GSMA cancels the Mobile World Congress 2020

From GSMA.

Without much surprise, the GSMA association has cancelled this year’s Mobile World Congress, over fears of the coronavirus.

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It is without much surprise that the GSMA association has announced the cancellation of this year’s Mobile World Congress, which was supposed to be held in Barcelona between the 24th and the 27th February of 2020. According to the association, the main reason behind this cancellation is the concerns surrounding the current coronavirus (2019-nCoV, now named COVID-19) outbreak in China, which, so far, counts over 40 000 infected people and over 1 000 deaths, with said virus having reached other Asian countries and Europe, with a few cases in some countries.

The GSMA mentions “[GSMA] has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event”, which can also be interpreted in other ways. For instance, over the past few weeks, various companies started issuing very specific and sometimes strict guidelines to their staff, such as no handshakes between staff and attendees, cleaning the material after each day and even quarantine for employees that were going to be attending. It didn’t take long before some smartphone manufacturers and companies decided to pull out from the event altogether, with LG being one of the first to cancel, Sony following suit and ZTE reducing their participation. This was followed with the exit of both telecom suppliers Ericsson and Nokia, as well as other companies such as Amazon and Facebook, or even carriers like BT [British Telecom] or Orange.

Companies that were still intending on attending the event before the cancellation have been testing the waters, checking whether the attendees would come to a separate event, although it appears this isn’t going well either.

Others, such as the Chinese smartphone Huawei, had already previously announced having a special launch event on the 22nd of this month, during which it is expected the company will be launching exclusive products for the Spanish market. While there isn’t much information on this, it is expected this will be a new smartphone, as well as the possible introduction of other connected devices currently only available on the Chinese market. Furthermore, earlier today, the manufacturer had confirmed once again their attendance to the 2020 Mobile World Congress with an enigmatic image with the mention of “1+8+N”. If we refer to previous announcements from the company, this one had already detailed, during the MWC Shanghai 2019, their future strategy centred around 5G, with “1” referring to smartphones, “8” being the categories of products such as laptops, headsets or tablets and “N” being different categories where these products are used for a specific purpose, such as entertainment or smart homes.

While some have said it is irresponsible for brands to keep their events or still wish to hold a press conference, companies such as Huawei have the capacity of doing this, having been present on the European market for a very long time and being well implemented, thus having the ability to easily dispatch local staff to handle these events without needing to send employees from abroad. In any case, as of right now, Huawei hasn’t said anything about their press conference from the 23rd, but it wouldn’t be unsurprising if this one is still held and broadcasted live, as done with past events.

Coming back to the Mobile World Congress, while this one was initially a trade show for equipment manufacturers to present their equipment to potential buyers, in recent years it has evolved into a well-known show followed by consumers, with major smartphone manufacturers using it to launch new products. However, this has changed in recent times, with various companies choosing to hold their own press conferences some days before or after the event, likely in an attempt to have all the attention focused on them and not disappear under the dozens of news and new products showcased during the event. Due to this, the Mobile World Congress is becoming a less important event, at least for regular consumers, as manufacturers only showcase existing products that are already available for sale or have been largely reported on by the press.

The cancellation of this important event also comes with a financial loss, which explains why the association decided to wait until the last minute to make their decision. After all, most tickets for the show had already been sold and the brands had already made all the arrangements needed for their presence, with all this money now lost. On top of this, the city hosting the MWC, the Spanish city of Barcelona, heavily benefits from this event, as it is held during a period with few tourists, meaning hotels can get a share of the 100K visitors that are expected to come. Pubs and restaurants in the city were also looking forward to this event, especially after the losses from the various days of protests that the Catalonian capital saw during the last few months of 2019, which forced dozens of local business to close their doors. According to various estimates, the event brings some half a billion euros to the city, with a big part of this money coming from brands reserving space for their booths, booking accommodations for their employees, etc.

In their statement, the organizers confirmed that the next event will be held in 2021, in Barcelona again, as usual, meaning the cancellation of this edition is definitive and will not be pushed back, contrary to other similar events that have been pushed back by a few weeks or even months, both in Europe and in China.

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