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Leadership / Digital Transformation

Mega-Conference MWC Hangs By a Thread

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference in Barcelona attracted 109,674
attendees from 198 countries in 2019, including 7,900 CEOs.

This year, with just 12 days to go, organiser GSMA is reported to be deep in negotiations with Spanish authorities in a last-ditch effort to cancel the event.

Wired reports that it is seeking declaration of a public health emergency to justify the “force majeure”-style cancellation and secure insurance payouts. The FT says GSMA is holding an emergency board meeting today. An announcement may be near.

Nokia, Orange, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, McAfee, BT and HMD Global confirmed their cancellation today over Coronavirus fears. Amazon Cisco, Ericsson, Intel, Nvidia and Sony are among those who have already pulled out of the event.

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Orange’s withdrawal accentuates the apparent risk of this happening: the company’s chairman and CEO Stéphane Richard is a prominent figure on GSMA’s board. Kazuhiro Yoshizawa, the president and CEO of Japan’s NTT DOCOMO (which has also withdrawn from the event) also sits on the company’s 25-strong board.

MWC Cancellation Would Be a Major Blow to Barcelona

With many of the largest names pulling out, the conference continuing would no doubt prove a fillip for smaller exhibitors; public health experts, however, are concerned that the dense, confined nature of the mega-conference would be “ideal” for transmission of the virus, which would prove nigh impossible to track through the event.

Spanish press reports say workers are continuing with the assembly of stands and other preparations for the conference, one of the world’s largest technology conferences.

Its cancellation would have huge impact locally, from the tens of thousands of hotel cancellations to knock-on impact down the supply chain. (Approximately 32 percent of attendees in 2019 were from Spain. The UK sent over 8,000 delegates).

MWC cancellation
MWC’s top 100 exhibitors in 2019, listed alphabetically.

“A Fast-Moving Situation” 

Nokia said it had taken the decision to withdraw from MWC 2020 after a “full assessment of the risks related to a fast-moving situation.”

The company added: “While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognize that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers. In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios.

“The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress. We want to express our thanks to the GSMA, the governments of China and Spain as well as Catalonia’s Generalitat, and many others who have worked tirelessly to address the challenges resulting from the novel coronavirus, and they have our full support as they move forward.”

GSMA has been contacted for comment. Its last public statement on February 9 noted: “The GSMA knows that the Coronavirus has created disruption, in particular for exhibitors and attendees from around the world, including the 5-6,000 (5-6%) who have historically attended from China. Our sympathy goes to all those affected.

It added: “We are grateful for the preventative measures our Chinese exhibitors have put in place, notably ZTE and Huawei. Today, the GSMA is moving ahead as planned and will host MWC Barcelona 24-27 February 2020. While the GSMA confirm some large exhibitors have decided not to come to the show this year with others still contemplating next steps, we remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong.”

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CBR Staff Writer

CBR Online legacy content.