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MWC 2020 canceled: What happens now

MWC is the biggest event in the mobile industry’s calendar. What happens now that it's canceled?

Published onFebruary 12, 2020

The GSMA just announced it pulled the plug on MWC 2020.

Following a string of withdrawals from major companies including LG, Sony, Nokia, Ericsson, HMD, and vivo, fear of a potential coronavirus outbreak in Barcelona forced the first cancelation in the event’s three-decade history.

Mobile World Congress is the biggest event in the mobile industry’s calendar, so a lot of the companies we cover every day will be affected in some form. What does it mean for consumers? What about the industry?

Read: Samsung is about to have a very good year

What happens with all the launch events?

Several companies were planning to launch new consumer products at the show, which was supposed to be held February 24-27. These included HUAWEI (with the Mate XS), Xiaomi (Mi 10), TCL (TCL 10 series), Motorola (new Edge flagship), and realme (X50 Pro 5G), to name some of the higher-profile ones. Many other smaller companies had announcements in the pipeline.

Many companies prefer to hold their own events in spaces around Barcelona, outside of MWC itself. It’s not clear at this point whether any of the affected companies will decide to go through with their plans. At least one major company told Android Authority it will still hold its event in Barcelona, provided media will be there. That’s a big if, though.

At least one major company told Android Authority it will still hold its event in Barcelona, provided media will be there.

Before the show was officially canceled, HUAWEI and Xiaomi said they were still planning to go ahead with their participation, including events and booths. Others, like TCL canceled their press conferences but kept their booths.

It’s likely that some of the companies that were planning to hold proper launches at the show will opt to announce devices via press releases or online launches. Sony, which pulled out before the show was canceled, said it would replace its conference with a video stream.

Others may delay their launches in order to organize press events at a later date. Considering the coronavirus fears are likely to persist for weeks or months, these events could be smaller and more restrained.

We should get more clarity in the next 48 hours.

Little consumer impact

In the end, most consumers won’t even know anything out of the ordinary has happened. Press events are mostly just that: an opportunity for companies to show their devices to media. For all their pomp and pageantry, phone launches aren’t essential stops on a product’s road to market.

The obvious exception is enthusiasts. If you live and breathe phone launches, you’ll probably find the news of the cancelation extremely disappointing. But rest assured, manufacturers will still try to give their products the flashiest introductions possible.


What about the industry?

Consumers may not be affected by the MWC 2020 cancelation, but it’s a slightly different story for the mobile industry.

The consumer-oriented product launches are just the tip of the iceberg. The real value of MWC, like any trade show, is that it brings together 100,000 industry professionals, including thousands of high-ranking executives. Across the halls of the Fira convention center and in hotel suites and restaurants around the city, attendees get together to make deals, meet with partners, find suppliers and distributors, initiate mergers and acquisitions, or simply talk shop. The importance of the human interactions enabled by MWC cannot be overstated or quantified.

Beside the thousands of “missed connections,” the cancelation of MWC will have a real monetary impact on companies, as well as the city of Barcelona. To get a sense of scale, the event was estimated to generate €500 million in economic output and create 14,000 temporary jobs.

The importance of the human interactions enabled by MWC cannot be overstated or quantified.

Companies can spend millions to organize events, set up booths, and fly in staff members from around the world. Most of these expenses are already sunk costs that cannot be recouped at this point.

For big players, these wasted expenses are just the cost of doing business. But missing MWC could be a real blow for the hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses that have already spent big on participation fees, travel, and lodging.

The cancelation of MWC will surely have a chilling effect on the industry, coming on top of the problems created by the coronavirus epidemic. It could delay projects and products, scuttle potential deals, and generally make it harder for participating companies to conduct business. Smaller companies will feel the pinch the most, as they lack the resources needed to organize their own events or to fly staff around the world to meet partners.

Even with these negative effects, will MWC 2020’s cancelation have a drastic, lasting impact on the mobile industry? We don’t think so. Companies will adapt to the changing situation and move on. While MWC is a big deal, it’s ultimately just an industry event.

Barcelona, media, and MWC 2021

While shocking, canceling MWC this year is not a tragedy. The industry will live without it. But the cancelation will be a blow for the people whose livelihoods are affected by the event – from the thousands of staff employed by the GSMA and the Fira convention center, to booth attendants and PR professionals, to the workers in Barcelona’s hospitality and tourism industries. Hopefully these people won’t bear the brunt of the fallout when the dust settles.

While shocking, canceling MWC this year is not a tragedy.

The heaviest blow will be for the city of Barcelona and the Catalonia region. The city and its inhabitants could lose tens, even hundreds of millions of euros in economic activity. Lots of people had jobs, albeit temporary, catering to show attendees in some form or the other.

Let’s not forget about media. Every year, MWC attracts thousands of journalists, bloggers, and media professionals. Just like Android Authority, most of these publications come to the show on their own dime. Depending on the size of the crew, expenses can add up. While many publications can absorb the costs, the cancelation will surely hit small websites and independent bloggers the hardest.

Read: Samsung Galaxy S20 hands-on: Out-featuring the competition

Will the whole drama impact future MWC editions? We’ll find out more over the next days, but there have been reports of tension between GSMA and authorities in Barcelona and Catalonia over the terms of the cancelation. Without doubt, some powerful companies are not happy with the decision. We can’t know if this will have any bearing on future editions of the show for now. For its part, the GSMA said it will continue to work “in unison” with Barcelona authorities for MWC 2021 and future editions.

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