Ericsson bails on MWC Barcelona 2021

In what feels somewhat like a repeat of 2020, Ericsson has confirmed it’s pulling out of participation at the mobile industry MWC show in Barcelona again because of impacts from Covid-19. 

In a statement emailed to FierceWireless, Ericsson said: “In view of the continuing impacts from Covid-19 and our primary consideration towards our people, their health and well-being, we have decided not to participate MWC 2021.”

Ericsson, a leading network equipment vendor and usually one of the show’s largest exhibitors, had been confirmed earlier but changed course Monday, citing caution as vaccine distribution is still being rolled out around the world.  

“The decision, whilst regrettable, reflects our precautionary approach to managing the pandemic from a people and travel perspective whilst vaccination programs are rolled out globally. We look forward to the opportunity to rejoin future events and continue to work closely with the GSMA and industry partners,” Ericsson continued.

Ericsson wasn’t the first to pull out of last year’s event, but touched off what seemed like a domino effect with an exodus of companies, including rival Nokia, soon following suit. The show’s host GSMA ultimately cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 weeks before it was scheduled to start.  

The lead up to MWC20 a year ago was undoubtedly different, with what would become a global pandemic just starting to impact the live events industry in early 2020. Attendees and vendors had to scramble to make last minute decisions and shift to new plans.

This year, it’s understandably expected that fewer companies and individuals are willing to travel given the current situation.

RELATED: MWC21 in Barcelona still on as in-person event: GSMA

The 2021 MWC event has already been pushed back to the end of June and isn’t expected to attract as many attendees as years prior. As one of the industry’s biggest shows, more than 100,000 people usually attend, and LightReading reported this year’s event hoped to draw in 40,000 to 50,000 visitors.

Along with Ericsson, it had confirmed Huawei and AT&T among participants.

Ericsson’s absence from MWC21 is significant for the trade show, and possibly GSMA. The global industry body this past summer cut 20% of its workforce after cancelling its flagship MWC Barcelona and MWC Shanghai events in the face of Covid-19.

In an article posted on Mobile World Live Tuesday, a statement by GSMA regarding Ericsson’s withdrawal from MWC21 in Barcelona said it understood not everyone could attend and cited a virtual event platform that is part of this year’s event.

“We appreciate that it will not be possible everyone to attend MWC Barcelona 2021. This is why we have developed an industry-leading virtual event platform that will ensure everyone can enjoy the unique MWC experience. The in-persona and virtual options are provided so that all friends of MWC Barcelona can attend and participate in a way that works for them,” GSMA stated.

In a reply to Fierce, a GSMA spokesperson also stated "We respect Ericsson’s decision and look forward to welcoming the company back to Barcelona for future editions of MWC."

Ericsson’s decision came the day GSMA released its health and safety plan for MWC21, including negative Covid-19 tests, proof of negative rapid test results repeated every 72 hours, double the amount of entrances and exits, and temperature checks, among others.

RELATED: MWC 2021 in Barcelona at mercy of Spain's Covid situation

GSMA last month held its MWC Shanghai 2021 event, which it said attracted around 25,000 attendees with another 175,000 viewing programs and presentations virtually.

Another consideration is Barcelona itself, a city that usually gets an important economic boost from the MWC tradeshow. Spain was also hit hard by Covid-19, with more than 3.1 million confirmed cases and over 71,400 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.  

There are certain travel restrictions in place for Spain. That includes U.S. citizens, who can’t enter the country except with special permission or specific requirements. Spain also restricted air travel from the U.K., currently until March 16  

A GSMA spokesperson told PCMag that the organization is working closely with the Spanish government regarding travel restrictions and visa requirements for essential business travel.

While it’s unclear what the situation will be by the end of June, that could have an impact as well.

"Visa requirements for travel are dynamic and we encourage everyone travelling to attend the show to remain up-to-date" by accessing the MCW Barcelona website, along with travel information issued by attendees' country of residence, with additional info at the Spain Travel Health portal,  a GSMA spokesperson added in an email to Fierce.  

Updated with additional GSMA comments on Ericsson's withdrawal and visa requirements.