Huawei is still the leader on 5G commercial contracts

Chinese vendor Huawei went ahead with its big pre-MWC event in spite of everything and the standard levels of self-promotion took place.

Just as with last week’s Ericsson event, the cancellation of MWC due to the threat posed by coronavirus cast a pall over Huawei’s pre-show extravaganza. In fact Huawei had taken the trouble to reassure attendees yesterday that all precautions had been taken to protect them from any viral nastiness, including the self-quarantine of any Huawei employees travelling from China. We’re pleased to report an almost total absence of sneezing at the event.

The first keynote was delivered by the President of Huawei’s Carrier Business Group Ryan Ding. He started by announcing in an admirably steady voice, while 4G delivers information, 5G delivers emotion. Ding served up the expected slide featuring photos of white boxes Huawei had intended to fondle at MWC, which included the claimed lightest ever 5G base station, weighing in at a mere 25 kilos.

The most interesting slide to us, however, contained an update on the number of 5G commercial contracts Huawei has won, which now total 91. This puts them ahead of the 81 announced by Ericsson last week and well ahead of the 63 most recently announced by Nokia. Appropriately enough, Huawei’s event was many times larger than Ericsson’s, while Nokia has had no pre-MWC event that we’re aware of.

Within that 91, more than half (47) are in Europe, which is likely to trigger US President Trump more than ever, 27 are in Asia and 17 are elsewhere in the world. There were some further boasts and an attempted demo of a live 5G broadcast from the BBC, which sadly lacked audio. Ding concluded with the announcement of a $20 million investment in its UK partner innovation programme.

The undoubted highlight of the morning, however, was a panel discussion on how 5G can enable a bunch of different industries. The reason it was so great was that it was moderated by no less than Telecoms.com Deputy Editor Jamie Davies, who shrugged off a rugby injury to bring his characteristic wit and insight to the chat.

The general tone of the panel, which featured five spokespeople from UK industry, was cautious optimism about what 5G brings to the table. It was note that in its current form it offers little more than a speed boost, but things should get interesting when low-latency kicks in with standalone 5G. There was lots of speculation about what can be done to drive consumer engagement in 5G, but few concrete answers.

These sorts of big corporate chest-beating events aren’t really designed for journalists as everything (bar the panel discussion) is very scripted and rehearsed. Having said that, apart from the deal winds, Huawei didn’t overdo the self-aggrandizing. It remains in a precarious geopolitical position and claiming leadership of everything, whether true or not, is probably not a great look for Huawei right now.

GSMA tells MWC 2020 exhibitors it won’t be providing refunds

Out of pocket MWC exhibitors are being directed to a clause in their terms and conditions that absolves the GSMA of liability.

Two MWC 2020 exhibitors from opposite sides of the world independently contacted Telecoms.com to inform us that they have been received a communication from the GSMA, which runs the event, regarding the financial consequences of its cancellation. They were both directed to clause 21.10 of the Standard Terms and Conditions for Exhibition, Advertising, and Sponsorship, which reads as follows.

The Organizer shall not be liable to the Company for any losses, costs, damages or expenses (whether incurred under contract, tort or otherwise) suffered or incurred as a direct or indirect result of an event beyond the control of the Organizer, including without limitation, any act of God, disease or epidemic, strike, lock-out, industrial disturbance, failure of suppliers, act of public enemy, war, labor dispute, terrorist act, blockade, riot, civil commotion, public demonstration or governmental or local authority restraint nor shall the Organizer be liable to refund any fees.

The GSMA communication stressed that no refunds will be given, since this is a ‘force majeure’ situation, i.e. circumstances beyond the GSMA’s control. It goes on to say, however, that the GSMA is working on ‘a proposal’ designed to make the best of a bad situation and maintain good relations between the GSMA and its MWC commercial partners. We invited the GSMA to provide a statement on this matter but it declined.

Rather alarmingly, the communication also refers to the situation created by the cancellation of MWC 2020 due to the coronavirus threat as ‘uninsurable’. Surely a lot of insurance exists precisely to cover ‘acts of God’ such as this. If the GSMA’s insurers are telling it that they’re not liable for any of the cost of the cancellation then that seems like a pretty rubbish policy.

