The odds have shortened on a cancellation of this year's Mobile World Congress after influential vendor Nokia and major network operators VEON and BT today announced their withdrawal from the event because of mounting concern about the spread of the coronavirus disease, joining numerous other high-profile exhibitors and attendees in pulling out.
Nokia's cancellation leaves MWC without one of its very largest exhibitors and – following Ericsson's earlier withdrawal – means the show will be missing two of the "big three" mobile kit vendors, with only China's Huawei still planning to attend.
The Finnish company's decision, announced a week and a half before the event is due to begin, will increase the pressure on the GSM Association, the event organizer, to cancel this year's show. The GSMA, which had not responded to a request for comment on Nokia's decision at the time of publication, is reportedly set to hold a board-level meeting on Friday at which a final decision will be made on whether to cancel or postpone this year's event.
Any reluctance to call off the show would be understandable: Attracting 109,000 attendees last year, MWC Barcelona is the GSMA's biggest individual source of income and its cancellation would upset many of the exhibitors that still plan to attend, prompting demands for refunds and compensation.
Table 1: Companies canceling or scaling back at MWC 2020
|A10 Networks||Withdrawal confirmed||The network security vendor emailed Light Reading to confirm that it is pulling out of MWC Barcelona.|
|Accedian||Withdrawal confirmed||The network performance assurance vendor announced its withdrawal from MWC Barcelona via press release on February 10.|
|Adtran||Withdrawal confirmed||Broadband network equipment maker said: "ADTRAN announced its decision to withdraw from MWC due to concerns regarding the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The decision was not made lightly and ADTRAN looks forward to rejoining the MWC community in 2021."|
|Amazon||Withdrawal confirmed||Web giant said it would no longer exhibit at or participate in MWC because of the value it placed "on the wellbeing and safety of our employees, customers, partners, and press and analyst community."|
|Amdocs||Withdrawal confirmed||OSS/BSS player withdrew saying: "In the face of the public health concern from the novel coronavirus, we are placing the highest priority on protecting the health of our employees, customers and partners."|
|AT&T||Withdrawal confirmed||US telecom giant said it had decided not to participate after careful discussions. "Unfortunately, the most responsible decision is to withdraw our participation from the event to safeguard our employees and customers," it said.|
|BT||Withdrawal confirmed||UK telecom incumbent issued a statement on February 12 saying it would not be attending MWC.|
|Ciena||Withdrawal confirmed||Optical equipment maker said it was canceling all plans to participate in MWC due to growing concerns about coronavirus.|
|Cisco||Withdrawal confirmed||US equipment maker said on February 11 that it had made the difficult decision to withdraw from MWC due to concern about coronavirus.|
|CommScope||Withdrawal confirmed||The network infrastructure company alluded in its statement to the "business impact that would result if a quarantine were ordered." It has canceled its attendance and said it will explore virtual trade show and meeting options instead.|
|Dali Wireless||Withdrawal confirmed||The wireless fronthaul vendor said, in a statement, that because "there is still much unknown regarding the 2019-nCoV, Dali does not feel comfortable sending its employees to a widely attended international event."|
|Dell'Oro Group||Withdrawal confirmed||Dell'Oro VP Stefan Pongratz confirmed via a comment on Twitter that the analyst house would not be attending MWC Barcelona.|
|Deutsche Telekom||Withdrawal confirmed||German operator pulls out on afternoon of February 12 citing health concerns for employees and partners.|
|Ericsson||Withdrawal confirmed||One of the event's largest exhibitors was also one of the first to withdraw, saying it could not ensure the health and safety of employees and customers.|
|Withdrawal confirmed||Social media giant withdrew on February 11, stating: "Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus."|
|F5 Networks||Withdrawal confirmed||A company spokesperson confirmed to Light Reading on February 10 that the applications infrastructure company will not be on site at MWC Barcelona.|
|Infinera||Withdrawal confirmed||Optical equipment maker said it would no longer attend in "response to the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus."|
|Intel||Withdrawal reported||Chipmaker reported by industry sources to have pulled out entirely because of concern about the spread of coronavirus.|
|InterDigital||Withdrawal confirmed||The company announced late Monday that it won't be at MWC Barcelona, adding that "nothing is more important to us than the health and welfare of our employees."|
