MWC Shanghai 2020 has been cancelled

The GSMA has surprised nobody by announcing the cancellation of the Chinese version of its Mobile World Congress trade show.

MWC Shanghai 2020 was scheduled for 30 June, so you can see why the GSMA decided to give it a bit more time, after the decision was made to cancel MWC Barcelona back in February. It’s fair to say the coronavirus situation has not improved since then and the Chinese government is ‘suggesting’ that large gatherings should still be avoided in the country, so that’s that.

“In light of current government guidance, the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel restrictions and other circumstances, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Shanghai 2020,” said the statement. “The GSMA has been in regular contact with stakeholders, and sought the advice of health officials and other authorities, as health and safety remain our top priority.

“The GSMA will work with government and health authorities to find a suitable date and venue to hold regional conferences in China in the latter half of 2020. We will confirm the feasibility of this in the coming months. We look forward to continuing to engage in the region throughout the year and in the build-up to MWC Shanghai 2021.”

There is no mention of what the arrangements will be regarding refunds for exhibitors and attendees, but any deviation from the settlement eventually offered after the cancellation of the Barcelona event would presumably be badly received. While the GSMA is opting for outright cancellation, many other events are still hoping to be able to reschedule for later in the year, once restrictions begin to be lifted.

GSMA sensibly softens its stance on MWC 2020 refunds

When the GSMA was forced to cancel Mobile World Congress coz of coronavirus it indicated that no refunds would be given, but a month later it has seen sense.

Attendee tickets will be 100% refunded and exhibitor have a couple of options. Those who spent up to £5,000 can get a full refund and those who spent more than that, which is presumably the vast majority, can get half of their cash back, but with a maximum of £150,000. That won’t be much consolation to the likes of Ericsson, who will have spent millions, but that’s academic since nobody who bailed out before the show was cancelled qualifies for a cash refund anyway.

Which brings us on to option two, which all exhibitors qualify for regardless of spend and cancellation status. It involves a cumulative fees credit of 125 per cent of 2020 paid fees over three years as follows:

  • MWC2021: 65 per cent fees credit
  • MWC2022: 35 per cent fees credit
  • MWC2023: 25 per cent fees credit

On top of that the rates for MWC 2021 will be the same as those for 2019.

“The GSMA values the loyalty and support our members and partners in the mobile ecosystem worldwide,” said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Ltd. “We are grateful to have the full support from our operator Board of Directors and already have formal exhibition support for MWC Barcelona 2021 from NTT DOCOMO, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone. More than ever, our sincere thoughts remain with those affected around the world in these trying times.”

We chatted to a few exhibitors and, on the whole, they seem pretty happy with the package the GSMA has come up with. The 125% refund over three years seems like a no-brainer for any company that is committed to exhibiting anyway, but our conversations indicate that many will prefer to take the cash now in order to try to rescue their 2020 marketing plans, or maybe just to help with cashflow as the business world grinds to a halt.

“The GSMA’s decision to do this is fantastic, more than fair, and really underscores the leadership they show in our industry,” said Patrick Van de Wille, Chief Communications officer at regular MWC exhibitor Interdigital. “Mobile World Congress is the absolute highlight of our marketing year, not just because it drives so much visibility but also because the timing and importance of it gives our research teams a clear set of goalposts. A decision like the one they announced today means that, for us, MWC will continue to provide that focal point for the foreseeable future.”

The GSMA was in a tight spot over this. If it dug its heels in and strictly enforced its Ts and Cs it would have alienated a lot of exhibitors and, given how the coronavirus pandemic has exploded, faced a potential PR disaster as many of its partners struggle for survival. On the other hand, giving full refunds to everyone was presumably to great a burden for even the GSMA’s generous reserves to handle.

It probably could have got away with a 100% discount over two years, so the extra 25% was a good touch. The decision to punish companies that were more decisive than the GSMA itself over the health of their employees leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth and sets up potential disputes over what, precisely, constitutes a cancellation. But on the whole this seems like a good compromise and ensures the future health of MWC without asking exhibitors to pay too much of the cost.