Once more the GSMA was keen to stress that it’s a not-for-profit organisation and that it finds itself in a precarious financial position as a result of the cancellation. This communication seems to be designed to position the decision not to refund as something that is out of the GSMA’s hands and builds on the Bloomberg interview as a call for industry solidarity in these trying times.

There is plenty of reason to feel sympathy towards the situation the GSMA finds itself in. Of course it didn’t want to cancel the show and, having been forced to do so by circumstances outside its control, it now faces an existential crisis. It’s also in the interest of exhibitors that value MWC to do their bit to ensure the event returns next year.

Where the GSMA find it most difficult to inspire its exhibitors to take one for the team, however, is in the matter of what it costs to attend MWC. Every year we speak to exhibitors at the event who moan about how they feel exploited and, while the GSMA may be a not-for-profit, nobody doubts MWC Barcelona itself makes a massive profit.

The telecoms industry does need to show solidarity at a time like this, but it works both ways. It would be counter-productive in the long term for exhibitors not to accept their fair share of the cost of such an exceptional piece of collective bad luck. But at the same time the GSMA should ask itself if maximising the profit it makes on MWC is the best way to help the industry is was created to support.

Apple takes double hit in China due to coronavirus

Gadget giant Apple has downgraded its quarterly forecast due to greater than expected supply and demand constraints caused by the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Referring to it by its official new name – COVID-19 – Apple said the outbreak has had a double negative effect on its business in China. On the supply side most (if not all) of Apple manufacturing is done in China. Massive manufacturers, such as Foxconn, have had their operations severely limited by the Chinese government as it tries to limit the spread of the disease, which means they haven’t been making stuff. These restrictions have been greater than Apple previously reckoned.

On the demand side, loads of shops have also been closed, meaning sales of iPhones, etc have apparently dropped off a cliff in China. Once more the restrictions to the retail sector seem to have been greater and more prolonged than Apple had anticipated. There were no specific numbers offered in the investor update, but Apple shares fell by 3% on the news.

“Outside of China, customer demand across our product and service categories has been strong to date and in line with our expectations,” said the update. Note there was no comment about Apple’s ability to fulfil that demand, what with Foxconn on a go-slow and all that. Apple famously likes to keep a very lean supply chain so it seems unlikely there’s much redundancy built into it.

Having said that, Apple customers are very loyal and if they have to wait a few weeks for their next fix of silicon loveliness then they probably will. So while Apple’s (and presumably their competitors’) Q1 2020 numbers may take a hit on the coronavirus disruption, they’ll probably compensate the following quarter and we’ll be back to business as usual. Which in Apple’s case means accumulating more money than it knows what to do with.

Mobile World Congress 2020 has officially been cancelled

The major telecoms trade show of the year has seen officially called off due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

It had seemed like just a matter of time since mobile networking vendor Ericsson decided not to take the risk last week. When its competitor Nokia, along with a bunch of major European operators, decided to follow suit earlier today, that really was game over.

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Limited, in a published statement.

“The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

All that talk of Host City Parties is probably in reference to the core issue that had presumably caused the GSMA to delay the inevitable – liability. Many reports indicated the GSMA was desperately lobbying the Spanish government to declare a health emergency, which in turn would absolve it of blame when it came to cancelling the event. This will have made the difference between the GSMA having to swallow nearly all of the cost and lost revenue from cancellation, and being able to claim a large proportion of it back from its insurers.

MWC week is going to feel very strange for everyone in the telecoms industry since the show has run uninterrupted for 30 years. At lot of people are going to be at a loose end and it wouldn’t be surprising to see bands of besuited telecoms execs roaming the streets of London in a forlorn attempt to get some return, however small, on their MWC investments. Never mind, there’s always next year.

Benign brother has got your back: China launches coronavirus app

China’s government bodies and businesses have jointly launched a mobile app to help detect if people have been in close contact with those suspected of carrying the novel coronavirus.

