The wireless industry scrapped its biggest annual showcase after the coronavirus outbreak sparked an exodus of participants, roiling telecom companies just as they’re preparing to roll out new 5G services.
It’s the first time in MWC Barcelona’s 33-year history that organizers have called off the event, which draws more than 100,000 participants from across the world to check out the latest innovations, pitch to investors and do deals.
“The global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible” to hold the event, John Hoffman, chief executive officer of conference organizer GSMA, said in a statement to Bloomberg News.
The list of big-name attendees started to crumble on Feb. 7, when Swedish wireless equipment maker Ericsson AB pulled out, saying it couldn’t ensure the safety of staff and customers. As others pulled the plug -- from Sony Corp. to Nokia Oyj, Vodafone Group Plc and Deutsche Telekom AG -- it became harder for those remaining to justify their presence.
The decision to scrap MWC entirely was a difficult one, and it’s not clear who will shoulder the costs -- the participants or GSMA. The industry’s biggest players often spend tens of millions of dollars to exhibit at the show. Ericsson’s absence alone left a gap bigger than a standard American football field in the conference halls.
GSMA funds much of its budget from the event, charging 799 euros ($872) for a basic admissions pass.
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