TM Forum postpones Digital Transformation World

The Digital Transformation World event, which was due to take place in Copenhagen in June, has been postponed to October due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Together, we are facing a truly unprecedented situation,” said Nik Willetts, CEO of TM Forum. “The global coronavirus pandemic is affecting our families, our businesses, and our communities. Our thoughts are with all those affected. We’ve been working with our members and the relevant authorities for the last few months to put in place access policies and on-site processes to mitigate the risks of the virus.

“Despite this, we feel it’s best for everyone involved to reschedule our flagship event until October. With the support of our global member base we remain on track to work together in delivering an exceptional event and appreciate everyone’s understanding during these challenging times.”

Digital Transformation World is the TM Forum’s flagship event, bringing operators and vendors together to talk telecoms tech, best practice and generally shoot the breeze. It’s traditionally held in Nice, France in May, but is switching to Copenhagen, Denmark this year. The Danish weather should still be OK in October, but it’s by no means guaranteed that the pandemic will be sufficiently contained by then. Fingers crossed.

Consensus on 6G is gradually forming

Participants at the virtual 6G Wireless Summit shared their thinking on what 6G can do and what research is needed to get the underlying technologies in place.

The 6G Wireless Summit 2020 would have kicked off in Finnish Lapland this morning. Instead, the organisers have moved it online. Except for the lack of face-to-face conversations, the virtual event is a competent substitute. This may not be the first time that speakers needed to record their presentations, considering companies had been already pulling out other events over the recent weeks. By the time the Summit was scheduled to start, most of the keynote speeches and presentations at the technical streams had been made available online.

A year ago, when Team Finland introduced its 6G Flagship programme (then called 6Genesis) at Mobile World Congress 2019, what 6G was about was almost a blank slate. Twelve months and 800 peer-reviewed papers later, the direction of 6G is much clearer and the vision is increasingly shared by industry experts and their academic partners.

Having watched six of the seven keynotes (Huawei’s speech has yet to be made available by the time of writing), we can see a clear convergence between the speakers’ views on both what 6G is expected to do and where research investment should be made to make those expectations come true.

Even their 6G vision taglines could look rather similar. For example, Harish Viswanathan, Head of Radio Systems Research Group at Nokia Bell Labs, believed 6G will “unify the experience across physical, digital and biological worlds”, while Dr. Fang Min, Director of 6G Research & Collaboration in the ZTE’s Wireless Division, saw 6G “integrating the physical and digital world”.

The leading use cases expected for 6G are shared by most speakers. For instance, they all foresaw vastly increased interaction between human and intelligent machine. Both ZTE’s Dr. Fang and Ericsson’s Dr. Mikael Prytz, Head of Research Area Networks, called it “Internet of Senses”. This includes both enhanced brain-computer interaction, and, in the words of Nokia Bell Lab’s Viswanathan, in-body monitoring.

Another key use case referred to by the speakers is what Ericsson’s Prytz called Connected Intelligence, or what ZTE’s Fang called Internet of AI, meaning AI interacting with each other, intelligent machines serving other intelligent machines. Such a scenario will have strong implications on network designs which are now limited by human senses.

With 6G poised to operate on much higher frequency than 5G (for example the FCC granted >95GHz for experimental use), the shorter wavelengths will allow for higher localisation accuracy, possibly down to centimetre level positioning. One outcome of such precision will be full digital representations of the physical world, or “digital twins”, by also fusing data from other sources including network data. Network operators will also be able to generate interconnected and collaborative digital twins, and digital representation of larger objects and their environment. Nokia Bell Lab demonstrated a digital twin of a New Jersey street with drone-captured high-resolution data for wireless network optimisation, for example accurate signal propagation prediction.

These use cases need to be supported by new, advanced underlying technologies that will provide guidelines for research in the discipline in the coming years. New spectrum technologies are highlighted by all speakers as such a domain. This includes both radio technology on the so-called D-Band (140-180GHz) and above, and progress in material sciences. Bell Lab’s Viswanathan pointed out that transceiver design for such radio frequencies will be more sophisticated, and may need to use glass interposers instead of silicon. ZTE also sees “Beyond Silicon” as one of the leading 6G challenge.

