The world’s biggest phone show has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The world’s biggest phone show, Mobile World Congress, is no longer taking place this year. After coronavirus threatened to throw MWC into chaos, the GSM Association (GSMA), which organizes the show, has now canceled it. It comes after more than a week of exhibitors and companies pulling out of MWC.

In a statement, GSMA CEO John Hoffman said the coronavirus outbreak has made it “impossible” to hold the event. MWC was scheduled to take place in Barcelona between February 24th and the 27th.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event. The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

Coronavirus infections have exceeded 42,000 with the total number of deaths at more than 1,000. Most infections and deaths have been reported in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province in China, but at least 25 countries have now reported cases. The GSMA had tried to allay fears with increased disinfection measures on site, recommending attendees don’t shake hands and even ban on visitors traveling from the province in China where coronavirus was first discovered.

The GSMA is an industry trade body that represents more than 1,200 companies across the mobile ecosystem, and MWC is the chance for thousands to gather for partnerships, deals, and product launches. MWC is usually held annually in Barcelona, and it has a big economic impact of 492 million euros, and also generates 14,100 part-time jobs.

MWC 2020 was set to feature a big Chinese phone maker presence, with all of the country’s major smartphone brands set to appear at the show. LG pulled out of MWC earlier this month, and ZTE canceled a planned press event over coronavirus fears. Ericsson, one of the largest exhibitors at MWC, also withdrew from the show, before Nvidia, Intel, Vivo, Sony, Amazon, and NTT Docomo all followed and canceled appearances. Cisco, Nokia, BT, and HMD also canceled appearances this week.

Update, February 12th 2:12PM: Article updated with full GSMA statement.


I’m not surprised by this at all but I still find it pretty sad. It’s nice to be able to see what companies are doing all in one place and it brought my attention to some pretty cool crap last year

Uuuuuh, well I clearly must not be aware of something about this virus if events in Barcelona are being cancelled…

Probably because there are a lot of chinese exhibitors. Don’t want to risk it to spread it even more around the world.

Indeed. The same thing has happened to a few other major international business-related events already. While the cancellations do harm the industries, it is the only rational decision to do.

However, the good news is that the number of newly infected is been in a steady decline every day this week. If this go well, this disaster will end in a couple of months. But it still can go very wrong if someone will go uncatched and infect lots of people.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer true. Cases today jumped 15k with the death total now over 1500.

That is because they will now include those that are clinically diagnosed, I believe via a CT scan, in the confirmed cases stat, and I believe for the confirmed deaths stat aswell.

Karma, maybe China will now pay some attention to curbing illegal wildlife trade


Where do you think a lot of exhibitors come from?

How did I hear about this from The Verge first, and not an email from MWC? Are my ticket, hotel reservation, & flights being refunded? I have so many questions.

Your ticket, probably. Airfare and hotel? Probably not unless you have travel insurance.

Sounds like you have a vacation to Barcelona upcoming.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy Barcelona without MWC!

This from leading travel insurance company Allianz"

"It’s important to note that our travel insurance products generally contain exclusions for epidemics, as well as due to known or foreseeable events, and travel alerts/bulletins, or prohibitions by any government or public authority. As such, losses that result directly or indirectly from these excluded causes of loss are generally not covered. In addition, fear of traveling is not a covered reason for trip cancellation or interruption under our travel protection plans."

not surprised at all since most of the major companies pulled out and all the different restrictions that was in place to prevent catching the virus. Wondering how all the future new toys will be announced now

Probably smaller scale press events. These things don’t just go away, but the exposure for some of this stuff will be smaller since they don’t get the glitz of an event.

It’s 2020, we should be doing this shit virtually anyway.

Nah, I’ve found that many times meeting and interacting with people is more valuable.

Whats the environmental impact of 10s of thousands of people flying around the world to meet some people and look at gadgets.

Hopefully this cancellation lets people see its a bit unnecessary and holding smaller local ones, which are streamed live, is just as good

Sadly, it is not just as good at all.

Scientists have researched video conferences in detail for many years and established that the communication levels, engagement, memorizing, and nearly every other aspect of information exchange is worse there versus real-life presence and direct contact.

It is similar to how scientists found out that people get much more information from the very same data printed on paper versus even the very best screens.

It might seem counter-intuitive but it is real as tactile sense from holding paper activates brain more than simply looking at a screen. Similarly, when people are physically present and personally communicate they engage incomparably more senses — even though this is not directly related to the information they are getting, this allows for much better cognitive work.

Im not disagreeing that face to face interactions are better, way more fun too

But regardless, scientists have also researched climate change and the airline industry has a huge impact. We need to change our behaviour and reduce how much we fly

Yes, this approach will only really work if humanity will not only stop going to conferences and business trips in general but if it will radically decrease excessive consumption in general (including meat which is alone way bigger polluter indirectly comparing to all of the flights and all of the nasty diesel/gas cars on the whole planet).

But we have built a consumerist society which likes to wear wool beanies in super-cold conditioned rooms in super warm regions and buy and throw away increadible amounts of useless trash. Which is bad but then it gives work too poor people in Malaysia, Indonesia and other regions.

Good for you as a consumer just waiting to read about the latest tech toys, not so good for industry people. Networking is a lot better in person.

I wonder if 2020 will be the year that ‘flight-shaming’ starts to affect new phones. Maybe flashing the latest folding 5G phone will carry a stigma of foolishness, while pulling out a battered old iPhone SE will be a subtle flex (lol it already is). Do we really need…?

They didn’t have a choice really.

Hopefully the tech sites are reaching out to some of the smaller players. There is a whole lot of niche devices/tech shown off that many journalists would probably skip over if they weren’t there.

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