Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Blog

MWC Barcelona 2020 – The Biggest Event that Didn’t Happen
by Rowan Litter | 03/15/2020


The last week in February usually marks the biggest time of the year for mobile technology. Every year since 2006, leaders in the mobile industry convene at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, hosted by the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), to announce product launches, hold special press conferences and hammer out deals behind the scenes. The importance of MWC cannot be overstated. Last year, over 2,000 companies’ participated in the event and just under 110,000 people attended. Small players in the industry rely on MWC to showcase their business/product, negotiate with carriers to sell their devices, and form partnerships to compete with industry leaders. This year’s event was expected to be particularly pivotal for the commercialization of 5G infrastructure and services.

Unfortunately, the fabled event that turned Barcelona into the Mobile capital of the world did not take place this year due to novel COVID-19 virus fears. Each company handled the news of the cancellation differently. LG had planned to launch its next flagship phone, the V60 ThinQ, at MWC, but was forced to reschedule the launch after being one of the first to withdraw from participating in the event. News about the new device leaked three days before the official LG announcement, confirming many of the rumored features. The V60 will have a massive battery, 5,000mAh capacity, compared to the V50 predecessor that will better support the 5G network. World class picture and audio quality are featured, including 8K video capturing and Voice Bokeh, which separates users’ voices from background noises. Qualcomm’s® latest Snapdragon™ 865 processor coupled with dual 6.8” Full HD displays enable V60 users to create and consume content like never before. Some companies chose to simply make their announcements virtually rather than reschedule. Sony announced its new phone, the Xperia 1 II via livestream from the Sony Xperia YouTube Channel on the same day it would’ve been announced at the conference. Other companies just couldn’t stay away from Barcelona. Despite the cancellation, Honor confirmed a launch event in Barcelona which was livestreamed from their YouTube channel and featured two new smartphones (9X Pro and View30 Pro), the MagicWatch 2 and the MagicBook 14/15 laptop.

A byproduct of cancelling MWC and other events is that companies are now reevaluating the importance of the annual MWC to their business, representing a key challenge event organizers will need to overcome.  The GSMA initially took measures to keep the show going with safeguards, such as increasing onsite medical support, implementing a more rigorous cleaning/disinfection process and advising attendees to adopt a “no-handshake policy.” After a core group of telecoms (Nokia, HMD, Deutsche Telekom and BT) simultaneously dropped-out of the conference, the GSMA officially canceled the event on February 12th. In order to still give exhibitors exposure, the GSMA allowed companies to post videos to the MWC Barcelona website about their business, called MWC Shorts. These shorts are marketed to those who were registered to attend each showcase. This year’s cancellation brings about discussion in reducing the physical presence of large trade show events. Moving events like MWC online would enable companies to cut back on spending and travel, reducing costs and carbon footprint. However, it is difficult to recreate the in-person relationship building that goes on at conferences in a virtual setting and new entrants into the market may suffer as a result.

Now, more than 10 major tech conferences have since been canceled due to the virus, resulting in over $1 Billion in economic losses. The cancellation of MWC Barcelona alone cost nearly $480 million to the local economy, affecting not only the registered participants but the infrastructure of the region that relies on this event for annual revenue generation. Event shows cancellations are not the only hits the mobile industry is taking. Many manufacturing plants, corporate offices and retail stores for mobile devices are based in China. The virus’ origination and effects on the region has pushed companies to close or short-staff their factories, offices and stores. As a result, companies’ supply-chains are suffering and many have to face production shortages and launch delays that will severely impact business. The next big event for the GSMA is the Mobile World Congress 2020 in Shanghai from 6/30-7/2. As of now, the event is scheduled to proceed without interruption, but as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread globally, the show’s future is up in the air. With many organizations shifting to remote work and virtual events in response to the current global pandemic, this could represent a pivotal moment affecting workplace habits and a shift to even greater reliance on digital solutions and virtual exchanges.  

To learn more, check out our 2020 Research Outline.