The sovereignty process could not end the Mobile World Congress of Barcelona (MWC), but the coronavirus epidemic can do it, at least as far as this year’s edition is concerned. Manufacturers, operators and the vast sample of companies – 2,500- that enter the February 24 and 27 they should participate in this edition continue to debate whether or not they finally join Mobile 2020. The economic implications are not minor, and with this pressure, the GSMA, the employer of the sector and organizer of the event, this Friday meets its board of directors to make a decision, whether it be the postponement of the fair, its suspension – the option with greater economic repercussions – or its continuity, although with a more adjusted dimension, only with the firms that decide to continue and adopting protection measures extraordinary, such as access temperature controls and veto who in the last 14 days has been in China by reviewing passports.
Although the call of the GSMA council is the usual one that the organizers do before each MWC edition, this year’s will be decisive: the list of firms that have announced the withdrawal of the contest continues to grow, and some names are especially relevant. Yesterday it was known that they were off the hook Facebook, Cisco, Intel or McAfee, big names of the sector that add to the already announced defections of Ericsson -which next to the china Huawei, which follows, had reserved the largest pavilion-, NTT Docomo, Sony or TCL, among other names.
“We have taken the difficult decision to leave the fair and not participate in the fair, ”Cisco sources, a veteran telecommunications company, said in a statement. In the same line, Facebook confirmed that “as a precaution, employees will not attend this year’s MWC for evolution of public health risks related to the coronavirus ». The absence of international brands yesterday joined Telnet, the first Spanish company to join the list.
Faced with this drip of casualties, which begins to exert great pressure on the GSMA, the Mobile received Orange’s support yesterday. The French operator said that he will attend the event although, of course, he will follow “the situation very closely”. «The health and safety of our employees is a top priority»said the group.
The positioning of the French teleco could be significant. The first executive of Orange, Stéphane Richard, is at the same time president of the GSMA, whose council is made up of 26 members representing the great telecos and manufacturers of the world. Now, in that organ the Japanese teleco is also represented NTT Docomo, which has already announced that it will not go to the MWC.
One of the risks for the GSMA is, in case of cancellation, having to return to the exhibitors the amounts, in many cases millionaires, who have paid to rent their stands. Of course, as ABC reported yesterday, contracts give enough room to the association to modify the conditions as far as dates and location are concerned.
Telecos seem to wait for the GSMA to make a decision instead of being the ones who take a step forward. Industry sources acknowledge that although there will be no concerted action, there are high-level talks between the main European telecos to analyze the situation. In parallel, some operators are already installing their exhibitors on the premises of Gran Vía de Fira and in its headquarters in Madrid follow the preparatory meetings of the MWC. A cancellation of the event would force them to reschedule at other dates and places the presentations of their news, focused this year on 5G.
In the sector they also regret the alarmism generated and remember that yesterday the ISE fair of sound and image technology started in Amsterdam, which expects to receive 80,000 attendees and 1,300 companies. The event, which celebrates its last edition in Amsterdam before moving precisely to Barcelona, also adopted extraordinary measures, and as the MWC has also suffered cancellations, especially from Asian firms. In parallel, yesterday it was learned that up to six Chinese firms had canceled their attendance at Milan Fashion Week.
Waiting for the GSMA decision, City Hall, Generalitat and Government try to launch, without too much success, a message of tranquility and support for the event. Certainly, the decision is not in your hands.