The wireless industry’s biggest event of the year, Mobile World Congress, is still on the books for the end of February, but now the trade show’s future is in doubt after one of its largest exhibitors just pulled out due to the spread of Wuhan coronavirus.
Swedish telecom infrastructure company Ericsson usually takes up a massive amount of space at the Fira Gran Via convention center in Barcelona during MWC. This year the company was expected to show off a slew of 5G demos, as it has for the last couple of years. But Ericsson on Friday said it had decided to completely withdraw from the trade show after an internal risk assessment.
“The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority,” Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm said in a press statement. “This is not a decision we have taken lightly. We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.”
Ericsson is the third company to announce a change of plans due to the coronavirus outbreak. ZTE is scaling back its presence at the show and has canceled its press conference, and LG has withdrawn from MWC entirely. But those companies have huge workforces in China; Ericsson is based in Sweden and is the first European company to withdraw from the event.
MWC’s organizing body, the GSMA, quickly released a statement following Ericsson’s announcement, reassuring vendors that the show will continue as planned, but noted that “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have further impact.”
Journalists and tech industry analysts who have been planning to attend the show for months are speculating on Twitter as to whether the whole thing could be called off. Gizmodo’s own Sam Rutherford is slated to attend the show, and we are kind of concerned about him (just a little bit). Companies don’t want to risk their employees getting sick, which is possible regardless of the preventative measures the GSMA has put in place (including widespread availability of disinfectants and increased on-site medical personnel).
If additional companies withdraw from the show, the GSMA may not have any choice but to cancel this year.