MWC 2021 will probably not go ahead, here’s why ….


We are less than six weeks out from the GSMA‘s flagship event, MWC 2021, but there is a noticeable lack of pizzazz that usually happens about now in the run-up.

Could it be the line-up of keynote speakers failing to get us excited? How could that be? We have senior execs from AMPT, The Valuable 500, TelcoDR, Accenture, Kaspersky Lab, IBM, Revolut, NHS Digital, Neuroelectrics, Starling Bank, ZTE, Qualcomm and a couple of telcos China Mobile and Reliance Jio. Yes, this is the mobile industry’s premium event, but there seems to be a distinct lack of telco C-levels willing or able to tell us how to get things right.

Perhaps it’s the news that so many big-name exhibitors are giving this year a miss. After all, one of the main reasons we all have for going to MWC is to see the latest and greatest technologists have to offer, right? So many exciting new product announcements are held back each year to wow us in Barcelona.

And what about the buzz around 5G? Surely, we haven’t covered every single angle of the technology that will make telcos prosperous with network slicing, private networks and innumerable use cases. Where else would we hear about 5G’s great potential for making dull, boring telcos exciting and desirable to customers and investors alike?

I’m starting to sound a bit sarcastic so let me get down to the tin tacks. I suspect that the senior management team at the GSMA are, right now, seriously weighing up whether MWC 2021 should be cancelled. That probably explains the silence, and we should be expecting a firm announcement, either way, very shortly. If the event is to be cancelled, it has to be now so other arrangements can be made.

Although I am not a betting man, but like last year, I would put money on the event being cancelled, not for the reasons above and the lack of interest by exhibitors and attendees alike; it’s all about COVID-19.

When the event was postponed to June instead of the usual February time slot, there was some confidence that the pandemic would be done with and we would all be happily flying around like the old days. As we all know, the pandemic has not simply gone away (as Donald Trump predicted); it is still around. Despite the fabulous efforts to vaccinate all of us, the targets have fallen well short. Countries like India are being hammered, and international travel is still not possible for most of us.

MWC’s real appeal is that we get to network, catch up with our colleagues and customers and get to chat face to face. If the masses can’t get to Barcelona, there is no good reason to keep the event going for this year, at least.

If people can’t turn up, then exhibitors and speakers won’t be able to either. Stopping it now will save companies millions but will certainly take its toll on the GSMA, at least the highly profitable conference business. Last year it took a massive hit, but this year could push it to the edge. Staff numbers have already been cut, and another year without substantial revenues could be devastating for many of those left.

It’s not the GSMA’s fault, but in retrospect, it was a little hopeful and ambitious thinking that things would be back to normal by now. Other industry organisations moved to virtual platforms long ago, and some, like the TM Forum, did a fabulous job of it and set the standard. But these other events are very much focused on their agenda and industry speaker line-ups. Sure, networking is important at all physical events, but for MWC, it is the main reason to go unless you have to go for your job. Not turning up at MWC is taken as a sign you are ‘dropping out’ of the industry.

I would hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I believe the GSMA has no other choice but to cancel MWC 2021 and hope it can transfer some of its value to a virtual platform in time.

PS After this article was published, the GSMA called a short-notice press conference to announce the event would proceed primarily because ” Spanish authorities approved its health and safety plan”. That’s a great reason and must fill all the exhibitors and prospective attendees with confidence. Mats Granryd, director-general of the GSMA added to the farce by saying that exhibitors were not sending the normal 250 staff but five, “However those five are the right people, it is the CEO, or the CTO or the CFO.” We stand by our prediction that MWC 2021’s physical event in Barcelona should not, and will not, go ahead.

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