With fears around the coronavirus outbreak running high, more than 20 companies have canceled plans to attend the global wireless industry’s premier trade show, Mobile World Congress, set to take place later this month in Barcelona.
Among those backing out are major industry players including device manufacturers LG, Sony and Vivo, chipmakers Ericsson, Intel and Nvidia, and various other tech organizations such as Amazon and Facebook. According to industry sources cited by Spanish newspaper El País, members of the conference’s organizing body, the GSMA, will meet Friday to discuss the possibility of suspending or postponing the event. A GSMA spokesperson declined to comment on the report when reached by email.
“The GSMA knows that the coronavirus has created disruption, in particular for exhibitors and attendees from around the world, including the 5% to 6% who have historically attended from China,” the group said in its most recent statement on the matter earlier this week.
The yearly event usually attracts more than 100,000 attendees from all over the world, and features major news releases and product reveals timed to capitalize on that attention. The GSMA has announced a host of measures aimed at protecting attendees from disease this year, including barring all travelers from China’s Hubei province, requiring proof from attendees who’ve traveled to China that they’ve spent the preceding two weeks outside the country, and implementing temperature screening.
In addition to the 25 companies that have canceled, as confirmed in press releases, emailed statements or Reuters reports, other companies have announced plans to scale back their presence to minimize exposure, including Norwegian telecom Telenor, Chinese phone maker ZTE and Chinese electronics giant TCL.
El País reported that the decision from Facebook on Tuesday came as an especially big blow to the GSMA because of the organizers’ recent efforts to woo web giants beyond the usual telecom industry stalwarts.
“Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” a Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to collaborate with the GSMA and our partners, and thank them for their efforts.”
With Chinese and American telecom companies—and their respective governments—locked in a fierce race to own the next generation of wireless networks, 5G, it’s not the first time MWC has been caught in the middle of international tensions. Last year’s event was marked by warring statements between U.S. government officials in attendance and executives of Chinese telecom giant Huawei over whether the latter would provide data to the Chinese state.
Update, Wednesday February 12, 12 p.m. ET: AT&T, Nokia, Cisco and Deutsche Telekom have also joined the growing list of companies backing out.