How the Tech Industry Is Dealing with Mobile World Congress Cancellation

Organizers are reeling from the financial cost while big companies are rushing to find a new platform to unveil their new devices.
Chris Young
MWC at Fira BarcelonaMozilla/Wikimedia Commons

The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is one of the biggest annual events in tech. The yearly showcase brings together many of the world's largest tech companies, including Samsung, Facebook, Google, and Sony, in a conference that sees the unveiling of exciting new devices.

Unfortunately, the cancellation of this year's MWC — announced last Wednesday over fears of the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus — comes at a great cost to companies that had invested in attending the conference, as well as to the economy of Spain, where the event is held.


How has the industry been affected, and how are big companies now planning to unveil their new products now that the rug has been pulled on this year's MWC? Have a look below.

What is the cost of cancellation?

The cost to the economy of the city of Barcelona, where the MWC is held every year, is estimated to be about $500 million. As Reuters reports, however, it might be the smaller firms that are really feeling the consequences.

As mobile analyst Ben Wood told the BBC, many smaller companies might be considering whether to attend next year's event in Barcelona because "they have had to swallow many of the costs from this year's show".

How the Tech Industry Is Dealing with Mobile World Congress Cancellation
Plaza España in the city of Barcelona, where the MWC is held annually, Source: Eloi_Omella/iStock 

John Hoffman, the chief executive of the GSMA, the organization behind the MWC, promised the event would be back next year, despite this year's setback.

"It is a very dark day, it is very disappointing. But we know the sun will shine," Hoffman said. "This is about our future together, and we look forward to hosting all of you, all of our partners from around the world, for MWC '21."

What was going to be unveiled at the MWC 2020?

As the South China Morning Post reports, an improved version of the Mate X foldable smartphone, which was originally unveiled at last year's Mobile World Congress, was set to be revealed at the show this year.

How the Tech Industry Is Dealing with Mobile World Congress Cancellation
The Huawei Mate X foldable smartphone was originally released at MWC 2019. An updated version was expected at this year's conference, SourceHuawei

Rumors suggested that the new foldable Huawei phone would be similar to its predecessor, but that this one might actually get a release in Europe.

At last year's MWC, Oppo showcased its innovative under-screen selfie camera on its FindX smartphone. This year, reports say it was going to unveil the FindX 2.

Xiaomi, meanwhile, had planned to launch its Mi 10 flagship smartphone globally in Barcelona on February 23. The smartphone is the company's tenth-anniversary phone. Though the company had planned to launch the phone globally at the MWC, the phone has already been launched in China.

With a yearly average attendance of approximately 100,000 people at the MWC and hundreds of companies attending, many other launches will doubtless have to be replanned or postponed. 

What will mobile companies do now?

Several companies are going online in the absence of this year's Mobile World Congress. Huawei has already announced that it will hold a global online press conference launch event on February 24, the date it was supposed to start attending the MWC.

In their press statement, Xiaomi said "we will arrange a separate launch event in Europe at a later date, where we will share information on the Mi 10 series and more amazing products. We will keep you posted on this."

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According to reports, Sony is planning to launch its new phone — rumored to be the Xperia 2 — via a YouTube video which will either be uploaded or live streamed at the same time their MWC press event was scheduled to take place.

Many other companies have been rushing to plan new launch events since the news came out that the Mobile World Congress had been canceled, and more news will no doubt follow in the coming days.

There is a worry for the GSMA that this year's cancellation could have a knock-on effect on attendance for next year, with some big companies questioning the benefit of attending such a large event annually after investing in a new launch platform this year.

Some companies, such as Apple and Samsung already have their own launch events. Apple, in fact, never attends the MWC, preferring to launch all of its products at its own events. Sony, one of the MWC's big yearly attenders, already has a history of opting out of big conferences, having decided not to attend the gaming conference E3 this year and last.

"The GSMA now needs to be careful that there is not a knock-on effect from this year's cancellation. Major companies and many attendees will be reviewing the importance of MWC to their business and the GSMA must work hard to have a clear path forward," Ben Wood told the BBC.

In their statement about the MWC's cancellation, the GSMA said it will continue to work hard towards the MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Here's hoping the Wuhan coronavirus is soon controlled and that next year's MWC goes ahead without a hitch.