In the pantheon of tech shows, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is Athena-level—way up on the list but not quite as big or brash as the Zeus-like Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But now it’s acting more like the fun-loving Dionysus and claiming, this early in our post-vaccine world, that the show must go on.
The event, scheduled for June 28 through July 1, 2021, is an annual trade show that brings mobile carriers, handset makers, and industry players together. It’s important because it’s where many manufacturers launch popular Android and other mobile products, and its European locale makes it a must for many companies even tangentially related to mobile. The group that runs the show, the GSMA, canceled the 2020 edition and is now facing pushback from major exhibitors including Sony, Ericsson, and Facebook. In short, they don’t think it’s safe to travel or congregate, even in the heart of summer.
“Sony Mobile has taken the decision that it will not be participating in MWC 2021,” said that company in a statement. “As the world increasingly shifts towards digital and online opportunities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Sony Mobile will communicate in ways that can deliver our exciting product news to a wider audience.”
Ericsson, a major player in telecom infrastructure, also pulled out of the show.
“In view of the continuing impacts from covid-19 and our primary consideration towards our people, their health and well-being, we have decided not to participate in MWC 2021,” an Ericsson spokesperson said in a statement. “The decision, whilst regrettable, reflects our precautionary approach to managing the pandemic from a people and travel perspective whilst vaccination programs are rolled out globally.”
U.S.-based journalists and industry folks are also unimpressed that MWC is happening.
“I love MWC, and I would love to go to MWC. But I think it’s just a few months too early,” said Sascha Segan, lead analyst for PC Magazine and frequent MWC attendee. “Both governments and people will still be edgy about cross-border travel this summer, and there’s always the possibility of one last spike as lifted restrictions roll ahead of vaccination rates.”
“I think if MWC does run, it will look very like last year’s truncated IFA [electronics show in Berlin], with a small population who don’t need to travel far to get there,” Segan added.
“MWC is a fantastic event, and I’ve been there almost every year for the past decade,” said Eric Villines of Anker Innovations. “So, it’s a hard one to let go. But no one on my team has received the COVID vaccination, and I could not in good conscience send them on a long-haul flight to Europe right now. I hope by next year things have changed.”
If it does go on, it looks like MWC will be less a bacchanal than in earlier years and far more muted. This, in turn, makes it hard for handset makers to spread the word about their wares, and even as digital events improve, there’s something about a physical event that adds more color—and expense—to launching the latest and greatest. The only remedy? Calling on the Greek god of health, Asclepius, to visit us all by mid-summer, things could definitely change things drastically on the world stage.