Vendors are one thing, but MWC20 was never going to survive telco withdrawals
A WEEK IN TELCO IT: There’s really only been one story in Telco IT this week and, of course, it’s the cancellation of Mobile World Congress 2020 announced on social media on Wednesday night. It’s hard at the moment to see it as anything other than a body-blow to the mobile communications industry, to Barcelona, and to all the businesses that rely on 110,000 people landing in the Catalan capital.
I’m an optimist, says Jeremy Cowan, so in time I expect we’ll be able to extract some positives from the crisis. Just not this week. Many companies are reacting quickly and creatively, organising online meet-and-greets, digital marketing services to replace face-to-face ones (a shout out here for the rapid response from our own team who reacted so rapidly to support their clients), and the likes of Ericsson and Huawei (to name just two) who are turning pre-arranged, pre-MWC local briefings for media and analysts into something more ambitious.
This would have been my 20th annual visit – I date back to the shows in Cannes when 30,000 visitors were too much for the Cote d’Azur venue – and in a masochistic way I’ll miss the long days and nights spent schlepping from Fira Halls 1 to 8 to 1 again, learning more from industry insiders in five long days than I have in the previous month or two. But I won’t miss the bread-based diet, constant deadlines, caffeine/sleep imbalance, and misuse of the word “excited” at the launch of another software version 6.1.
Costs for the industry will be high
I thought the sequence of events last week was quite informative. A large-scale exhibitor, Korea’s LG, pulled out of the event on February 6th, followed by another giant, Ericsson on Friday 7th, even as travel restrictions from China were tightened further. Smaller vendors privately told us they would not attend, and the industry waited for a GSMA cancellation on Monday. But the GSMA website just said it was “aware” of the virus. Newsflash: So was most of the planet.
Denmark’s Strand Consult put it well on Friday saying, “GSMA … decided to cancel the event after one major operator after another cancelled. When GSMA chairman and Orange CEO Stéphane Richard cancelled, it was obvious that the event would not happen.” To be clear, says Strand, it was not the likes of Samsung, Nokia, Ericsson and LG pulling out that stopped the show, but the major mobile operators like Sprint and AT&T, adding, “If mobile operators don’t attend, the value of the event drops, and it becomes difficult to justify the costs involved.”
Those costs for the industry will be high. At time of writing, it’s unclear how many exhibitors will see a refund from the GSMA. While we feel for our friends on the GSMA team who put so much effort into the event every year, our primary concern is less for the blue-chip vendors and Tier 1 operators, and more for the start-ups and entrepreneurs who sink a vast percentage of their annual marketing budget into MWC (and with good reason). As a small, independent media house ourselves with a heavy focus on MWC we know the value of the event for us and for our customers in reaching a qualified audience. So, we are already planning for 2021 and are now working to get our business partners’ messages out in alternative ways.
US investment in Euro 5G vendors rubbished
A curious 5G side-show has emerged in the States. There has been high-level push-back following calls in early February for US government investment in a European 5G equipment rival (Ericsson or Nokia) to guarantee a supply of 5G equipment that isn’t compromised by the Chinese state. The idea has now been shot down by US telcos and, not surprisingly, equipment provider Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins, was dismissive.
Interviewed by CNBC, AT&T’s CEO and chairman, Randall Stephenson said, “governments taking positions in private companies to develop private solutions I just don’t think is a good idea.”
He added, the US should innovate and explore open and software-based solutions not leave itself “tied to single providers”.
The author is Jeremy Cowan
(pictured left), editorial director
& publisher of VanillaPlus.com,
The Evolving Enterprise
and IoT Now.