The smart cities sector in Catalonia

Catalan companies linked to the development of smart cities are growing in Barcelona, a pioneering city in this field. The sector, which already has a turnover of more than 10,000 euros a year, has much to contribute to making the world’s cities more liveable, sustainable and inclusive.


Barcelona is one of the “smartest” cities in the world. This is evidenced by the different rankings that are drawn up every year on ‘smart cities’. For example, Juniper Research’s ranking places it in third place in the world, behind only Shanghai and Seoul. The use of renewable energies in the transport system, LED lights in public lighting, good waste management and sensors to control noise, pollution and vehicle parking are some of the areas where the Catalan capital stands out the most.

Barcelona’s great development when it comes to using technology as a tool to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants has facilitated the projection of many companies linked to this sector in Catalonia, which now number close to half a thousand.

According to a report by Acció, the 471 companies in the smart cities sector in Catalonia have a turnover of more than 10,000 euros per year and account for more than 4% of the country’s GDP. Their growth is undoubtedly playing a fundamental role in developing sustainable, inclusive, transparent and participatory initiatives that facilitate the efficient management of our cities through the use of technology, innovation and knowledge creation.


A growing sector

The data show that, despite the pandemic, the number of companies linked to the ‘smart cities’ sector in Catalonia has grown by 7.3% since 2018 and their turnover has increased by 7.5%. This means that companies in the sector now employ more than 46,000 people.

The sector is dominated by SMEs, which account for 88 % of the total. Only 13% are subsidiaries of foreign companies. Moreover, the degree of maturity is significant, with 65% of the companies having been operating for more than ten years. Even so, there is still room for the most disruptive companies, as one in four is a start-up.

Their solutions are applied in a wide range of fields. Those with most weight in Catalonia are the urban environment, which account for 22% of these companies, mobility (19%), the environment (19%), quality of life (16%), smart government (7%) and security and resilience (5%). 

In terms of their role in the value chain, 23% of companies in the smart cities sector in Catalonia are product manufacturers, 22% are software developers, 15% are service providers and 11% are consultants.

Barcelona’s advantage

The positioning of Barcelona as a hub of urban modernisation has been a very important pull factor for the development of this sector in Catalonia, as shown by the fact that three out of every four companies are located in the Barcelona area. However, this has not been a handicap for most of them to open up to the world: 57% are exporters and 28% do so on a regular basis. In fact, many have taken advantage of international business opportunities in the fields of ICT, digitisation of industry, mobility and energy to collaborate on projects in countries such as Japan, the United States, Brazil, Germany, Norway and Ghana.

This internationalisation has undoubtedly been helped by the holding of the Smart City Expo World Congress at the Fira de Barcelona since 2011, which has become the most important event dedicated to smart cities in the world. The 2022 edition had more than 1,000 exhibitors and more than 20,000 visitors.

It is estimated that 65% of the world’s population will live in urban environments by 2030. Hence, the need for “smart” development of cities around the world is becoming increasingly evident. And, in this sense, Catalan companies can contribute a lot to make them more livable, sustainable and inclusive. Although smart cities have traditionally been concentrated mainly in the most advanced countries, cities in emerging powers such as China, India and Malaysia are becoming increasingly important, so the potential for market growth is enormous.


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