MWC 2020 canceled due to coronavirus fears

Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been on my calendar for over a decade. It's a place to find out about the latest advances in mobile telephony, talk to some of the biggest names in the industry and catch up with friends in Barcelona's bars and restaurants.

But this year, like many others, I was a remote participant. Although there was an MWC last year, it was the first convention to be held in the traditional spring time since 2019, and for many people it may have been the first major event they've witnessed since the start of the pandemic.

Around 60.000 attendees are estimated to have toured the many halls of Fira's vast complex during the week, a significant drop from the usual 100.000 in attendance, and there were some notable absences in terms of exhibitors, such as the larger absences from LG and Apple.

MWC 2022

But this contraction is not necessarily negative. MWC has long since moved beyond the mobile industry and expanded into other technology areas, such as connected cars. It was difficult to follow all the developments and navigate the place.

MWC 2022 was, from a distance perspective, a much more focused event that focused on key industry topics. There were new devices, of course, but also discussions about the next phase of 5G deployment, the ongoing convergence of IT and telecom, the development of the Open RAN ecosystem, and sustainability.

Our on-the-ground reporter, Joel Khalili, seemed to agree: “The overwhelming consensus among the companies and other reporters we spoke with was that it was great to be back, and more importantly, in person.

"The strict health protocols may have been a bit harsh, but they have shown that events of this magnitude are feasible as we begin to emerge from the pandemic (despite new variants emerging).

“Some big names have been conspicuous by their absence this year, but that is more a reflection of the conditions than the relevance of the MWC.

“In any case, there was enough to grit your teeth. Qualcomm, in particular, had a stellar show, with a host of new products continuing to push the limits of what 5G can do. But so does MediaTek, which is trying to unseat Qualcomm in the flagship smartphone market.

"The opportunity created by private 5G has also been a major talking point, but Dell, Microsoft, Fujitsu, HPE and many others have had to fight for attention as vendors invade the space."

The cancellation of MWC 2020 was the first sign for many that the world was about to change. It was a huge challenge for the organizers, with some wondering how the MWC would stay relevant in a changing world. The success of this year's event demonstrates the future viability of the concept and attendance at MWC 2023 is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels.

But this year it was a smaller, more focused, good-for-her affair.

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