whether the space is free or not. A service that is particularly appreciated by motorists (because it avoids driving around in circles for long minutes in the same neighborhood) and environmentalists (less pollution for the environment). For the city, it is also the assurance of increasing its revenues through the optimization of the management of its parking lot.

Parking sensors and traffic lights. An intelligent parking system to inform drivers in real time of the number of free parking spaces via their phones. Among all the initiatives implemented by this pioneering city, there is a smart red light system for emergency vehicles. This system identifies the route that the vehicle will have to take and ensures that all the lights are green in its path. This provides a clear road to allow firefighters or the SAMU to be on site more quickly The city has also decided to operate an open data system to allow companies or individuals who wish to consult public data to do so.

Connected waste bins and streetlights. In addition to parking spaces, sensors have also been installed on the city’s garbage containers and streetlights. Thus, the dump trucks of the municipal collection service are informed in advance when the bins are full or smell bad. Then, only then, they are unloaded. This is an obvious productivity gain for the city and therefore a money saving. The same applies to the streetlights installed nearby, which are able to detect the number of passers-by around them and adjust their light intensity accordingly. Electricity bills are a major source of expenditure for cities, this intelligent system makes it possible to reduce them.

Neighborhood transformation. The industrial district called Poblenou, which was an immense wastelands, has now been converted into a connected business district. This Catalan excitement is not new; already in 2012, connected walls in the metro allowed travelers to do their shopping from their mobiles.

On-demand data for citizens

This ambition has led the Catalan city to adopt two orientations. The first was to implement a new data infrastructure based on three components: Sentilo, an open source data collection and sensor platform, CityOS, another open platform for data analysis, and a level of user interface for service applications to facilitate access to all data.

The second direction was to use this integrated control to democratize access to data. The new platform and all the data on it would belong to the city, for example. The whole would be accessible to citizens, private companies and other interested parties, but the city and its population would retain ultimate ownership, decide what constitutes appropriate access, ensure privacy protection, etc.

Public-private cooperation for the development of the smart city

Private enterprise is a key element of the Barcelona strategy. Every year, the city hosts the Smart City Expo World Congress, an exhibition dedicated to smart cities. In addition, it has established active partnerships with technology giants such as Cisco, Philips and Schneider to address urban challenges through digital technologies. Many of the smart city initiatives promoted by Barcelona City Council aim to directly increase digital business opportunities or train technologically savvy individuals, who are so popular with businesses.

It is no wonder that Thyssenkrupp Elevator, a leader in urban mobility, chose Barcelona for its annual World Leadership Conference in 2018. Spain was a pilot country for the launch of MAX technology based on IdO, the industry’s first predictive maintenance solution. More than 110,000 MAX smart units have been installed worldwide, including 24,000 in Spain. Most of them are located in high-traffic areas such as Barcelona’s metro and airport, allowing residents, users and tourists to benefit from Thyssenkrupp Elevator’s innovative action in support of Barcelona’s smart city.


“A Smart City means thinking much further than just the technological aspect and involving all citizens in defining the new challenges of tomorrow,” explains Josep Ramon Ferrer, former director of Barcelona Smart City. Named the world’s second smartest city in 2017 by Juniper Research, Barcelona clearly does not want to rest on its laurels. By actively insisting that the realization of technological promises in terms of urban planning requires the informed agreement and support of its citizens, and its willingness to achieve this, Barcelona remains at the forefront of the development of smart cities. It will continue to inspire leaders in all sectors, particularly in the exciting field of urban mobility.