There are two currents to explain the great events of history: those who think they respond to a premeditated plan of small groups with power or who, on the contrary, blame everything on a conjunction of coincidences. In the case of lto cancellation of the Mobile World Congress of Barcelona the majority are those who, although for diverse and even opposite reasons, have pointed to conspiracy theories. His theses start from the “alarming contradiction” that exists between the reasons given by the GSMA, the association of operators organizing the event, alleging causes of “force majeure” for fear of the coronavirus, and the denial that there is any health risk maintained by the Administrations involved (Government, Generalitat and Barcelona City Council).
Paradoxically enough, both parties are right. And is that the cancellation of Mobile last day 12, a little more than a week before it was held, it was due in the first place to a circumstantial event –LG’s first solo announcement that he would not attend the event— which unintentionally unleashed an avalanche effect for the rest of the companies that later decided to cancel their presence as well. And, secondly, to the zeal of the legal and corporate responsibility departments of the large multinationals, who have wanted to heal in health before the multimillion-dollar lawsuits that would have rained them before a hypothetical case of contagion of any of their managers or guests.
Both conditions fueled a barrage of defections and finally forced the GSMA to cancel the fair. This is what this newspaper has confirmed in conversations with executives of important participating firms. “Without being aware of this, the health alarm was decreed by LG with its statement, although no authority would appreciate risk. That is why neither the GSMA lies when it talks about causes of force majeure, nor does the Government say that the danger was non-existent, ”says the manager of an operator.
In fact, the atmosphere was relatively calm until at night (European time) on Tuesday, February 4, LG dispatched announcing that it would not go to Mobile: “LG Electronics is following and closely monitoring the current situation related to the outbreak of the coronavirus that was recently declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization, as the virus continues to spread outside of China. Putting the safety and health of its employees, partners and customers, LG has decided to cancel its exhibition and participation in the MWC 2020 to be held later this month in Barcelona, ”said his statement, becoming the first company to take that decision.
The Korean mobile firm, one of the few that presents each edition its news at the MWC and has one of the biggest pavilions, did not imagine the unforeseen consequences that it would have its decision for the call effect. It could have been any other of the 2,800 companies that had planned to go to Mobile but it was LG the first and the one that, unintentionally, caused the avalanche.
“The priority of LG is the safety and health of all our employees, partners and customers, and therefore we cancel both our participation and exhibition at the MWC 2020 and the ISE 2020. It is a timely case and therefore in the coming years, LG will continue to be present at these important technology fairs for us, ”explains Miguel Ángel Fernández, general director of Marketing at LG Iberia.
Although the news was global in scope, the GSMA did not seem to flinch. The next day, as planned, he released a statement ensuring that the coronavirus had a “minimal effect” on the MWC and offered a list of fairly moderate prevention measures how to avoid shaking hands, change microphones periodically or increase the disinfection of tables and railings.
Everything seemed to return to calm until Friday, day 7, Ericsson, one of the largest manufacturers of 5G networks, also announced its withdrawal in terms similar to those of LG: “As one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has hundreds of visitors in its lounge every day and, although the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors.”
The bomb was activated and nobody was going to have the power to stop the countdown. Major American multinationals such as Cisco, Intel, AT&T, Sprint, Facebook and McAfee they joined the deserters’ side. All of them appealed unambiguously and with statements almost identical to the safeguarding of the health of employees and clients to justify their decision.
“The problem is not that LG and then the rest announced that they would not go, but that they appealed to the health of their staff and visitors to avoid doing so. No multinational, especially the American ones, could risk a manager contracting the virus and then returning to its headquarters, even if that possibility were remote. Because the consequences in the form of lawsuits or quarantine that would have to apply in their offices would have been ruin, ”explains a consultant who goes to the MWC in Barcelona every year.
But then, Why have not other fairs such as the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) of Amsterdam been canceled, a technological event attended by companies between Sony and Intel that announced they would not go to Barcelona between February 11 and 14? “Those who wield the ISE forget that LG also canceled their participation for the same reasons but, unlike what happened with Mobile, it did so much less in advance regarding its start, and the rest did not have time to react . And it is true that Sony and others have gone but what is not said is that most of the Chinese and other Asian firms had voluntarily annulled their presence, something that had not happened in Barcelona, ”says a manufacturer, who discards any of the conspiracy theories with which they have speculated from the political and media field.
Among those theories, there is a possible boycott of US multinationals to Chinese firms that, like Huawei, have become the latest editions in one of the main protagonists of Mobile (and its financing) and threaten to take control of global networks through 5G. The same mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, slipped that the commercial war between the United States and China could have motivated the fright.
On the national level, it is aimed at revenge of technology companies for the announcement of the Government of Pedro Sánchez to implement the call Google rate It is also celebrated the theory that managers did not want to go to Barcelona because of the climate of citizen insecurity, transport strikes or street raids starred by independentistas. From the most furious nationalist side, the voices that have seen in the annulment one more element of the Spanish State’s plot against the you process. The article that was posted briefly on the Barcelona City Council website is even cited as a cause, warning of the alleged health dangers of 5G.
“In any case, companies are much more concerned about the increasing cost of being present in Mobile and the low return they have for their business than those external and, in my opinion, esoteric reasons,” explains the consultant.
“The health authorities were prepared, but it is the fear of the ecosystem that forced us to make the decision,” he admitted the CEO of the GSMA, John Hoffman, in an interview with EL PAÍS. And “fear” is the word that best summarizes the cause why on the 24th there will be no manager of the most important technology companies in the world at the Fira de Barcelona. But not the fear of the coronavirus, but of the lawyers and their demands.
The GSMA announced the cancellation of MWC20 on Wednesday, day 12, after more than six hours of meeting of its council, in which the main operators are integrated. In fact, the decision was made at least since Monday, according to sources in the sector, when operators with great weight in the GSMA such as Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom warned that the uncertainty had to end.
If the agony lasted a few more days, it was because the organizers wanted to seek maximum consensus, not only among their associates but with the Administrations, to shield themselves from the legal process that is now opening for compensation. Even other sources suggest that the Generalitat and the City Council were requested to join the joint communiqué announcing the cancellation. It was not possible.