The app has access to multiple official holders of private data. By registering with his or her name and Chinese ID number, a smartphone user can use the app, called “Close Contact Detector” to check if he or she has been in proximity of those who are later either confirmed or suspected to have the virus. Such close contacts include travelling in the same train carriage or sitting within three rows on the same flight with those carrying the virus.

One registered user can check the status of up to three users by inputting their ID numbers and names. One ID number is limited to one check per day. The app will then return an assessment of which category the individual in question falls into: Confirmed case, Suspected case, Close contact, Normal. Xinhua, one of the major official propaganda outlets, reported that over 105 million checks have been made by users three days after the app was launched.

The app development was led by the government organisations responsible for health which was joined by China Electronics Technology Group, one of the country’s largest state-owned enterprises, as well as the leading smartphone makers Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo. The backend data comes out of the National Health Commission, the Ministry of Transport, China State Railway Group Company, the state owned enterprise that operates all the rail transport in China, and the Civil Aviation Administration, the aviation regulator.

The fact that private travel data is made readily available to business entities without explicit consent from the individuals involved may raise plenty of eyebrows in places like Europe, but the attitude in China is different. “From a Chinese perspective this is a really useful service for people… It’s a really powerful tool that really shows the power of data being used for good,” Carolyn Bigg, a Hong Kong-based lawyer, told the BBC.

“Close Contact Detector” has been pushed out by the smartphone brands as a priority app to their users in China. It is unclear how or if promoting to users of other smartphone brands, iOS users, or non-smartphone users, will be conducted. Nor is it clear if there are plans to extend the coverage to residents without a Chinese ID number, such as foreign nationals staying in China.

Telecoms.com has learned that over the last few weeks there have been other online tools to help concerned users check if they had unknowingly come into contact with confirmed victims of the new coronavirus. The key difference from the new contact detector is that, in the earlier attempts, backend data was crowdsourced from publicly available information including the flight and train numbers of the confirmed cases published in the media.

Neither is contact detector the only use case where user data is playing a role. A recent video clip making rounds on social media shows a drone flying a blown-up QR code that drivers can scan to register before they enter Shenzhen after the long Chinese New Year break. The method is deployed presumably to prevent cars and drivers registered to the major disease hit regions from going through, as well as reduce human-to-human interaction. Xinhua reported that the Shenzhen Police, which is responsible for managing the local traffic and owns the automobile and driver data, is behind this measure.

Telecoms.com joins the exodus from MWC 2020

The telecoms industry’s favourite news and analysis site had decided there’s no point in attending an event stripped of much of its purpose.

As we reported yesterday, the risk reward profile of Mobile World Congress 2020 has been deteriorating rapidly, such that concerns associated with the spread of the coronavirus infection outweigh the ever-decreasing prospect of meeting important industry figures. While at the time of writing no decision has been made to cancel the whole event, the Telecoms.com editorial team decided not to wait for the GSMA and/or Spanish authorities to act and take matters into our own hands.

Telecoms.com is far from alone in this respect. As expected, US companies have been leading the retreat from the event, presumably encouraged to do so by their legal departments. Among the latest American casualties are: AT&T, Cisco, Facebook and Sprint. Remaining US heavy-hitters yet to make an announcement include Google, Qualcomm and Verizon, and it could be that their support for smartphone launches such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 is giving them pause for thought.

As with everyone else that has pulled out we profoundly regret the need to do so. MWC isn’t just the commercial focal point of the year, but a social highlight for our industry too. It could be argued that the really important conversations happen outside of the event itself in the bars and restaurants around Barcelona and there’s one Tuesday night dinner we especially regret missing out on. Having said that our livers will be grateful to be spared the ordeal for one year at least.

Nokia pulls out of MWC – is that game over?

Finnish networking vendor Nokia has announced the cancellation of its presence at Mobile World Congress 2020.

The announcement follows the decision of competitor Ericsson to withdraw from the event last week and of ZTE to at least scale back its presence. Furthermore Cisco has announced it’s pulling out and it seems Samsung networks is too, so that only leaves Huawei among the networking vendors and largest exhibitors at the event.

