In what is an increasingly dismal downward spiral, MWC 2020 appears to be on the verge of collapse. The fate of the world's biggest smartphone event, an annual convention held in Barcelona for a decade, will allegedly be decided on Friday. That this news comes on the day of Samsung Unpacked and the launch of the Galaxy S20 feels especially... weird.
The show has been threatened by the fear and paranoia surrounding the Chinese coronavirus epidemic, which topped 42,000 cases by Tuesday. The number of companies withdrawing from MWC as a result of concerns about a global pandemic stemming from the convention also grows daily now. Currently, Amazon, LG, NVIDIA, ZTE, MediaTek, Intel, Vivo, Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, and Sony are among the most notable brands to back out. Smaller firms have dropped off as well. More cancellations aren't just likely: they're inevitable. Privately, a number of major exhibitors have confided in us that their plans remain up in the air.
Additionally, MWC's largest supporting hotel partner, B Network, will make thousands of rooms booked for the convention nonrefundable starting Friday, according to PCMag's Sascha Segan, putting yet more pressure on attendees.
B Network (official hotel reservations, thousands of rooms) has a no-refunds policy starting Friday.
— Sascha Segan (@saschasegan) February 11, 2020
The GSMA's meeting on Friday will decide whether or not to cancel MWC outright, but it seems, increasingly, that much of the damage has already been done. While attendance would likely still be significant, the specter of coronavirus is gaining steam. Spain's La Vanguardia quotes one doctor who claims that a single case of the virus at the convention has a 20-30% chance of causing a full-on outbreak. While I am not an epidemiologist and find that number quite difficult to believe, excessive caution tends to win out during incidents of hysteria, as people quickly start envisioning worst-case scenarios.
Among those worst-case scenarios is the prospect of the damage even a handful of infections being reported at the show would do to the GSMA, and to MWC itself. There is a distinct possibility that such a scenario could lead to the permanent demise of Mobile World Congress, and the serious diminishing of the GSMA as an organization. On the other side of the coin, cancelling the show would do serious damage to its reputation as well. Hundreds of millions of dollars (quite possibly billions) are tied up in the show's advertising, booths, flights, accommodations, and staffing. The vast majority of that money will simply go down the drain if MWC is called off.
Currently, Android Police will keep our attendance as initially planned (it helps that our flights aren't refundable!), but there's a growing possibility we won't have all that much to do there but munch on the local food and (hopefully) spend time with the Galaxy S20.
Personally, this would be my ninth MWC, a show that I've watched grow and evolve in significance and character in the past decade. Previously a bit of a mobile sideshow for weird concepts, MWC has become center stage for brands like Huawei, Xiaomi, LG, Sony, and Oppo to show off their newest flagship smartphones to the world. Of those brands, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Oppo still plan to make their big unveils in Barcelona later this month, but I get the sense there's a real possibility those plans may end up scuttled.
Regardless, I'll be in Barcelona no matter what happens. I'm just not quite sure how I'll be spending my time.