Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the world’s biggest smartphone event. Each year, it takes place in Barcelona, Spain, and draws in about 100,000 attendees. This year, it was one of the first major events to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although many tech events in 2020 have been replaced with virtual conventions, MWC was not. Since it was canceled on short notice, GSMA, the industry organization responsible for it, didn’t have time to plan something else. Fortunately, it will be more prepared for MWC 2021.
In a recent announcement, GSMA confirmed that next year’s show has been pushed back to late-June instead of its usual February date. More noteworthy is the fact that organizers are planning on hosting an in-person event.
In a time where there are virtually no large gatherings—especially not indoors—it’s hard to imagine a global tech conference returning to the in-person format. However, that is the optimistic approach that GSMA has decided to take. Whether or not MWC 2021 actually happens in-person remains to be seen.
GSMA director general Mats Granryd said in a statement, “With a continuously changing global outlook and following consultation with our board and membership and our top exhibitors, we have taken the careful decision to reschedule… MWC21 Barcelona in June.”
“The health and safety of our exhibitors, attendees, staff, and the people of Barcelona are of paramount importance,” he adds.
It’s worth noting that MWC Shanghai, a smaller version of the Barcelona event, will now occur in February instead of June.
MWC is an essential platform for many tech companies, including the likes of Samsung, LG, and Huawei. It provides an opportunity to show off their flagship devices and make announcements regarding new advances. Other industry players such as Qualcomm and Ericsson are typically present alongside major mobile carriers to talk about things like 5G.
Despite the importance of MWC, questions remain of whether or not hosting the event in-person is worth it. After all, large events have already proven to have deadly consequences. A motorcycle rally that took place in Sturgis, South Dakota, back in August that drew nearly half a million participants accounted for an estimated 266,766 COVID-19 cases.
To put things in perspective, that is 19 percent of the total number of cases reported in the entire United States during the period of August 2 to September 2. Researchers note that the cases cost the public health system an estimated $12.2 billion.
It’s worth noting that the rally was largely an outdoor event. MWC 2021 won’t be. With its global audience the smartphone convention could have a devastating effect on public health if it’s anything like Sturgis. It could realistically set back the world’s response to COVID-19 by months or longer.
Fortunately, GSMA is planning a virtual component to the event. The effort should help reduce the number of people physically gathering in Barcelona. That could serve as a pivot should the event need to go all-digital.
Given the current trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s certainly a possibility. Unless things are looking much better next summer, it is also what should happen.