Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has joined the growing number of significant organizations that have withdrawn from this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona out of concern about the potential impact of the coronavirus, now dubbed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Originating in China, the airborne respiratory disease has now infected roughly 45,000 people and claimed more than 1,000 lives. Talking at a conference convened in Geneva on Tuesday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, described the virus as a "grave threat," adding that a vaccine may be 18 months away.
Concerns about COVID-19 have dealt a huge blow to this year's MWC, the telecom industry's biggest annual tradeshow, prompting dozens of exhibitors and attendees to announce their withdrawal during the past few days.
Various media outlets, including Reuters, have reported that the event's organizer, the GSM Association (GSMA), plans to discuss the possible cancellation of the event during a board meeting to be held this Friday, February 14.
Any decision to cancel would be a significant blow to those still planning on attending and also to the GSMA: Depending on the advice issued by the Spanish government, such an unprecedented move could land the event's organizer with a huge bill as companies seek 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.|
Rakuten is building a fourth mobile network in Japan and its cancellation makes it only the fourth major telecom service provider to have officially confirmed it will no longer participate in this year's MWC, after withdrawals earlier this week by US operators AT&T and Sprint as well as Japanese incumbent NTT DoCoMo.
In a brief statement, Rakuten said: "Due to concerns about the novel coronavirus and in the interests of the health and safety of our employees, Rakuten has decided to withdraw its participation in Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2020."
"Rakuten Mobile will continue to work toward the launch of its world-first cloud-native mobile network in April 2020," it added.
Rakuten's exit will come as a massive disappointment to the GSMA because the company is seen as a pioneer of new software-based and more "open" network technologies and has been closely monitored by other service providers with similar goals.
Numerous other vendors and operators are now understood to be weighing their plans for MWC participation as the trade show loses its star attractions, which in turn erodes the event's business value.
While no European operators have yet announced withdrawals, a number of national operators are among those known to have canceled planned meetings.
Attracting about 109,000 attendees last year, MWC Barcelona remains the GSMA's largest individual source of income and reportedly generates about $500 million for the local Spanish economy, filling out hotels, restaurants and bars for several days each year.
It is also seen as an important opportunity for the telecom industry to showcase new technologies and strike deals, as it typically features most of the sector's most senior executives and regulatory authorities.
But the GSMA risks a backlash and reputational damage if it proceeds with an event that now no longer features leading names in the telecoms technology supply chain, including Amdocs, Ciena, Cisco, CommScope, Ericsson, Intel, LG, Mediatek, Nvidia and Sony.
In an effort to address concern, organizers have imposed restrictions on anyone visiting from China, which usually sends between 5,000 and 6,000 attendees each year. Under current plans, anyone who has spent time in China during the two weeks before MWC starts on February 24 will be denied entry, while visitors from the disease-stricken Hubei province are barred entirely.
The GSMA has also been installing additional hygiene facilities at the show and advising attendees not to shake hands this year.
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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading