Ericsson drops out of MWC over coronavirus concerns, Nokia weighs plans

Ericsson has pulled out of MWC 2020 in Barcelona over health concerns from the novel coronavirus, while fellow telecom equipment giant Nokia seems to be weighing its own plans for the event.

Ericsson, one of the largest global telecom equipment vendors, typically has a major presence at the show, including an expansive exhibition display.

In a statement released Friday, Ericsson said that while it appreciates GSMA has done all it can to control the risk, “Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day, and even if the risk is low the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors.”

In the same statement, Börje Ekholm, president and CEO of Ericsson, added, "The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority. This is not a decision we have taken lightly. 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.”

RELATED: GSMA cites ‘minimal impact’ on MWC from Coronavirus as LG, ZTE retreat

While earlier in the week GSMA cited minimal impact on the show from concerns over the viral outbreak, in a new statement Friday it said, “Ericsson’s cancellation will have some impact on our presence at this time, and will potentially have further impact.”

With Ericsson bowing out, there's potential others may follow suit.

In an emailed statement, Nokia said it still plans to attend, but that the Finnish vendor continues to monitor the situation closely, and “will decide our MWC plans as the situation develops."

The company added, "As of now, we continue to plan to attend, but the situation is fluid. We will make decisions based on the best interests and the health and safety of our employees and customers."

Ericsson’s decision comes after LG Electronics on Tuesday dropped out of MWC. China’s Huawei has stated it will attend as planned, as has fellow Chinese vendor ZTE, though the latter cancelled some plans, including a press conference. Both companies said they were taking preventative measures to help mitigate spread of the virus.

ZTE said its booth presentation staff would all come from countries outside of China, mainly Europe, and is ensuring all employees traveling from mainland China have no symptoms for two weeks before departing for MWC. 

GSMA, meanwhile, said it continues to monitor and asses the impact on MWC Barcelona, but the event, taking place February 24-27, will proceed as planned across all venues.

The organization noted it’s been in contact with exhibitor companies to discuss preparedness measures being put in place.

“These measures include not only adhering to advice from the WHO [World Health Organization] and other health authorities, by respecting travel restrictions where they exist, but also by arriving early in Spain to allow time for self-quarantine, ensuring access to masks and replacing attendees from high-risk countries with local European-based colleagues and representatives,” the statement said.

There are more than 31,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 600 lives since the viral outbreak was first reported in China, according to NBC.

GSMA this week added new precautions, like signage, to remind attendees of hygiene recommendations, as well as a microphone change protocol for participating speakers, and advising all attendees to adopt a “no handshake policy.” It’s also upped the amount of onsite medical staff and increased cleaning and disinfection across high-trafficked areas.

In terms of Ericsson’s announcement, GSMA said the vendor has committed to attending next year’s event in full force.

“The GSMA regret to see Ericsson’s decision not to attend MWC Barcelona this year as they are an important player in our ecosystem. 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.”

Ericsson said it plans to showcase demos built for MWC Barcelona with customers at local events called “Ericsson Unboxed.”