BARCELONA, Spain — For the next four days, a sprawling conference center here will become the global hub for the telecommunications and technology industries.
More than 80,000 people — including heavy hitters like Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook; Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; and Vittorio Colao, chief executive of Vodafone — will gather to sign contracts and share contacts.
Yet despite the numerous networking events and business deals, there is a love-hate relationship involving some of the world’s largest mobile carriers and tech giants like Facebook and Google.
Both sides rely on each other to provide customers worldwide with high-speed Internet access and online services like music streaming and social networking. Yet as smartphones increasingly become the principal means by which people manage their everyday lives, the telecom and tech giants are jockeying to position themselves as consumers’ main conduit for using the Internet on mobile devices.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” said Adrian Baschnonga, a telecom analyst at the consulting firm Ernst & Young in London. “No one wants to be overshadowed. Everyone is questioning their role in the industry.”
While sales of traditional laptop computers have stalled worldwide, shipments of smartphones — some of which now sell for as little as $25 — are expected to hit almost two billion units this year, according to the technology research company Gartner.
At the same time, upgrades to carriers’ networks, particularly in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia, have increased mobile Internet speeds to a level that allows consumers to carry out many tasks — like online banking, e-commerce and Internet messaging — that, until recently, had been restricted to computers.
“Mobile has become the heart of the Internet,” said Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA, an industry body that organizes the annual conference in Barcelona, known as Mobile World Congress.
This shift has led to some uneasy relationships between telecom and tech companies.
For many carriers, which have invested billions of dollars in recent years to upgrade their networks, growing consumer appetite for services like streaming from Netflix has raised fears that telecom operators will be relegated merely to providing the infrastructure that powers the boom in mobile Internet.
Telecom executives worry that this role will force operators to miss out on the growing revenue that flows into smartphone applications, Internet gaming and other services, which all run on top of their networks. The concerns come as many carriers’ revenues — particularly in Europe, whose economy continues to stutter — have leveled off.
Some industry insiders also have expressed frustration that American tech giants like Google and Amazon, which have used complicated tax structures to reduce their global tax burdens, do not face the same levels of regulatory scrutiny as carriers. That includes the F.C.C.’s net neutrality decision last week, which will allow the agency to treat broadband Internet access as a public utility for regulatory purposes.