MWC organizers cancel program as huge business bail on coronavirus worries


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Mobile World Congress, held each year in Barcelona, unites the world’s most significant cordless business. 

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At completion of the month, a lot of the world’s leading mobile business were set up to make their yearly expedition to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. But frets about the coronavirus break out showed too strong to neglect. On Wednesday, the program’s organizer canceled MWC 2020, stating it was “impossible” to continue. 

The relocation has actually left business rushing to find out their next actions. For some, it might suggest holding their own occasions or put simply out news release to reveal their most recent devices. Many might postpone their item launches completely while they find out what to do. Some, especially Chinese business, are mulling strategies to continue with their occasions in Barcelona, Spain, despite the fact that the main conference will not occur. 

“The impact on small companies who have invested a disproportionate amount of their budgets and time on this event should not be underestimated,” CCS Insight expert Ben Wood stated. “MWC is an anchor event for many, and now they face the challenge of having to figure out the best way to salvage something from this difficult situation.”

MWC unites business from throughout the world, with lots of utilizing the weeklong trade convention as the location to present their most recent smart devices. This year was anticipated to include brand-new 5G phones from almost every significant Android supplier, in addition to updates about the networks running the brand-new super-fast connection. Though 5G came true in 2015, this year is when it might go mainstream. 

But guests and organizers were fretted about an unwanted visitor: the brand-new coronavirus found in December in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese area of Hubei. The infection activates a pneumonia-like illness, now officially dubbed COVID-19, that since Wednesday has actually struck more than 45,000 individuals and declared more than 1,100 lives. The disease has actually spread out beyond China’s borders to around 30 nations, consisting of the United States, Japan and Australia, and 2 cases have actually been validated in Spain. 

Prior to MWC’s cancellation, the business that had actually withdrawn from the program consisted of Nokia, Vodafone, BT, Deutsche Telekom, HMD, AT&T, Sprint, CiscoFacebook, Intel, RoyoleSonyAmazonLG, Vivo, Ericsson and Nvidia. Meanwhile, ZTE and TCL had actually canceled their interview, and Huawei and Oppo had actually positioned their executives in quarantine exterior China to ensure they were healthy (they’d remain in quarantine for 14 days ahead of the program).

Mobile World Congress 2020 was set up to range from Feb. 24 through Feb. 27, and press occasions were slated to occur numerous days in advance. 

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MWC’s slow collapse

GSMA, the trade group that puts on Mobile World Congress, noted last week — before the big names began dropping out of the show — that there was “minimal impact on the event thus far” and that the event was proceeding as planned. “Spain, the City of Barcelona and the GSMA look forward to welcoming attendees to MWC Barcelona 2020,” the group said. 

On Sunday, GSMA reiterated that it was moving ahead with MWC but was putting additional, stringent health measures in place to reassure attendees and exhibitors that their health and safety were of “paramount concern.” 

Those measures included banning any travelers from China’s Hubei province, where the coronavirus outbreak began, and requiring attendees who had passed through China to show proof they’d been outside the country for 14 days.

Authorities around the world have begun limiting travel and enforcing quarantines to guard against the coronavirus spread. As a result, many major players in the mobile industry reconsidered their MWC attendance, with options including dropping out completely or scaling down their presence. For some companies, it could’ve meant canceling travel by execs from places like Asia or the US and instead relying on European employees to staff their booths and events. Many were also planning to allow executives to decide if they wanted to travel to MWC at all. 

MWC might appear to center on phone launches, but it also plays host to important conversations between vendors and clients, where deals are struck to keep the mobile industry ticking. If key senior people canceled, those conversations couldn’t take place, discouraging other people and companies from attending, according to IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo. 

“I think the number of people attending will drop dramatically this year,” he said before GSMA canceled the event entirely. 


When it came to holding MWC, the worry for many companies was the nature of the show itself. The bulk of the week’s activities take place in a convention center on the outskirts of Barcelona, with about 100,000 people brushing up against one another, shaking hands and breathing the same air. Thousands of attendees were expected to travel to MWC from China, even though there are many flight bans. (US, European and Asian airlines have halted service to China for the time being.) People are typically crammed into tight quarters at press conferences, meeting rooms and show floor booths. 

The coronavirus has been spreading from person to person, though it isn’t clear how easily or quickly it moves. 

The GSMA had taken steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, as it has detailed in press releases over the past week:

  • It planned to increase on-site medical support and disinfection programs.
  • It was going to install new signs on-site reminding attendees of proper hygiene. 
  • It would change mics between each speaker. 
  • It would advise all attendees to adopt a “no-handshake policy.” 
  • GSMA also had set up a free, 24-hour telephone security and medical service for all attendees. 
  • It had provided hygiene recommendations to Barcelona hotels, public and private transportation, restaurants and catering businesses, among other entities. 

