Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry’s annual showcase, typically attracts 100,000 representatives from technology companies, carriers, and governments to Barcelona, Spain. But not this year. The GSM Association, an industry group that organizes the gathering, said Wednesday it is pulling the plug on this year’s affair, the latest fallout from the coronavirus global health emergency.
“The GSMA has canceled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concerns and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” the organization said.
The cancelation is the latest blow to the tech industry from the coronavirus, officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. Last week the Nikkei Asian Review reported that China is blocking manufacturing giant Foxconn from reopening factories, potentially delaying production of devices from several companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Huawei.
More than 45,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed globally, according to WHO’s latest situation report. Instances of the disease have been found in 24 countries, although only 441 of those cases are outside China. The death toll is now more than 1,100, including one in the Philippines.
The Mobile World Congress cancelation comes as industry attention is focused on carriers’ race to upgrade networks to 5G, the next generation of high-speed wireless, and as governments grapple with pressure from the US government to ban equipment made by Chinese telecom giant Huawei. Chinese companies like Huawei, Motorola, Oppo, Xiaomi, and ZTE, had been expected to have a large presence at the show.
Stephen Mears, a research analyst at the consulting firm Futuresource, says that in the near term, the cancelation will be a big blow to the industry’s marketing efforts. Many companies planned to make announcements during the gathering in Barcelona. Samsung, Huawei, Sony, and others were expected to launch new products. Keynote speakers at the event were to include Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, and ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.
Several companies had already pulled out of the trade show, including Amazon, Ericsson, Facebook, Nokia, LG Electronics, Sony, and ZTE. Some are planning alternate events. “Rather than meeting customers and stakeholders in Barcelona, Nokia plans to go directly to customers with a series of ‘Nokia Live’ events aimed at showcasing the industry-leading demos and launches scheduled for MWC,” the company announced.
As the coronavirus outbreak spread, GSMA initially said it would ban all travelers from the Chinese Hubei province, require visitors from China to prove they had not been in China for at least 14 days, and screen attendees for fevers.
GSMA has been holding Mobile World Congress Barcelona since 2006. The organization is still planning other events, including Mobile World Congress Shanghai in June and July and Mobile World Congress Los Angeles in October. Those events will probably take on more importance this year, Mears says, though he expects Barcelona to remain important. “MWC is likely to remain the main hub of the mobile industry moving forward, with the lack of show this year more than likely resulting in heightened expectation and excitement in 2021,” he says.
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