Network architecture is another key technology requirement that needs to advance in the run-up to 6G. One such advancement is what Nokia Bell Lab’s Viswanathan sees in the trend of RAN-Core convergence. This is primarily driven by the need to move the core closer to RAN for low latency service as well as to make the RAN more centralised towards the cloud. A related trend highlighted by Viswanathan is the demand for hyper specialised slicing. He believes that network slicing should move from resource reservation in 5G to providing separate software stacks and functions by using different micro-services.

Both ZTE’s Fang and InterDigital’s Alain Abdel-Majid Mourad, Director Engineering R&D, stressed the importance and demand for innovation to meet 6G’s new KPIs. Network security in 6G is also highlighted. While Nokia Bell Lab’s Viswanathan saw in 6G a “sixth sense”, for example using real-time analytics of sensor data by AI, Ericsson’s Prytz believed that the holistic solution of hardware-based security, trusted computing, and secured enclave will form the base of the future computing networks.

When it comes to the timing, the speakers had a consensus that it would be around 2030 when 6G will start commercialisation. ZTE believed 3GPP will start more concrete 6G specification work in R22, which the company expects to see in 2029. See the chart below for ZTE’s detailed prediction for the timeline from 5G to Beyond 5G (B5G) and 6G.

In general, the speakers at the Summit look to have much more in common with their views on what they expect 6G to look like than a year ago, as well as sharing an understanding on what key research areas will be in the years to come. While there is no guarantee these predictions will turn out to be correct, Nokia Bell Lab’s Viswanathan put it best when he said, “We have 10 years to be proved wrong, and now can have fun predicting the future.”

Source: 6G Wireless Summit 2020, ZTE Keynote

Coronavirus outbreak designated a pandemic by the WHO

In a move that has seemed inevitable for some time, the World Health Organization has characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic.

Essentially this signifies that the virus is not in any way geographically contained and is being spread all over the world. In practice the WHO seems to be using the word to try to spur governments and organisations into more decisive action.

WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time. WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases.  And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.

“We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize their people in the response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission.

“Even those countries with community transmission or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus. Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled. The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will.”

Ghebreyesus seems to have a point. He said the epidemics in China and South Korea are now in significant decline, the inference being that if they can control it, everyone else can too. “All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights,” said Ghebreyesus.

That last statement probably encapsulates why the rest of the world hasn’t reacted more decisively. The measures required to contain the spread of the virus require a significant reduction in commercial activity which, understandably, governments and companies have been reluctant to implement unless absolutely necessary. The WHO is hoping using the word pandemic remove any hesitance they still have.

There are signs this is happening. Italy has pretty much locked down the whole country, while the UK today announced a bunch of measures designed to both combat the disease and cushion the economic blow. In the tech sector, the massive E3 games trade show scheduled to take place in June has been cancelled, while Google is recommending all its employees work from home for a month.

The long and short of it seems to be that, in the short term at least, we can no longer carry on with business as usual if we’re going to limit the effect of COVID-19. People will have to work from home, large gatherings will be cancelled and share prices will go down the toilet. But all of this will be temporary and once the virus is dealt with share prices will recover, events will be rescheduled and the world will keep on spinning.

Business world struggles for a response to possible coronavirus pandemic

As new countries announce their first case every day, many business events are choosing to follow the example of MWC and cancel.

In the tech sector Facebook has pulled the plug on its F8 developer conference, according to multiple reports, citing the threat of COVID-19, as this novel strain of coronavirus is now referred to. The event was due to take place in early May. Facebook has also pulled out of the more imminent Games Developers Conference, joining key games players Sony and Microsoft in that respect. GDC was still going ahead at time of writing but, as we all know, that could change any time.

