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MWC 2021 should be cancelled and everyone but the GSMA knows it

OPINION: Next-month’s in-person Mobile World Congress must be cancelled. The risks far outweigh the rewards and the big tech companies dropping out know it. It’s time for the GSMA to take heed.

So, Samsung and Lenovo are out. Google (hence Android) won’t be going. Intel, Microsoft, Facebook, BT, Nokia and Sony say no. Qualcomm isn’t travelling either. All have prioritised their safety of their employees. Many will deliver virtual presentations instead. Yet, as it stands, the in-person portion of Mobile World Congress is still going ahead in Barcelona from June 28. 

Why? There is categorically no need for this conference to happen in an in-person manner this year. It’s the height of irresponsibility and the GSMA should cancel the in-person portion of the event. Just like it did last year when it insisted all the proper precautions were in place to tackle the emerging crisis. Eventually it was forced to cancel because everyone and their dog backed out. Lives were probably saved as a result. You suspect a 2021 postponement is where it’s going too if Huawei and ZTE, two of the only big name attendees left standing, change their stance. 

In Britain we’re finally seeing the fruits of hard lockdowns and a successful vaccine roll-out that has allowed us to finally see and, soon, hug our friends and family. We’ll be able to sit in a pub and have a pint again from next week. We’ll be able to enjoy the Euros together this summer. In mainland Europe, the vaccination efforts are gathering speed and they’re seeing great progress too.

Why put all that at risk by encouraging people to travel across national borders and gather for an indoor event that’s also potential super-spreader shindig just as things are looking up? Right now, potential new variants are considered a greater threat than simple case numbers. It is feared vaccine-resistant variants could undo much of the hard-fought progress made. They could take weeks to fully take root in the home countries of attendees.

Privileged position

Look, at Trusted Reviews bringing you the latest tech news, reviews and features is our passion; we live and breathe it. But we value actually living and breathing a little bit more. It’s far more important than looking at a mobile phone the company is going to send us to review anyway. It’s far more important than being present for a press conference that’s being live streamed. 

MWC is important to a lot of people; especially the smaller vendors looking for a break for their innovations. We’ve stumbled upon loads of them down the years, within the lesser-trodden areas of that Barcelona conference arena. We feel bad for those who may miss that window of opportunity to get their product in front of the eyes of the right people if the event can’t go ahead this year. 

But it’s not exactly the Olympic Games, is it? Having a fully-virtual MWC event this summer, rather than an in-person showcase, isn’t going to leave a big empty space in the history books, where athletes in their prime were denied the shot they’d trained for their entire lives. It’s not going to be a case of “Samsung had prepared this amazing innovation that would have changed the world if only there had been people at MWC too see it” is it?

It’s a very privileged position being the first to get our hands on the best phones and new gadgets and providing you with our first impressions, which we don’t take lightly. But perspective is everything here.

Honestly? It didn’t feel like the coverage of the tech press, as a collective, suffered significantly from the cancelled MWC last year, just like it didn’t for CES in January and hasn’t for so many of the in-person events that haven’t happened.

Sure, maybe we missed a couple of scoops from lesser-publicised companies we met on the floor. There might have been some relationship building we missed out on. It might have taken slightly longer to get the products after the announcements. However, most companies have adjusted their strategy to ensure we have everything we need to do the job. The major ones haven’t missed a beat.

As a result we’re not jostling with others to get a feel of the phones, in lighting that makes good photography and video much harder to achieve and we can take more time than the five or six minutes we usually get to ensure we can convey confidence in those initial narrative-shaping impressions.

Every precaution… except the main one

Look, the GSMA has gone into a PR offensive and made clear it is taking every precaution to ensure a safe environment for exhibitors and attendees. You’ll need a negative test to travel to the event, attendees must make daily health declarations, and you can get tested before you come home. 

The venue is ‘no touch’, the organisers have improvements to ventilation and they’re adding more exits and entrances. They’re doing all they can and it’s still not enough. But at this time nothing would be. GSMA can’t control that right now, but it can control whether it is putting people at unnecessary risk by hosting an in-person event people feel compelled to be at. The new normal shouldn’t be like the old normal.

The in-person festivities should be cancelled as soon as possible. Everyone knows it. We love Barcelona, but can live without Mobile World Congress in the flesh for another year. Do the right thing, GSMA, and hopefully we can look forward to seeing you again in 2022. 

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