“The GSMA is building on its existing plans to protect the health of our attendees, clients and staff at MWC Barcelona,” the group said last week. “Colleagues around the world are taking active measures to contain and lessen any further spread of the virus. These measures include adhering to advice from the (World Health Organization) and other health authorities, respecting travel restrictions where they exist, arriving early in Spain to allow time for self-quarantine and ensuring access to masks.”

On Sunday, the GSMA, Spanish health authorities and other agencies had detailed four enhanced measures:

  • All travelers from China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, would be banned from the event.
  • All travelers who’d been to China would need to provide evidence that they’d been outside China for 14 days prior to the event (from Feb. 10 onward).
  • Temperature screenings would be implemented.
  • Attendees would need to self-certify that they hadn’t been in contact with infected individuals. 

The WHO hadn’t issued specific guidance regarding the show or other large international gatherings, and it had directed a request for comment to its general technical guidelines for dealing with the outbreak.

China’s wide reach

The spread of the coronavirus has had ripple effects across the globe, underscoring how connected the tech world has become. Chinese companies are some of the world’s biggest makers of mobile devices, and they’re also key parts of the supply chain, manufacturing components and assembling devices for customers across the globe. The worries about the coronavirus have resulted in shuttered factories and the quarantine of the 11 million people living in Wuhan. Numerous technology companies have closed their stores and offices in the country and have implemented travel restrictions. 

“For tech, a big issue [is] the supply chain,” Creative Strategies expert Ben Bajarin kept in mind. “We could see an impact, not just on smartphones but PCs and other consumer electronics if the workforce takes a hit or factories have to be shut down during specific quarantines.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook last month informed financiers that the business has providers in the Wuhan location which it was “working on mitigation plans to make up any expected production loss.” But he likewise cautioned that it was uncertain how coronavirus would affect providers in other parts of China and kept in mind that the expected two-week shutdown in Chinese operations might suggest hold-ups for some gadgets. Foxconn, the primary assembler of iPhones, stated it’ll have the ability to satisfy production requirements, however a report recently stated approximately 45 million sets of AirPods might be captured in limbo while producers wait on parts required to put together the cordless earbuds. (Apple is the one noteworthy mobile business that does not go to MWC.) 

Facebook’s already-hard-to-get Oculus Quest headset might deal with more hold-ups due to the coronavirus. And Nintendo stated the coronavirus break out has actually postponed production of the Animal Crossing variation of its Switch hybrid video game console. Japanese preorders have actually been pressed back from Feb. 8 to an undetermined date.

Lenovo, the Chinese laptop computer maker, stated it was preventing big in person conferences and enabling more individuals to work from house till more is understood about the break out. HP has actually executed some travel limitations for staff members going to and from China. Mozilla, that makes the Firefox internet browser, has actually made masks and hand sanitizer offered. Five factories that make LCD and OLED panels are anticipated to see downturns in production, according to IHS Markit, a research study company.

And Qualcomm, the world’s most significant maker of cordless chips, cautioned on Feb. 5 that the coronavirus might injure international handset need. 

Sitting this one out

MWC’s prepared preventative measures weren’t enough for some business. On Feb. 5, South Korea-based LG ended up being the very first significant tech business to reveal that it would not go to MWC in order to secure its staff members, partners and clients from the coronavirus. 

“This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders,” the business stated in a declaration. 

LG generally utilizes MWC as the place to introduce its flagship phone line, called the G-Series, in addition to a couple of midrange gadgets. Market watchers anticipated the South Korean business to present a follower to the LG G8 ThinQ, most likely called the LG G9 ThinQ, in Barcelona. Instead, LG stated it “will be holding separate events in the near future to announce its 2020 mobile products.”

On Feb. 7, Swedish telecom giant Ericsson ended up being the 2nd business to take out of the program, likewise mentioning coronavirus issues. The business stated the demonstrations and content developed for the program will rather be revealed at regional “Ericsson Unboxed” occasions at a later date.

“The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority,” Börje Ekholm, president and CEO of Ericsson, stated in a declaration. “We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.”

Ericsson is among the world leaders in network innovation and is regularly among MWC’s biggest exhibitors. With the international rollout of 5G in complete swing, this would’ve been a crucial year for the business at the program. In an upgraded declaration released following Ericsson’s statement, the GSMA revealed its “regret” that the business would not remain in presence at MWC 2020.

“We respect their decision and are reassured by their commitment that they will be at MWC Barcelona 2021 in full force and our rebook trends for next year’s event remain high,” it stated. “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have further impact.”

It appeared nearly inescapable that more business would follow the lead of Ericsson and LG in choosing to remain the program this year, IDC’s Jeronimo stated in early February. “They will start getting concerned whether it’s worth taking the risk,” he stated. People would comprehend if Chinese business pulled out of the program, he included, however a huge European business such as Ericsson leaving will likely have a ripple effect on other gamers.