Global concerns about COVID-19 have ramped considerably in the past few days, making us, and we suspect the rest of the telecoms industry, pleased we haven’t all been together in Barcelona. Stock markets have all tanked because of it, with most of the leading indices down 3-4% overnight, as macroeconomic leaders make increasingly pessimistic noises about the likely economic effects of the epidemic.

The single authority everyone is looking to most for guidance is the World Health Organisation. It has a website dedicated to providing updates on the situation and is providing daily updates, the latest of which you can see in the tweet below. While using increasingly portentous terms to describe the outbreak, the WHO has yet to declare it a pandemic, which it will when enough countries around the world experience sustained infections. Again that could be imminent.

While it’s completely sensible for business people to avoid attending large gatherings at a time like this, the greater economic threat is posed by the sheer uncertainty of the situation. Inevitably some of that is exploited by people with an agenda, with the BBC even finding examples of some nutters saying the whole thing is a byproduct of 5G. That sort of thing is bound to lead to further calls for censorship, but as ever that would be misguided and we have to trust regular people to use their common sense.

On the other hand, many people within the industry are being far more sanguine than the panicky stock markets would suggest. While the Chinese smartphone market is known to be significantly impacted in Q1, that could already be stabilising ahead of a rebound in the second half of this year. We’re also hearing that some industry events are considering postponing for a few months rather than cancelling outright.

The general feeling seems to be that COVID-19 is just something that needs to be endured until it blows over. The number of new cases in China has been falling for a while now, so the origin country may also be a source of best practice for how to contain it, sort of. But if COVID-19 is upgraded to a pandemic, we can expect a lot more cancellations, stock market wobbles and general anxiety in the short term. All eyes will be on the Tokyo Olympics.

Today would have been the first day of MWC 2020

Under normal circumstances we would be writing this from Ericsson’s stand in hall 2 of the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona.

Ericsson traditionally likes to kick off its MWC at 8am on the Monday morning, which can be challenging for those who have failed to be 100% professional over the preceding weekend. Typically CEO Börje Ekholm would offer a broad update of the state of play at Ericsson and the industry on the whole, with maybe a piece of news or two slipped in to keep journalists on their toes.

We would then have found a spot on its cavernous stand and jumped on its wifi (assuming a telecoms event had proven itself capable of providing adequate telecoms infrastructure for once), to tap our account of the morning’s proceedings. Ericsson’s stand has traditionally been an above-average source of free food and drink for those both lucky enough to have been invited in and whose name also made it onto the list given to the gatekeepers.

Because those two things don’t always coincide, you see. Despite the absolute annual predictability of MWC, the mechanics of managing access to those stands that have gatekeepers always seem to confound even the most seasoned show campaigners. If anything the situation is usually even worse at the only stand bigger – Huawei’s. Many a precious MWC hour has been spent sat on the floor outside that stand while harried Huawei representatives scurry around trying to work out who the hell this bedraggled hack is and how much of a threat they pose to their inner sanctum.

Saturday night activities permitting, we would have already been given good presentation by Nokia, which likes to go off-site on the Sunday to steal Ericsson’s thunder. The format has tended to be similar to Ericsson’s however, with perhaps a touch more theatrics. Traditionally we have tended to write up Nokia’s event in whichever bar we could persuade to show the rugby, accompanied by a tentative first beer of the day.

Since Tuesday and Wednesday evening have always been late ones in the past, savvy MWC veterans have learned to use the Monday evening as a great opportunity to catch up on some kip and give their livers a breather. The following two or three days would have been spent traipsing from stand to stand, gratefully grabbing coffees when available and forcing down barely edible sandwiches. The culmination would have involved sitting in the departure lounge of Barcelona airport exchanging knowing glances with addled fellow travellers.

None of that is happening this year, of course. A few companies have tried to extract some residual value from the week through ‘virtual MWCs’, but it’s hard to get too enthusiastic about such things. Most industry people we have spoken to feel lost and aimless this week, but we’re a tough lot and will bounce back quickly. In the meantime, please join us in raising a glass of Estrella to the ghost of MWC 2020, it’s the least we can do.