While the health and safety of our employees is our absolute priority, we also recognize that we have a responsibility to the industry and our customers,” said the Nokia announcement. “In view of this, we have taken the necessary time to evaluate a fast-moving situation, engage with the GSMA and other stakeholders, regularly consult external experts and authorities, and plan to manage risks based on a wide range of scenarios.

“The conclusion of that process is that we believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress. We want to express our thanks to the GSMA, the governments of China and Spain as well as Catalonia’s Generalitat, and many others who have worked tirelessly to address the challenges resulting from the novel coronavirus, and they have our full support as they move forward.”

Nokia, like many others that have pulled out, is going to try to honour the meeting commitments it made for the show, but that won’t be easy. Having said that a lot of telecoms industry professionals are now going to be at a loose end, having blocked out a week of their diaries months in advance for the event.

It’s really hard to see how the event can go ahead now. The majority of the most significant vendors will now not be there and it looks like the major operators aren’t far behind. It’s unsettling how quickly a health emergency on the other side of the world can bring a massive undertaking like MWC grinding to a halt. Even more worrying for the event will be if a lot of people manage to achieve most of what they would have without attending.

The risk reward profile for attending MWC 2020 is deteriorating by the day

Intel is among the latest major exhibitor to pull out of MWC as rapidly diminishing attendance makes the risk of coronavirus infection increasingly hard to justify.

Many of the most recent cancellation announcements have come from US companies or ones with a major US presence. A major reason for this will be how vigorously litigious the Americans are and thus the massive legal risk companies put themselves in if they knowingly put their employees in harm’s way.

“The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution,” said the Intel statement. “We are grateful to the GSMA for their understanding and look forward to attending and supporting future Mobile World Congress events.”

US telecoms R&D company Interdigital is another to have thrown the towel in today and our conversations around the industry indicate a lot of other US companies have made the decision not to attend, but haven’t formally announced it yet. On top of that Chinese attendance will be massively diminished, in part due to the impracticality of self-quarantining for two weeks prior to the show, but again many formal announcements are being delayed.

One reason for this could be the game of financial cat and mouse show organiser GSMA will now be having to play with its exhibitors and attendees. We asked the GSMA what the cancellation conditions are but have yet to hear back from them. The MWC site offers the following cancellation terms for attendees, but the exhibitor terms don’t seem to be published.

Whether those gratuitous block capitals have been inserted recently we can’t tell, but it looks like the GSMA is determined not to be out of pocket, and you can see why. A few years ago Light Reading looked into the cash the GSMA make from MWC and came to the conclusion it trousered over $35 million in profit in 2014. Since the show has grown dramatically since then, a figure closer to 50 mil doesn’t seem at all inconceivable.

The GSMA is not for profit, so it’s safe to assume a lot of what it makes from MWC is accounted for by staff costs. Such a huge, unexpected hole in its balance sheet is bound to have profound organisational implications. So not only is the GSMA is a very difficult moral position over the prospect of creating a giant human petri dish in Barcelona, the financial implications of cancelling, after which it would presumably be obliged to refund exhibitors and attendees, are colossal.

If not before it looks like some kind of further decision will be made this Friday, with a couple of major Spanish papers reporting the major operators that actually own the mobile trade association are getting together to make a call. Those papers presumably have sources within the venue and we have to assume there is regular dialogue between the Fira and the GSMA about how much the latter has to pay the former in the case of a delay or outright cancellation.

As ever with things like legal liability and insurance it all comes down to blame. Right now it still seems to be down to the discretion of the individual or company whether or not they’re willing to take the risk of contracting coronavirus in Barcelona, but that could change. The GSMA likes to refer to the World Health Organisation for the latest on the coronavirus situation and if the WHO officially upgrades it to a pandemic, that could shift a lot more of the financial liability over to insurers.

That in turn would probably precipitate the cancellation of MWC 2020 as, even if the GSMA still wanted to go ahead, what little incentive people have to risk attending will have been removed. But even if the WHO never makes that move, the risk/reward profile for exhibitors and attendees is getting worse by the day.

