Coronavirus: GSMA to lose billions as tech firms pull out of MWC

The GSMA, global body of all GSM operators, is to lose billions of revenue this year as major technology companies in the world are pulling out of its forthcoming Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

The event, rated as the world’s biggest telecom show, is taking hits from the deadly Coronavirus outbreak, forcing participants to withdraw from the annual show scheduled to hold between February 24 and 27.

Top technology companies that have announced their withdrawal from the event include Ericsson, LG, Intel, Vivo and ZTE, while others are still weighing their options.

Announcing its withdrawal, Ericsson blamed “the outbreak and continued spreading of the novel coronavirus” for its decision.

In a statement, President and CEO of Ericsson, Börje Ekholm, said: “The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority. This is not a decision we have taken lightly.”

The company said it “has already taken a number of precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of employees and to minimise the impact on the company’s operations.”

It added: “After an extensive internal risk assessment, Ericsson has decided to take further precautionary measures by withdrawing from MWC Barcelona 2020, the largest event in the telecom industry.”

Ekholm said: “We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.”

Industry analysts fear that Ericsson’s momentous decision – as the second-biggest telecoms equipment vendor – will give others permission to back out too.

Announcing its withdrawal through a statement, Intel said: “The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution.”

Vivo, citing concerns with the health and safety of its employees and the public, said it was withdrawing the debut of its new Apex 2020 concept phone from MWC. According to the company, revised plans would be issued soon.

On its part, electronic giant, Sony, said in a statement posted on its website, “Sony has been closely monitoring the evolving situation following the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization on January 30th, 2020.  As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.”

Amazon, meanwhile, said that “due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020, scheduled for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain.”

The news put the GSMA, the industry’s trade association that runs MWC, into a quandary. It has a contract with the city of Barcelona to deliver the event, yet fears about the virus, which is already responsible for more than 630 deaths among 31,500 people infected, meaning that many companies are scaling back.

The GSMA reacted to Ericsson’s announcement by expressing regret “as they are an important player in our ecosystem”, adding: “We respect their decision and are reassured by their commitment that they will be at MWC Barcelona 2021 in full force and our rebook trends for next year’s event remain high.”

The GSMA said: “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have a further impact. But it is of great importance to the GSMA to continue to convene the industry at this critical time where connectivity is on the cusp of a new industrial revolution. Advocating across the industry through government and ministers, policymakers, operators and industry leaders has never been more critical.”

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