Cancellations over coronavirus outbreak concerns rock Mobile World Congress

Amid coronavirus outbreak concerns, Sony, NTT DoCoMo, Amazon, Amdocs, and CommScope became the latest companies to cancel their plans on Monday to attend Mobile World Congress. They joined LG, Ericsson, and Nvidia in pulling out of the show.
Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world’s largest smartphone trade fair, goes ahead in Barcelona at the end of February.

The high-profile no-shows have put huge pressure on GSMA, the industry body, to ditch a conference that attracts 110,000 people in a normal year, with at least 6,000 people directly from China and thousands more from other parts of Asia.

“They are waiting to find out if the dam is going to burst and it is really creaking now,” stated one telecoms industry veteran, who is in contact with GSMA, about the chances of MWC admitting defeat for the year.
The demise of the event would be a blow for the phonemakers, network companies, chip designers, and hundreds of start-ups that depend on MWC to broker deals. It is also an important date for the Catalan hotel industry and is attended by the king of Spain.

Huawei, perhaps the biggest company exhibiting at MWC, has so far said it intends to attend the show, and has already flown the employees involved to Spain so as to self-quarantine them for a fortnight beforehand.

GSMA on Sunday imposed similar requirements on other Chinese companies, saying that no one from Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, would be admitted and telling all attendees that their passports would be checked for Chinese immigration stamps on the way into the venue. It has laid on additional medical staff and promised that all surfaces will be regularly disinfected.

The 14-day policy hit a number of smaller Chinese companies that have been unable to react in time. The Mobile Network blog revealed that Coosea and Umidigi, two smaller handset makers, had pulled out of the show following the new GSMA advice.
That has not proved enough to reassure companies that have cited health and safety concerns in pulling out of exhibiting or attending the MWC.

Ericsson, the Swedish equipment company, set the tone when it announced on Friday in a stark and unexpected statement that it would withdraw from the show as the “health and safety of employees cannot be ensured”. That has put pressure on other companies to address similar concerns of their own staff despite the GSMA’s defiant statements that health and safety is of “paramount concern” but that the MWC will go ahead.

NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese telecoms company, has said it would not be exhibiting at the show despite the fact that Kazuhiro Yoshizawa, its chief executive, is still being listed as a keynote speaker. The company was the first mobile network to withdraw from the event.

A person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Financial Times that other Asian operators in Singapore, Indonesia, and Hong Kong decided not to attend. Other large networks, including Vodafone, are assessing the situation over the coming days as are large equipment makers including Nokia and Huawei.

The UK authorities have declared that the coronavirus represents a “serious and imminent threat to public health”, yet the Spanish authorities have yet to do so. Alba Vergés, the Catalan health minister, stated last week that the region was not a public health risk zone.
That leaves the GSMA in a tight spot according to one person with direct knowledge of the situation as it could have to bear the cost of a full cancellation of the MWC unless the Spanish authorities declare it a health risk.
“They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t,” said the person to the Financial Times. A worst-case scenario would be that MWC attendees become infected, but images of near-empty halls could also prove highly damaging for the event’s credibility, the person added.
Not everyone was put off by the drumbeat of health and safety concerns. Marc Fontaine, digital transformation officer at Airbus, and John Chambers, the former Cisco chief executive turned investor, both confirmed they still intended to speak at the show.

One participant, who works for a large European telecoms company, stated that he was amused by the “don’t worry, we have got hand wash” reassurance from the GSMA but that he would travel to Barcelona even if the event was cancelled as it would mean more time on the beach. “I feel sorry for all the pickpockets,” he added.
Source: The Financial Times