Even if you leave aside concerns about coronavirus, MWC is an operator show and most people attend to get precious face time with operator execs and try to flog them stuff. If those execs aren’t there, then what’s the point in making the effort? Every single cancellation announcement makes further ones more likely because, even if none of their upfront costs are refunded, people will quite reasonably conclude there’s no point in throwing good money after bad.

Chinese attendance at MWC will be massively diminished

While the world is holding its breath gaping at the worsening coronavirus crisis, China’s leading telecom companies are already putting alternative plans in place.

Most are still planning to attend Mobile World Congress 2020, though with plenty of precautions. The death toll of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has risen above 1,000, though the new cases reported have declined, according to the official numbers from China. While the world is getting more nervous, with more companies pulling out the upcoming Mobile World Congress, some of the world’s biggest telecom companies based in China, where the epidemic originated, have rolled out alternative plans to cope with the downturn during the crisis and are looking towards the revival afterwards.

All the companies that are still planning to attend the Barcelona event have told the media that they will follow the precaution measures issued by GSMA. However, Telecoms.com has learned from China-based staff of a few global companies, who had planned to accompany their operator customers to the show, that most of the senior representatives from the Chinese operators have scrapped their travel plans. They have found the two-week self-imposed isolation in Europe not practical.

According to a report by Yicai, a Shanghai-based business publication, IDC has estimated that the total smartphone shipment in China will go down by 40% in the first two months of the year, as a result of the epidemic’s battering on the retail industry. Companies like Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo, all on the global smartphone leaderboard, have planned to launch new flagship products at the beginning of the year. They have modified the launch plans, if not changing the dates. Xiaomi, for example, has moved the launch event this week online, through live streaming. Honor, Huawei’s sub-brand, is also going to conduct its first launch of the year online.

A source inside OPPO told Yicai that the staff attending MWC have already arrived in Europe, so that they can self-quarantine for two weeks before the show starts. This is similar to the measures ZTE has announced with regard to its senior staff from China to attend the show in Barcelona. Vivo told Xinhua, one of China’s major official propaganda outlets, that its product launch event in China has been moved to online, but the company is going to appear at MWC and will launch its new products to the global markets as planned.

OPPO believes the coronavirus impact on its manufacturing is manageable, as the company has been making phones in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Algeria, in addition to the main production base inside China. Vivo, on the other hand, has extended the Chinese New Year break at its manufacturing facilities till 10 February, as did the biggest OEMs Foxcomm and Inventec.

 

Amdocs, NTT Docomo and CommScope are the latest MWC casualties

Add three more major exhibitors to the growing list of companies deciding not to risk coronavirus infection at Mobile World Congress 2020, and they won’t be the last.

Software vendor Amdocs is at the heart of the telecoms industry and usually has one of the most prominent stands at the big telecoms trade show of the year. Japan’s NTT Docomo is the first major operator to decide discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to combining novel pathogens with foreign climes, while CommScope is a major fixed-line infrastructure player.

“In the face of the public health concern from the novel coronavirus, we are placing the highest priority on protecting the health of our employees, customers and partners,” said Shuky Sheffer, CEO of Amdocs. “While we appreciate the precautionary measures put into place by the GSMA, we believe the safest option is not to attend MWC 2020 in Barcelona.”

So far NTT seems to have only made the announcement in Japanese, but the magic of Google translate yielded the following: “At present, the impact of the new coronavirus is expanding, and we were planning to exhibit from February 24 (Monday)-February 27 (Thursday) 2020. In consideration of the safety of the visitors, partner companies and staff members, we decided to cancel the exhibition.”

“With the continued global threat of the Coronavirus, CommScope has made the decision to cancel our physical presence at Mobile World Congress 2020 in Barcelona,” said the CommScope announcement. “This is not a decision our executive team took lightly, and although the likelihood of contracting the virus is low, we will not risk the health of our employees, nor the business impact that would result if a quarantine were ordered.”

These latest announcements take the total to nine major contributors bailing on the big telecoms trade show of the year in the past few days, including many of its largest exhibitors. If this rate of cancellation keeps up there won’t be many left by the time Mobile World Congress 2020 opens its doors on the morning of 24 February.