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.

The financial fallout from cancelling MWC could get messy

A lot of money was lost the moment the GSMA made the decision to cancel MWC 2020 and the process of trying to recoup some of it seems to have already started.

The GSMA itself hasn’t issued any formal announcements since last Wednesday, but it has found time to give an interview to Bloomberg. In it Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, said “We’re looking for solidarity and everybody bearing their own costs,” before insisting the GSMA doesn’t have much cash and what little it has it reinvests in the industry. Which industry, precisely, isn’t specified.

This may come as a surprise to Mobile World Congress exhibitors, who pay millions for their precious bits of square footage in the Fira each year, not to mention the additional costs around building their stands, catering, VIP access, etc. We don’t know how much profit the GSMA makes from MWC each year, but it must be in the tens of millions.

We still haven’t heard back from the GSMA following our enquiry about cancellation conditions, but the standard terms and conditions say “Termination less than 120 days prior to the Event Date, one hundred percent (100%) of the total cost of the Space, Advertising and/or Sponsorship cancelled.” However they also say “The Organizer may terminate this Agreement for any other reason than as stated in clause 16.3 at any time before the Event Date upon written notice to the Company provided that it refunds all fees paid by the Company to the Organizer.”

Clause 16.3 just covers failings on the part of the exhibiting company, so doesn’t apply in this case. The two stipulations above would seem to say that the GSMA is not contractually obliged to refund any money to exhibitors that pulled out before the whole event was cancelled, but is obliged to give it all back to those who had yet to pull out after that announcement.

It’s presumably this latter constituency, which still seems to account for the majority of all exhibitors, that Granryd was appealing to with his call for solidarity. How much solidarity those exhibitors feel was shown to them by the GSMA during their negotiations over the cost of attending, however, will be a matter for them to consider.

The Bloomberg interview went on to describe lengthy debates with Spanish officials who were not happy about the prospect of losing the revenue boost that comes with thousands of telecoms types coming to town for the week. The GSMA public position, however, is that money never entered its collective mind during the negotiations.

So what were they negotiating about then? Until the last minute the Spanish authorities were leaking to the press that they saw no reason to cancel. This was presumably part of the negotiation process, designed to place the decision, and thus liability, for cancelling totally in the GSMA’s hands. The final position of the Spanish authorities on the matter remains unclear, but the negotiations were apparently so important that they invited Bloomberg to take a photo of them.

The very accommodating Bloomberg piece seems to constitute initial public positioning by the GSMA ahead of the negotiations with exhibitors that may well have already started. Our understanding is that many of the companies that pulled out before the official cancellation did so without the expectation of getting anything back. But that was then.

Will they still be so sanguine if they hear their competitors have got a bunch of cash back, just for hanging in there even as the cancellation of the show seemed increasingly inevitable?  The financial implications of the cancelling of MWC 2020 could start to snowball rapidly If the Fira demands full payment and exhibitors start asking for their money back. The GSMA’s annual report doesn’t offer much information about the financial side of things, but its major members must be feeling nervous about who will end up paying the bill for this year’s MWC.

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.

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.

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.

MWC cancellations snowball as show implements strict coronavirus precautions

At least four more major participants pulled out of MWC 2020 over the weekend, while restrictions on visitors from China have been tightened.

Amazon, Nvidia, Sony and Viavi have now all confirmed they’ve decided the risk of coronavirus infection is too great for them to allow their formal presence to go ahead. Here are their statements.

Amazon: “Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020, scheduled for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain.”

Nvidia: “We’ve informed GSMA, the organizers of MWC Barcelona, that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event. Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern.

“MWC Barcelona is one of the world’s most important technology conferences. We’ve been looking forward to sharing our work in AI, 5G and vRAN with the industry. We regret not attending, but believe this is the right decision. We’re grateful for GSMA’s leadership and continued efforts to ensure the safety of all attendees.”

Sony: “Sony has been closely monitoring the evolving situation following the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization on January 30th, 2020. As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

“The Sony press conference will now instead take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am (CET) on February 24, 2020 as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel to share our exciting product news. https://www.youtube.com/user/sonyxperia. Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times.”

Viavi: “After reviewing all available data, VIAVI has chosen to cancel participation in this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona out of an abundance of caution and concern for our employees, customers and partners.”

There are, of course, rumours of other cancellations, but none confirmed at time of writing. Cnet reports that Samsung is still exhibiting, but is acting to protect just its senior execs, which isn’t a great look if it’s true. We asked Samsung for comment and were told that, while there is no official statement, the company is still attending.

Meanwhile the organisers of MWC 2020, the GSMA, issued another update over the weekend, affirming once more that the event is still going ahead, but announcing a raft of new precautions and restrictions designed to mitigate the risk of coronavirus infection to exhibitors and attendees.

  • All travellers from the Hubei province will not be permitted access to the event (MWC Barcelona, Four Years From Now (4YFN), xside and YoMo)
  • All travellers who have been in China will need to demonstrate proof they have been outside of China 14 days prior to the event (passport stamp, health certificate)
  • Temperature screening will be implemented
  • Attendees will need to self-certify they have not been in contact with anyone infected.

While it’s totally understandable that the GSMA will do everything in its power to make the show as safe as possible, it’s hard to se how some of those measures will be enforceable. What does ‘self-certify’ even mean? Also this advice was issued yesterday, 15 days before the official start of the event. So, essentially, if you haven’t left China for the event already, don’t bother.

The whole event feels like it’s balancing on a knife-edge, with just one more negative development potentially enough to tip the balance towards outright cancellation. We understand many companies are following Ericsson’s lead and conducting formal risk assessments, the results of which are probably already being analysed. The smart money was on Nokia pulling out after the Ericsson decision, but we’ve heard nothing from them yet. The biggest exhibitor, however, is Chinese firm Huawei, and the fate of MWC could lie in their hands.