NTT DoCoMo becomes first major telco to quit MWC exhibition

Japan's NTT DoCoMo, one of the world's biggest service providers, has become the first major service provider to withdraw from this year's Mobile World Congress exhibition due to concern about the spread of coronavirus.

In a brief statement published in Japanese, the operator said it took the decision to ensure the safety of employees and other attendees. "At present, the impact of the new coronavirus is expanding, and we were planning to exhibit from February 24 (Monday) to February 27 (Thursday) 2020," said the company, according to a Google translation. "In consideration of the safety of the visitors, partner companies and staff members, we decided to cancel the exhibition."

DoCoMo is the first large operator to announce its withdrawal, although its statement holds open the possibility of attendance by employees not directly involved in its own exhibition. The Japanese firm joins a growing list of exhibitors that have pulled out for the same reason, including Japanese electronics giant Sony, Sweden's Ericsson and South Korea's LG.

Table 1: Companies Canceling or Scaling Back at MWC 2020

Company Status Details
Amazon Web Services 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
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
LG Withdrawal confirmed South Korean consumer electronics firm was the first big vendor to back out last week
NTT DoCoMo Exhibition withdrawal confirmed Japanese operator has cancelled its exhibition but not said if this means no staff will be attending the event
Nvidia Withdrawal confirmed Chipmaker withdrew at the weekend, saying the safety of staff, partners and customers was its paramount concern
Sony Withdrawal confirmed Japanese electronics giant said safety and wellbeing were its priorities as it cancelled its exhibition and participation
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.
ZTE Reduced presence Chinese networks vendor cancelled its usual press conference and imposed some restrictions on employees travelling to the show from mainland China
Source: Companies, press reports

The GSM Association, which organizes the event, has insisted this year's show will proceed despite mounting concern about the risks of the disease, which originated in China and has so far claimed more than 900 lives and infected around 40,000 people.

Desperate to address that concern, the GSMA has now imposed tough restrictions on attendance, meaning no one who has spent time in China in the two weeks leading up to MWC will be allowed into this year's show. Organizers have also closed the doors to anyone from China's Hubei province, where the outbreak is at its worst.

MWC last year attracted around 109,000 visitors, including between 5,000 and 6,000 from China, according to the GSMA. Figures have been relatively stable in the last three years, after growing dramatically between 2009 and 2017, but look set to fall this year as companies pull out.

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A number of other service providers are now understood to be reviewing their participation in this year's event. In a statement sent to Light Reading, France's Orange said: "Orange is still attending MWC though we are of course monitoring the situation closely. Needless to say, the health and safety of our employees is a top priority."

At the time of writing, Germany's Deutsche Telekom had not responded to a question about its participation in this year's event, while UK-based Vodafone said it would be in contact later in the week about the details of its usual press conference with Group CEO Nick Read. Turkcell, the biggest operator in Turkey, told Light Reading it was still planning to attend.

Further withdrawals would deal a huge blow to the business plans of hundreds of MWC exhibitors, as well as to the event's organizer, which generates a large chunk of its annual revenues from the Barcelona event. They would similarly hurt the local economy in Barcelona, whose hoteliers, restaurateurs and taxi drivers rely on the boost the show provides each year.

Nevertheless, if other big companies back out, pressure will increase on the GSMA to cancel this year's MWC.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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