February has begun and that means only one thing in our business - planning for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona goes up a gear. This year, however, the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China and subsequently around the world threatens to cause chaos. Here's some hopeful speculation.
The Mobile World Congress starts in just three weeks in Barcelona, Spain. For the media, it starts even earlier. I've personally been really excited about this year's edition as it will be my first time on the show floor in Fira Gran Via. MWC remains the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry, and I was anticipating 2020 could be quite an innovative year. Foldables are going to be big again this year but unlike last year, we would not be looking at them through thick glass.
I'm also excited to see what the likes of HMD Global, which had an impressive showing at the MWC 2019 with new Nokia smartphones such as the Nokia 9 PureView, will bring to Barcelona this year. I want to see what Sony has up its sleeve, too. As the media invites and press conference confirmations roll in, one thing is being discussed more than any new device or technological innovation in our editorial office - how to Coronavirus could impact the show.
GSMA statement on Coronavirus
As far as we know, the MWC 2020 is going ahead. The GSMA, the organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide and that puts on the Mobile World Congress, issued a statement on January 31 that it is "continuing to monitor and assess the potential impact of the Coronavirus on its MWC20 events held annually in Barcelona, Shanghai, and Los Angeles and as well as the Mobile 360 Series of regional conferences".
The GSMA also confirmed that there have been no registration impacts on MWC Barcelona thus far, and that it will proceed as planned, across all venues at Fira Gran Via, Fira Montjuïc and La Farga L’Hospitalet, including YoMo and Four Years From Now (4YFN). The GSMA is working on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), and will also be carefully following applicable Chinese government recommendations, Spanish health authority recommendations, and police/health recommendations and protocols.
There will also be increased cleaning and disinfection program across all high-volume touchpoints such as catering areas, surfaces, handrails, and we assume demo stations where thousands pick up smartphones to try them.
Travel restrictions remain a worry
Despite the fact that the GSMA says the event is going ahead, with extra precautions being taken, the fact that air travel in and out of China has been disrupted remains a concern. Last week, British Airways took the decision to suspend all of its direct flights to the Chinese mainland. It will still fly in and out of Hong Kong, but this is bound to affect Chinese companies' plans to get staff to Barcelona for the MWC if is not lifted soon. Lufthansa has taken a similar decision, and also suspended all flights in and out of China. Lufthansa's move also affects subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines.
Austrian Airlines will suspend its flights to and from China (Beijing & Shanghai) until February 9th. For operational reasons, acceptance of bookings for flights to China will be suspended until the end of February.— Austrian Airlines (@_austrian) January 29, 2020
BA said in a statement: "We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority." Lufthansa operates 73 flights to and from mainland China each week, and without the British and German national airlines, travel to Europe for Chinese attendees is likely to be much more difficult.
I remain positive about the MWC 2020 in Barcelona later this month, and of course will respect any decisions taken to prevent the Coronavirus outbreak spreading further, but as a tech journalist who is excited about the trade show, I am concerned about how the crisis could impact the event.
Let's hope the show goes ahead in a couple of weeks and that the Coronavirus is brought under control as quickly as possible. World health is more important than consumer tech products, naturally, but it would be a shame for there to be a smaller presence from the Chinese manufacturers this year, many of whom are injecting a lot of cool ideas into the smartphone market, in particular.
Are you excited about the MWC 2020 in Barcelona? Let us know what you want to see at the show in the comments section below.