No Handshakes at Global Wireless Conference as Virus Spreads

(Bloomberg) -- Two smartphone makers canceled events at the world’s biggest mobile technology showcase in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and organizers reinforced hygiene protocol for people still planning to attend.

Delegates were warned to avoid handshakes and microphones will be changed for different conference speakers in an effort to avoid infections at MWC Barcelona, an annual event that’s set to draw around 100,000 people from around the world to the Spanish city from Feb. 24 to 27.

This year’s conference is supposed to be a launch pad for a renewed push on 5G devices. However, South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc. said it’s withdrawing from exhibiting at the conference because most health experts advised against “needlessly” exposing hundreds of employees to international travel.

Shenzhen, China-based ZTE Corp., which makes smartphones and wireless networking equipment, cited difficulties in traveling out of China while virus-containment restrictions are in place, and so it’s canceling its MWC press conference, though it will still send a delegation.

No Handshakes at Global Wireless Conference as Virus Spreads

The two companies usually occupy two of the largest, most central exhibition zones at the Fira Gran Via venue, and both were expected to contribute to an industrywide push to make the newest generation of networking and devices mainstream this year.

ZTE plans to roll out “a wide variety of new 5G devices” and will keep its usual exhibition spot. LG, keen to match compatriot arch rival Samsung Electronics Co., maintains an outsize presence at the show even when it doesn’t launch any major new products, and so its absence this year will be obvious to attendees.

MWC brings together wireless and tech industry executives to talk shop and do deals. Crowds of gadget fans roam the vast LED-lit conference halls to check out the latest kit -- from smartphones and tablets to artificial intelligence and robots.

The latest hygiene measures were announced on the MWC website by wireless industry lobby GSMA. It had already beefed up medical support at the event and stepped up its disinfection policy for catering areas, entrances and exits and public touch-screens in response to the coronavirus.

Other Asia-based companies are closely monitoring the outbreak and may yet alter their plans, however many are sticking to their existing programs.

- Huawei Technologies Co., based in Shenzhen, is considering a range of options which include leaving its current plans unchanged, flying executives from China to Spain early, or even canceling travel plans altogether, said a U.K.-based spokesman.

- Lenovo Group Ltd., parent of Motorola, says its MWC plans are still under discussion.

- Xiaomi Corp. is sending its contingent to Barcelona as soon as possible “and will make necessary adjustments accordingly,” a spokesman said.

- Samsung, Oppo, Microsoft Corp. and MediaTek Inc. representatives all said their companies are preparing for MWC as planned.

Read more: Virus Outbreak May Halve China Phone Shipments in First Quarter

Several major U.S. technology firms, including Qualcomm Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, are also scheduled to participate and play big roles at this year’s conference.

On its website, the GSMA says it “continues to monitor and assess the potential impact of the coronavirus” on its event and has “implemented many measures to help to mitigate the spread of the virus and is continuing to add other actions regularly.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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