Late in the day on Feb. 7, Nvidia ended up being the 3rd huge business to withdraw from MWC. “Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern,” the business stated in an article. Nvidia hasn’t had much — or any — existence at MWC recently, however it prepared to talk this year about its efforts in expert system. 

After that, the departures came at a consistent clip. On Sunday, Amazon validated it would withdraw from MWC 2020 “due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus.”

Sony did the same early Monday and took out, however the business stated its interview, where it was anticipated to flaunt its newest Xperia flagship, would proceed as set up. It will now be livestreamed by means of the web. 

On Tuesday, AT&T, Sprint, Cisco, Royole, Facebook, Intel and Vivo signed up with the list of huge names withdrawing from the program, as did KMW, a business that concentrates on engineering and production radio frequency parts for business such as Nokia and Samsung.

“The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution,” an Intel spokesperson stated in a declaration.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” a business spokesperson stated in a declaration.  

Cisco tweeted its withdrawal on Tuesday. “We have made the difficult decision to withdraw from participating in Mobile World Congress … due to concerns about the current outbreak of coronavirus.”

“We value our participation in important industry groups like GSMA and deeply respect the steps they have already taken to protect attendees,” an AT&T agent informed CNET in a declaration. “Unfortunately, the most responsible decision is to withdraw our participation from the event to safeguard our employees and customers.” 

AT&T Business CEO Anne Chow was formerly set up to provide a keynote address at the occasion. 

On Wednesday, Nokia, Vodafone, HMD, BT and Deutsche Telekom stated they too would not go to the program. HMD, that makes Nokia phones, stated it would delay the launch of its brand-new gadgets and anticipated to reveal them at a later date.

“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,” Nokia stated in a declaration.

Quarantine and health

Companies taking a trip from China for MWC dealt with a unique obstacle as they thoroughly browsed stabilizing their involvement at the program with the health threats of asking their staff members to take a trip to Europe from Asia. No significant Chinese business had actually taken out of the program prior to GSMA ended.

ZTE canceled its interview, initially set up for Feb. 25. All other set up activities were slated to proceed as prepared, it stated in a declaration.

On Monday, TCL — the Shenzhen, China-based maker of Alcatel, BlackBerry and TCL-branded phones — stated that it, too, would cancel its interview, earlier slated for Feb. 22. The business pointed out an “abundance of caution and care for our staff, customers, press and other guests.”

Other Chinese business were taking other considerable preventative measures, like quarantining executives. Between 5,000 and 6,000 delegates from China generally go to the program, and lots of were asking their associates in Europe to attend this year on their behalf, stated the GSMA.

Honor, the handset brand name owned by Huawei, stated it was on track to go to MWC. Huawei and Honor both have a substantial existence in the UK and Western Europe, and Honor prepared to staff its cubicle with employees from those locations, instead of China-based staff members. But the business’s president, George Zhao, was no longer set up to go to the program.

Of the business still preparing to bring staff members from China, Huawei, Oppo and ZTE asked their staff members to invest 2 weeks in quarantine ahead of the program. All of Huawei’s China-based delegates and ZTE senior executives were going to invest this duration of seclusion in Europe, the business had actually stated. 

Those executives are presently investing their time in quarantine beyond China. Because lots of currently remained in Europe, the Chinese suppliers thought about continuing with their Barcelona press occasions as earlier prepared.

Oppo had actually stated that in addition to quarantining personnel, it would keep an eye on staff members with everyday medical examination and carry out temperature level look for all taking part in Oppo occasions.

What will coronavirus suggest for mobile in 2020?

Product launches and statements formerly anticipated at the program, consisting of the unveiling of the LG G9 ThinQ, might suffer hold-ups however will not be canceled completely.

For the business, the most significant effect might be a drop off in the dealmaking that goes on behind the scenes. Though they hold fancy interview and established fancy cubicles, executives are mostly in Barcelona every year to meet each other. Carriers take a look at brand-new phones, handset makers learn more about upcoming parts, and collaborations are struck.

With the supply chains under pressure and less chances to make those offers that keep the market ticking, the effect of the break out might be significant however most likely will not be felt till later on this year when the next batch of phones, consisting of the very first 5G iPhones, are set up to make a look.

CNET’s Sareena Dayaram, Jason Hiner, Lynn La and Jackson Ryan, Eli Blumenthal and CNET Espanol’s César Salza added to this report. 

Originally released Feb. 8.
Updates, Feb. 9: Adds Amazon’s withdrawal and MWC’s brand-new limitations on presence; Feb. 10: Adds Sony’s withdrawal and TCL’s interview cancellation; Feb. 11: Adds AT&T’s, Facebook’s, Intel’s and Vivo’s withdrawal from the program; Feb. 12: Adds Nokia’s, HMD’s, BT’s, Deutsche Telekom’s and Vodafone’s withdrawal. Later includes info about MWC cancellation and updates post to show the modification.

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