What seemed like an impossible scenario a few weeks ago might happen after all. The biggest mobile show of the year might be canceled, which would be a first in the long history of the Mobile World Congress.
Every year, the biggest names in tech head to Barcelona, Spain for the better part of a week to unveil brand all of their new products. The most important smartphones, tablets, PCs, and new technologies of the year are all unveiled and demoed at the show. MWC has only gotten bigger and bigger in the past few years, just as the smartphone became, for many people, the most important personal computer. MWC 2020 is some two weeks away, but the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak might end up leading to the cancellation of the entire event.
The GSMA has said a few times in the past few weeks that it doesn’t plan to cancel the show, but coronavirus reports from China paint an increasingly dire picture of the new flu-like illness. More than 40,000 people were infected in nearly two months, with the virus taking the lives of over 1,000 patients.
The fact that China, the country that’s been the source of the disease, hasn’t been able to fully contain the coronavirus, convinced several prominent tech companies to skip MWC this year. The growing list of tech companies who’ve pulled out of MWC prompted the GSMA and Barcelona officials to reconsider the event.
According to Spanish-language site La Vanguardia, the GSMA will hold a meeting on Friday to decide on the future of this year’s show.
The list of companies who have pulled out of MWC so far includes TCL, Intel, Vivo, NTT Docomo, Amazon, Sony, Nvidia, Ericsson, ZTE, and LG. Umidigi, Amdocs, and Gigaset also announced they will skip the show. Some companies announced the cancellation of planned press events, but maintained they’ll have a presence at the show. Others said they’ll send employees who aren’t based in China to reduce the risk of an outbreak.
However, the existing cancelations may account for some 10% of the rented space at the venue. The most affected section of the show will be Hall 3, which is usually where the hottest tech companies in the industry gather, an area that sees increased traffic throughout the week. Even so, the report notes that preparations are still underway at the Fira region, where the show takes place every year, as workers continue to assemble booths for the event.
The report notes that coronavirus fears grow beyond the massive list of attendees. Hotels have reportedly started registering cancelations, with one example being the Gremi d’Hotels in Barcelona. However, it’s unclear how many people canceled their bookings. A researcher is already urging the GSMA and local authorities to cancel the event, saying that crowded events such as press conferences and booths would increase the risk of transmission and that a single case would be enough to cause an outbreak in the region.
The cancelation of the event would deprive the Barcelona region of some 492 million euros in revenue, the report notes. However, the costs associated with handling a potential coronavirus outbreak in the region can’t be quantified. The GSMA expected some 110,000 attendees at this year’s event, a figure that would have helped it surpass last year’s record attendance of 109,000 guests.