After scuttling of a large international show Last year, the GSMA is sticking to plans for an in-person Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in June – just without a few big names. A handful of companies, including Oracle, smartphone maker Sony, and networking companies Nokia and Ericsson, all confirmed that they will not attend the show in the flesh.
This isn’t the first time the GSMA has hosted an in-person event during the pandemic – it hosted a Mobile World Congress in Shanghai in late February, with a series of virtual signs and addresses complementing the on-the-ground experience. According to a statement provided to Bloomberg, around 17,000 people attended the Shanghai event and no positive diagnosis of COVID has been reported so far, but it should be noted that many attendees did not have to travel abroad to attend.
To help mitigate risk, the show organizer is planning a similar online component to accommodate remote attendees this summer, and plans to host a much smaller number of people on-site in Barcelona: think 50,000, versus over 100,000 who usually attend.
Strict travel restrictions still in place around the world add to the challenges of hosting an in-person trade show. The website for the U.S. Embassy in Spain and Andorra tells potential participants that entry into the country is not allowed unless they meet “very specific conditions or have already obtained special permission from the Spanish government”. And at the time of publication, residents of the UK, Brazil and South Africa are not permitted to enter Spain until March 30. That ban had already been extended and may well be again – at the time, Spanish officials expressed concern that more virulent strains of COVID are finding a foothold in the country. (Considering the possibility that the MWC will be a major event, Engadget will not be attending the show.)
Despite the GSMA’s insistence that a safe in-person show is possible, some companies that have always used Mobile World Congress as a springboard for new products have spent the last year figuring out how to go it alone. . Samsung, for example, has held several virtual launch events for its high-end smartphones in 2020 and plans to hold another next week. Huawei transported journalists to a London warehouse in luxury cars, where they tested the new Mate 40 Pro without ever leaving their vehicles. Consider a slew of announcements from MWC stalwarts like Oppo and ZTE at the previous Shanghai event, and we end up with a big question: Even if the Mobile World Congress is ultimately not canceled this year, Will there even be major announcements looking forward to?