Ericsson Pulls Out of Biggest Mobile Event Due to Virus

(Bloomberg) -- Ericsson AB withdrew from the telecommunications industry’s biggest annual event to protect its staff and visitors from the coronavirus outbreak.

The Swedish maker of mobile networks said Friday it had pulled out of MWC Barcelona, due to be held on Feb. 24 to Feb. 27. As one of the largest exhibitors, with thousands of visitors in its hall each day, Ericsson said it could not guarantee the health and safety of employees and customers. Conference organizers said the event will proceed.

“It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event,” Ericsson Chief Executive Officer Borje Ekholm said. “This is not a decision we have taken lightly.”

Ericsson’s move shows how the spread of the virus is beginning to disrupt business activity far from its epicenter. The company’s absence will leave a gap bigger than a standard American football field in the exhibition halls, based on the floorplan issued by the organizers.

The cancellation “will potentially have further impact,” the GSMA, the mobile industry lobby group and sponsor of the conference, said in a statement. “The GSMA continues to monitor and assess the potential impact of the coronavirus” on the event.

China has reported more than 31,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 600 people have died in the country since the outbreak began. The GSMA this week stepped up efforts to avoid infections at MWC, such as encouraging a no-handshake policy and a protocol for changing microphones.

On Friday it detailed further measures for exhibitors that included “arriving early in Spain to allow time for self-quarantine, ensuring access to masks and replacing attendees from high-risk countries with local European-based colleagues and representatives.”

Scaling Back

Some Asian companies have scaled back their presence at MWC. LG Electronics Inc. withdrew from exhibiting at the event, saying most health experts had advised against “needlessly” exposing hundreds of employees to international travel. Shenzhen, China-based ZTE Corp., which makes smartphones and wireless network gear, canceled its MWC press conference.

Other companies that would normally take part are assessing the situation. BT Group Plc is keeping its attendance under review, a spokesman said. Nokia Oyj, Ericsson’s Nordic rival, plans to be there though the situation is fluid, said a spokeswoman.

France’s Orange SA still aims to attend for the time being. Orange CEO Stephane Richard, who’s also the GSMA’s chairman, is “attentive” to the coronavirus situation and monitoring it closely, a spokesman said.

Representatives from China’s Huawei Technologies Co. will attend as planned, a spokesman said. The company -- the world’s biggest telecom equipment maker and a major handset supplier -- is working with the GSMA on preventative measures.

Ericsson’s move “might trigger other big vendors, who would have many staff members on site, to withdraw,” said Stenvall Kimmo, an analyst at OP Corporate Bank Plc in Helsinki.

Ericsson said the demos and content it’s created for MWC Barcelona will be showcased close to customers at local events.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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