For anyone who attended for the first time this past edition of the IoT Solutions World Congress in the Fira Gran Vía of Barcelona, it probably looked like this was an established, decade-long affair to which the city and its attendees were already used to.

The floor was immense and, especially towards the afternoon, packed with people. There were several high profile companies with big booths like Intel, Microsoft and Google. More than half a dozen restaurants for lunch and snacks. Numerous demonstrations, conferences, talks and sessions with some 250 speakers, all happening in a three-day span and divided not only by categories and relevance, but by several actual, designated spaces too.

All of this happening very fast and simultaneously, with a lot of stuff to see. Every 15 minutes a new talk or session, a new thing participate in. Dozens of booths to visit and new people to meet. Just like any of the big events we know.

The truth, though, is that this was barely the third year of an event that obviously has a big investment and machinery working behind it. And that’s why it’s so hard to tell that it is actually still a very young project. Obviously, the fact that IoTSWC (kind of a ridiculous name if you think about it) is part of a much bigger thing helps to scale things up. It was just a stop more from the Barcelona Industry Week, which gathered four other events of similar scale, but related to different themes.

Events like the World Chemical Summit, Eurosurfas and IN(3D)USTRY all took place in the same location, which was, to put things a bit into perspective, seriously massive. Obviously though, each one of these sister events were separated by clear limits and spaces. Some, like IoTSWC, had two big plazas all for themselves.

This made the whole experience very akin to going to a theme park complex, with each stop (or Park) offering a different set of rides to try. It was so close to that, even, that I’m sure it grabbed a few tips from that concept. I’m also sure that most of the nerds who were present felt like they were on Disney World.

The congress was, evidently, a success. It attracted more than 13.000 visitors from 114 different countries and a total of 240 companies. Both numbers translate to a 30% and 60% yearly growth, respectively. Those aren’t exactly massive numbers like the 108,000 attendees from MWC, but they show a steady growth towards something bigger and with more influence.

Indeed, that seems to be the case, as the organizers have confirmed that many “have already booked their space for next year”, and that Amazon and Google have already confirmed their sponsorships for 2018.

A Blockchain Invasion

Walking through the different booths and demonstrations, it became very clear for me pretty fast that the term “IoT” was way behind on what was actually taking place during those three days. Sure, there was a common line to follow in most of the things I saw at IoTSWC, but the truth is that “Internet of Things” didn’t just cut it.

Not to get too much into it, but “IoT” is already a confusing and often criticized name because its concept already overlaps with many others, and it’s a way-too-broad proposal that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some hear IoT and think of Nest and smart appliances for homes. Others think about industrial implementations, while some governments possibly salivate with the thought of smart cities.

A lot of us think that the term has much more use as a marketing tool instead of an actual, useful distinction from other technologies. But in any case, all of those overlaps with other sectors were quite evident at IoTSWC 2017, and the organizers seemed to either embrace that (the “Solutions” part might be a hint) or perhaps just try grow out of the “IoT” brand without too much care for the name, just as the modern San Diego Comic Con has less to do with comics and more with the culture surrounding them, including other mediums like movies and TV.

Perhaps the most evident example was the inclusion of a “Blockchain Solutions Forum”, which has probably little to do with IoT at first glance, but included some 115 speakers and 20 exhibitors. It was, admittedly, one of the most interesting parts of the whole event, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came back for a second round next year. And probably the next after that.

One of the most interesting things was a talk by George Givishvili, COO of BitFury Group, a company specialized on bitcoin security. He explained how blockchain could potentially change the way we secure most of our legal contracts, and how powerful of a tool it is for archiving important, sensible data. It’s clear the technology will grow quickly out of its role in cryptocurrency, and I left convinced that someday, probably sooner than we think, legal documents and more will be stored that way.

A world of IoT

Meanwhile, Intel ranted about smart cities on its booth while Google demonstrated several of its cloud technologies and others threatened to transform the whole thing into a gadgets expo with remote cars and submarine drones. Sophia, the most advanced robot from north American company Hanson Robotics, made a couple of interventions at a few sessions. Other exhibitors relied on IoT and more technologies to improve their services.

It’s clear that IoTSWC is no amateur project and that it has established its place as an influential affair not just in the city or even Europe, but at a global scale. The fact of the matter remains, though: there are many other IoT-focused events in the world, including the old continent and the US. IoTSWC will need to stay relevant against what is probably a saturated market of “congresses” (if it can be called that).

Branching out, just as it did this year, might just prove to be the secret the event needs. The Blockchain focus was a smart move that might’ve paid off, and exploring different things is probably a must. Also, the fact that it’s hosted in one of the most interesting and booming cities in the world doesn’t hurt, either.