MWC Shanghai, the first major industry show since the Covid-19 pandemic began, had 25,000 visitors subject to strong precautions in February. However, nearly one-third of these were online, according to a release from the GSMA, which is planning to go ahead with a larger event in Barcelona in June.

The show's keynotes argued for more communications to avoid technological and political divisions; in practical terms, the Shanghai show had a predominantly Chinese physical audience, with 175,000 people watching sessions online rather than face quarantine rules. Ericsson, Huawei, and AT&T have signed up for the Barcelona event, which GSMA says will gather 50,000 people. However, other vendors have yet to decide whether a European event in June would risk spreading the coronavirus.

Telco industry facing split ecosystem?

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Image from GSMA video – GSMA

GSMA Director General Mats Granryd joined remotely - for a keynote which warned against other forms of separation, including the technological fallout of the US-China trade war: "The first reality is that we must resist the possibility of a technological divide, a split ecosystem, which could threaten interoperability, scale and security," he said. "Instead we should use our business relationships to advance together."

Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm argued for open competition, instead of banning companies from certain markets, at the parallel GTI summit. Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark predicted that private 5G spending would outpace public networks over the next decade.

Huawei's rotating chairman Ken Hu admitted this year had had "extraordinary difficulties" for his company, but the show floor included proud demonstrations of the $3000 Mate X2 folding smartphone. Other products included a 125W flash charger from Oppo and a ZTE phone with a hidden selfie camera.

While GSMA claimed 25,000 visitors, its press release said that the My MWCS online portal accounted for 30 percent of attendee turnout. GSMA videos showed a jostling 50,000 sq m show floor at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. A further 175,000 people watched presentations and keynotes on-demand - this material will be available for the next few weeks online.

The stringent Covid-19 prevention protocols required facemasks, a green Shanghai Health Code certificate, a recent negative Covid-19 test which could reduce the 14 day quarantine period. However, attendance from outside China was very low, and observers noted that even speakers from different parts of China were presenting by video.

Questions remain over MWC Barcelona

Ericsson, Huawei, and AT&T have signed up to send speakers to Barcelona for MWC's planned event in June, where the GSMA hopes to welcome 50,000 people in person. However, queries from Light Reading found that companies planning to go said their actual attendance was dependent on infection and vaccination rates, while other companies such as Cisco, Intel, BT, and Deutsche Telekom are expressing doubts, and still others are not making any statement yet.