|Intracom Telecom||Withdrawal confirmed||Backhaul specialist pulled out for health reasons, stating: "Our employees, partners and customers are of paramount importance and they are always our first priority no matter what."|
|Light Reading||Withdrawal confirmed||Light Reading will not be sending its editorial staff to MWC Barcelona. We'll be monitoring MWC-related developments remotely and covering the industry's most interesting people, capital and technology news.|
|LG||Withdrawal confirmed||South Korean consumer electronics firm was the first big vendor to back out last week.|
|McAfee||Withdrawal confirmed||The computer security firm said: "Due to our continued concerns about novel coronavirus, McAfee has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020."|
|Mediatek||Withdrawal reported||Mobile SoC giant has pulled out to preserve the health and safety of its staff.|
|Nokia||Withdrawal confirmed||Finnish equipment giant quit on February 12 after carrying out a risk assessment and, like Ericsson, says it will use demos at smaller events closer to its customers.|
|NTT DoCoMo||Exhibition withdrawal confirmed||Japanese operator has canceled its exhibition but not said if this means no staff will be attending the event.|
|Nvidia||Withdrawal confirmed||Chipmaker withdrew over the weekend, saying the safety of staff, partners and customers was its paramount concern.|
|Panorama Software||Withdrawal reported||Reported by The Mobile Network to have said it will not be exhibiting at or participating in this year's show because of virus concerns.|
|Radwin||Withdrawal confirmed||Broadband wireless equipment specialist has canceled its participation, citing the health and safety of staff.|
|Rakuten||Withdrawal confirmed||Japanese ecommerce company quit MWC citing health and safety concerns surrounding the novel coronavirrus.|
|Sony||Withdrawal confirmed||Japanese electronics giant said safety and well-being were its priorities as it canceled its exhibition and participation.|
|Spirent||Withdrawal confirmed||Test company Spirent announced on February 11 that it had made the decision not to participate in this year's MWC out of concern about coronavirus risks.|
|Sprint||Withdrawal confirmed||US operator due to merge with T-Mobile said in a statement: "Our team will not be attending MWC due to concerns around the novel coronavirus."|
|Veon||Withdrawal confirmed||Emerging-markets operator, with 212 million customers worldwide, confirmed its withdrawal to Light Reading on February 12.|
|Viavi Solutions||Withdrawal confirmed||A smaller vendor at the show, Viavi said it would have sent 50 people until it decided the risks were too great.|
|Vodafone||Withdrawal confirmed||UK-based operator pulls out on afternoon of February 12 citing health concerns for employees, customers and partners.|
|Sources: The companies, media reports, The Mobile Network's list, and Light Reading editors.|
But as leading exhibitors and attendees back out, MWC is losing much of its attraction as a place to do business and gather information about the latest technology and application developments. Both Ericsson and Nokia now intend to show off their products, and discuss their plans, at smaller events much closer to customers.
In its published statement, Nokia said: "We have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios. The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress."
Nokia's announcement came as Light Reading learned that VEON, one of the world's largest operators by subscriber numbers (more than 212 million), had also decided to withdraw from MWC. Other major service providers to have communicated their non-attendance include US operators AT&T and Sprint and Japan's NTT DoCoMo and Rakuten.
Another is the UK's BT, which provides mobile services mainly under the EE brand and confirmed its withdrawal in a brief statement. "Unfortunately, the most responsible decision is to withdraw our participation from the event to safeguard our employees and customers," it said.
Besides Ericsson and Nokia, major vendors that have pulled out now include Amdocs, Ciena, Cisco, CommScope, Intel, LG, Nvidia and Sony.
The GSMA has not provided an update on its plans or made a statement on exhibitor withdrawals since February 9, when it announced strict new measures designed to address concern about coronavirus, a respiratory disease the World Health Organization has now dubbed COVID-19.
Under those measures, visitors who have spent time in China during the two weeks leading up to the event will be denied entry, as will anyone traveling from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Originating and at its worst in China, COVID-19 has now infected about 45,000 people and claimed more than 1,000 lives, according to the latest mainstream press reports.
The GSMA currently plans to install additional hygiene facilities at its show and has been advising attendees not to shake hands as a precautionary measure.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading