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Industry observers called the cancellation of Mobile World Congress 2020 disappointing but understandable.
The cancellation was announced on Wednesday, with hosting organization GSM Association officials attributing the move to concerns regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Prior to the announcement, large companies — including Amazon and Sony — said they were pulling out of the Barcelona-based event.
“The GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA CEO John Hoffman said in a statement.
Mobile industry experts said there would be something lost without this year’s event but noted that global health worries superseded those concerns.
“[MWC has] become such a significant industry event for launching the next year’s worth of mobile technology,” said Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst J.P. Gownder. “It’s a very central point of community and industry socialization, … so, from that perspective, there’s something lost.”
Gownder does not believe any one particular product or company will be
hamstrung by the move, but described the event as an important one for deal-making and relationship-building.
“The real loss is the sense of community and bringing people together,” he said. “Much like CES, it’s a case where, globally, you’re getting all these people working together in an ecosystem.”
Asian companies, Gownder said, might feel the loss more keenly than Western firms. Those businesses, he said, often have a harder time getting their messages heard in the west than vice-versa. Therefore, MWC Barcelona 2020 represents an opportunity for them that they will not have this year.
Jason Bayton, chief product officer at Social Mobile and owner of Bayton.org, said, had MWC Barcelona 2020 taken place, there would have been health concerns.
“On that basis, I think they made the right decision,” he said. “I’m just disappointed because I have been going there the last couple of years and I enjoyed it thoroughly.”
Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said the cancellation is a consequence of a more-connected world.
“The ramifications of local health challenges become global soon,” he said. “MWC is the first victim in the mega-conference league, but not a surprise given the large number of Chinese headset makers who understandably should not travel — and even could not travel.”
The GSMA and participating companies, Mueller said, faced a corporate responsibility question, adding that the costs of holding and attending a conference might exceed the benefits.
The coronavirus outbreak, Bayton said, has already had an impact on the mobile supply chain. As the industry depends on parts mass produced in China, the outbreak has led to uncertainty. When the situation does resolve, he said, the mobility market may make changes.
“I imagine things will bounce back at some point and normalize a bit more,” he said. “Obviously, the mobile market is not going away. The innovation is still there, but I imagine there will be a stronger effort to diversify.”
TechTarget Senior Site Editor Erica Mixon contributed to this report