European Tier 1 operators Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone may have delivered a knockout blow to this year's Mobile World Congress by withdrawing from the event on Wednesday amid concern about the outbreak of coronavirus and the disruption it has caused.
UK-based Vodafone issued a statement on Twitter to say it had been monitoring the situation and would no longer participate in the show. Germany's Deutsche Telekom confirmed its withdrawal directly to Light Reading in an email.
The withdrawals by the two European giants follow an exodus of exhibitors in the last week and come after several operators in North America and Asia said they would no longer participate in the event. Those service providers include AT&T and Sprint from the US and NTT DoCoMo and Rakuten from Japan, while the UK's BT also today quit the show.
Most of the better-known organizations to have canceled participation in this year's MWC are shown in the table below.
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.|
Despite the mass exodus, the GSM Association, which organizes MWC, is still set to run the show starting on February 24 and plans to introduce more hygiene facilities and restrict access to visitors from China, where the coronavirus started and is at its worst, in an attempt to address concerns. It has not responded to recent requests for a comment on the withdrawals and has issued no official statements about the event since February 9.
However, a report in Wired magazine says the GSMA is now eager to cancel this year's event but is at loggerheads with Spanish authorities, which refuse to declare a health emergency. Without that, the GSMA cannot claim back insurance on MWC, according to that report.
If the show does go ahead, it now seems likely to attract only a fraction of the 109,000 attendees who went last year.
Explaining its decision, Vodafone said: "While the potential risk is hard to quantify accurately at this stage, we have taken this decision because we place the utmost importance in the safety and wellbeing of our employees, customers and partners."
Deutsche Telekom later posted its own Twitter message saying: "Deutsche Telekom has decided not to participate in the MWC this year. This wasn't an easy decision for us. But the health of our employees and of everyone who is our guest at MWC comes first. The MWC is a great fair. And we are already looking forward to the next MWC."
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading