Ericsson nixes MWC Barcelona attendance

Ericsson is opting out of Mobile World Congress Barcelona again this year due to coronavirus safety concerns, announcing its decision on the same day that the GSMA released an updated plan to control health risks to attendees.

MWC 2021 Barcelona had previously been rescheduled from its usual February timeframe, to June 28-July 1. Yesterday, the GSMA shared details of its plan to manage Covid-19 risks at the event, which include providing multiple rapid testing centers, requiring attendees to wear masks and provide a negative test result in order to access the venue and requiring additional negative tests every 72 hours during the conference. GSMA leadership has also said that it expected to restrict overall attendance to 50,000 people, compared to typical attendance of more than 100,000.

The combination of measures apparently were not enough to entice Ericsson to attend.

“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,” Ericsson said in a statement provided to RCR Wireless News. “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. We look forward to the opportunity to rejoin future events and continue to work closely with the GSMA and industry partners.”

The network equipment vendor is usually one of the largest exhibitors at the high-profile global telecom showcase, and one from which other companies take their cues. Last year, Ericsson’s exit from the conference was part of a tipping point of companies pulling out of the show, which ultimately resulted in the event being cancelled. At that early point in the pandemic, the virus was still largely confined to China and there were only about 1,000 casualties of the virus globally. Now it has spread around the world and killed more than 2.6 million people. Covid-19 vaccines are in the process of being distributed and the number of vaccinated people is ramping up around the world, but the vaccines are far from being ubiquitously available.

In addition, significant travel restrictions remain in place globally that would complicate would-be attendees’ travel plans. For example, the European Union, including Spain, is only allowing visitors from six countries at present: Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. The extent to which travel restrictions might change between now and the MWC Barcelona conference dates remains unclear, particularly with concerns about new and more contagious variants of Covid-19 that are circulating globally.

Last September, the GSMA had announced date changes for its roster of annual events that was aimed at enabling a return to in-person conferences with its full slate of MWC events in Shanghai, Barcelona and Los Angeles. MWC21 Shanghai was moved to late February and Barcelona to June 28-July 1. MWC Shanghai was held as planned, with official photos from the show illustrating both significant crowds (despite attendance being restricted) as well as pervasive mask-wearing; it was designed as a hybrid event with about 20,000 people expected to attend in-person, plus a significant online presence to support virtual attendance.

“Working together with the Shanghai authorities, we’ve just concluded the first in our MWC series in Shanghai. Our partners, exhibitors, board, and local businesses’ support was heartening, and everyone contributed to creating a safe environment by sticking to the safety measures,” said GSMA Director General Mats Granryd in a statement. “I am now looking forward to MWC21 Barcelona; it is time to bring together the mobile ecosystem in-person.”

Additional details on the GSMA’s safety plans were posted to the MWC Barcelona conference site today, and the GSMA said that registration for MWC Barcelona will open in the coming weeks. Some of the changes that the GSMA highlighted were doubling the number of entrances and exits in use at the Fira de Barcelona, re-vamped food service areas, mandatory use of masks, increased digitalization of check-in to limit person-to-person contact, 1,300 disinfectant dispensers placed around the venue, increased on-site medical staff and a custom smartphone app that will remind users when they are due for the 72-hour tests.

“Planning in a pandemic is complicated,” the GSMA said in its release on the MWC Barcelona safety measures. “Global circumstances remain dynamic, and so we must behave accordingly, which means constant evaluation and fine-tuning. We are adapting as necessary whilst leading consistently with our role as convenors of a critical ecosystem.”

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