The GSMA Has Cancelled Mobile World Congress 2020


Mobile World Congress takes place in Barcelona, Spain every February, but the show has been in limbo for the last few days. As coronavirus fears continued to mount, the mobile world looked on and wondered if the GSMA would push ahead or cancel. Now we know — Mobile World Congress 2020 is canceled. It’s the Galaxy Note 7 of trade shows. 

After numerous companies pulled out of the event, the GSMA has issued a statement confirming it will not hold Mobile World Congress this year. It cited public health and safety concerns surrounding the international outbreak of coronavirus, which have made it “impossible” to hold the event. Prior to cancelation, organizers tried to allay fears with a raft of new public health measures like discouraging handshakes and barring people entry if they had been in China less than two weeks before the event. 

The coronavirus outbreak in China has caused widespread disruptions in the country, but the effects outside the country have been limited until now. Mobile World Congress (MWC) attracts more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona every year, injecting about half a billion dollars into the Catalan economy. However, 5-6 percent of those visitors come directly from mainland China. 

The GSMA began feeling the heat several weeks ago when big consumer electronics companies like LG and Ericsson canceled plans to attend the shows. Companies continued to drop out as the show grew closer. Other dropouts included Intel, MediaTek, Facebook, and Nvidia. The final straw may have been when almost all European carriers backed out on Tuesday and Wednesday. While we often think of MWC in terms of phones, it’s funded largely by network operators and equipment suppliers. Without that backbone, the show was probably doomed. 

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Media reports in recent days claimed that the GSMA was heavily pressuring Catalonian officials to declare a health emergency. That would have allowed the GSMA to cancel the event and collect on insurance to cover its losses. However, the government declined, saying there was no reason to make such a declaration. The GSMA still decided to cancel, so it’s probably taking a serious financial hit.

The GSMA press release says the organization continues to work with government officials to plan for MWC 2021. However, the last-minute cancellation will surely leave a sour taste in the mouths of many companies and news organizations that invested heavily in the show and are now out the money.

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