Ericsson pulls out of MWC as Nokia ponders dropping out too

Ericsson pulls out of MWC as Nokia ponders dropping out too

07 February 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Ericsson has pulled out of the world’s biggest telecoms exhibition and Nokia is thinking about following its example.

The Swedish giant equipment vendor blamed “the outbreak and continued spreading of the novel corona virus” for its decision.

It announced its withdrawal this morning, dealing a potentially fateful blow to Mobile World Congress (MWC), an event that has attracted more than 100,000 visitors a year to Barcelona each February.

Börje Ekholm, president and CEO of Ericsson, said: “The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority. This is not a decision we have taken lightly.”

Barry French, chief marketing officer and executive VP for marketing and corporate affairs at Finnish company Nokia, carefully avoided committing the company to staying with MWC. “Not made a decision yet,” he told Capacity by email this morning shortly after Ericsson announced its plan to withdraw.

The news put the GSMA, the industry’s trade association that runs MWC, into a quandary. It has a contract with the city of Barcelona to deliver the event, yet fears about the virus, which is already responsible for more than 630 deaths among 31,500 people infected, mean that many companies are scaling back.

Only South Korea’s LG as well as Ericsson have confirmed that they will not attend the Barcelona event, but others are sending fewer people. Both Huawei and ZTE are insisting that staff coming from China spend two weeks quarantined in Europe before turning up at the Barcelona event – timing that means they must fly their people out this weekend. Unless they pull out now. 

ZTE is understood to have confirmed its attendance at MWC this morning. “ZTE will participate in MWC20 in Barcelona as planned,” said an official in China. 

Operators are also using the opportunity to reduce their presence at the exhibition and conference. A communications executive with one of the largest mobile companies told Capacity this week that it was sending fewer people to staff its stand. That person’s opposition number at another large operator said: “As far as I know it’s business as usual.”

However the industry fears that Ericsson’s momentous decision – as the second biggest telecoms equipment vendor – will give others permission to back out too.

The company said it “has already taken a number of precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of employees and to minimise the impact on the company’s operations”. But it added: “After an extensive internal risk assessment, Ericsson has decided to take further precautionary measures by withdrawing from MWC Barcelona 2020, the largest event in the telecom industry.”

Ekholm said: “We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.”

The GSMA reacted to Ericsson’s announcement by expressing regret “as they are an important player in our ecosystem”, adding: “We respect their decision and are reassured by their commitment that they will be at MWC Barcelona 2021 in full force and our rebook trends for next year’s event remain high.”

The GSMA said: “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time and will potentially have further impact,” but said: “It is of great importance to the GSMA to continue to convene the industry at this critical time where connectivity is on the cusp of a new industrial revolution. Advocating across the industry through government and ministers, policymakers, operators and industry leaders has never been more critical.”