More than a dozen major tech companies including Amazon(AMZN), Facebook (FB), Sony (SNE) and Ericsson (ERIC) have pulled out of Mobile World Congress over coronavirus fears, raising questions about the viability of this year’s conference.The latest company to withdraw from the world’s biggest mobile event is Nokia(NOK), which said it had made the “prudent decision” to cancel its participation rather than potentially expose its employees to the coronavirus that continues to spread in China. Mobile World Congress, scheduled to take place in Barcelona from February 24-27, is one of the tech industry’s most important annual gatherings. It typically draws more than 100,000 attendees and thousands of companies, including the sector’s biggest players who use it to launch new products and showcase innovations. But this year’s summit will be missing some of its headline participants. The loss of Nokia and Ericsson, the two European suppliers of 5G equipment, is particularly damaging for a conference focused on the development and use of the next generation mobile networks.Intel (INTC), Cisco (CSCO), LG (LPL), Ciena (CIEN), BT (BTGOF), Rakuten Mobile, Amdocs (DOX), Deutsche Telecom (DTEGF), Nvidia (NVDA), Vodafone (VOD) and AT&T (T), the parent company of CNN, have also pulled out of Mobile World Congress.The summit will go ahead as planned, event organizer and mobile operator industry group GSMA said in a statement on Sunday, but it will be restricting access for visitors from China. Despite the withdrawal of “some large exhibitors … we remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong,” it said. Qualcomm warns that ‘uncertainty’ about coronavirus could hit the smartphone industryThe industry group said that it would carry out temperature screening and increased cleaning of “high-volume touchpoints,” such as catering areas, bathrooms, speaker microphones, handrails and public touch screens. It will double medical support at the venue and won’t admit anyone who has been in China during the two weeks prior to the event. About 5,000 to 6,000 people typically attend from China, according to GSMA. On Wednesday, GSMA said in a statement that it was monitoring the situation closely and meeting regularly with health experts.The coronavirus outbreak has already led to a number of events in Asia being canceled, relocated or postponed. A Formula 1 race that had been scheduled to take place April 19 in Shanghai has been postponed and Art Basel Hong Kong, scheduled for mid March, has been canceled.
Huawei and 5G
This year’s Mobile World Congress comes as countries around the world prepare to roll out 5G wireless technology amid an intense debate over the role that China’s Huawei should play in building 5G networks.Huawei sues Verizon for alleged patent infringement. The United States has been pressuring allies to drop Huawei as a supplier over national security concerns; Huawei denies that its products pose a risk. A spokesperson for Huawei confirmed earlier this week that the company plans to attend the conference.Ericsson and Nokia are Huawei’s big global rivals in 5G, and the conference in Barcelona would have been an important opportunity to promote their products.Earlier this week, Ericsson said it appreciated that GSMA had done everything it could to control the risk of infection. “However, as one of the largest exhibitors, Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors,” the company said.