Now, GSMA is trying again, in what could be a test run for the return of large, in-person tech events.
This year will likely be different, now that organizers have a year’s worth of knowledge about the virus and many countries have begun rolling out vaccinations. (Last year, before the event was canceled, safety plans included health checks, additional cleaning and barring any attendees who had visited China in the prior two weeks.)
Despite those health precautions, some are likely to be wary of attending an event with tens of thousands of attendees at a time when the pandemic remains a threat and concerns about Covid-19 variants have ramped up.
“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. “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.”
The company said it looks forward “to the opportunity to rejoin future events.”
“The health of our employees, customers and partners is of paramount importance to us,” Nokia said in a statement. “Given the international nature of the event and with the global vaccine roll out still in its early phases, we have made the considered decision to instead participate in only the virtual event.”
GSMA clearly saw at least some of this coming: In its Monday announcement, the group said this year’s Mobile World Congress will be a hybrid event, with online portions for those uncomfortable with attending in person.
“We respect the decisions that have been made by a handful of exhibitors and look forward to welcoming all companies back to Barcelona for future editions of MWC,” a GSMA spokesperson said in a statement to CNN Business Wednesday.
“We appreciate that it will not be possible for everyone to attend MWC Barcelona 2021. This is why we have developed an industry-leading virtual event platform that will ensure everyone can enjoy the unique MWC experience.”
The return of in-person conferences
GSMA has pointed to the success of a conference it held in Shanghai last week, which drew 25,000 in-person participants and 175,000 virtual attendees.
“Our partners, exhibitors, board, and local businesses’ support was heartening, and everyone contributed to creating a safe environment by sticking to the safety measures,” GSMA Director General Mats Granryd said in a statement Monday of the Shanghai event. “I am now looking forward to MWC21 Barcelona; it is time to bring together the mobile ecosystem in-person.”