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Cancellation of MWC will leave a gap

For those who wanted trade shows to die, the unexpected cancellation of Mobile World Congress could highlight the weakness of their argument

There was a moment a few years ago, when broadband became decent enough to allow stable streaming, when people questioned whether there was a need for the trade show any more.

Why bother getting thousands of people to travel to some venue to traipse around halls and browse stands when it could all be done virtually? That was the question and the technology meant that, for once, it could be more than just an idea.

So far, we have only got as far as a hybrid trade show. Take Microsoft’s worldwide partner conference, for example. Thousands of partners sit there and watch CEO Satya Nadella speak in person. I and many of my press colleagues are given an option to tune in and watch the speech being streamed. The event still gets coverage and Nadella is still able to share his themes with as wide an audience as possible. But, so far, the vendor has resisted just putting its CEO in a studio and beaming his speech out to everyone.

Mobile World Congress might not be happening this year and its cancellation has taken the industry largely by surprise. Who could have predicted that the coronavirus would wreak such havoc? Some will see MWC’s absence as another nail in the coffin of the trade show, with it now slipping off the radar for the first time in years for many attendees. But for others, the gap it will leave in the calendar will be hard to fill.

There will be efforts to use the time to focus attention on mobile technology. Virtual events will be streamed, press releases will go out over the wires at the times they would have done to support show briefings, and some vendors will still fly people out to Barcelona for a day or two to make sure they can share their news in person.

“The cancellation of MWC Barcelona puts the mobile industry into uncharted waters,” says Frank Gillett, vp principal analyst at Forrester. “I expect they’ll try to generate a series of virtual events to get out some of the news that was to be launched at MWC. But there’s no way to make up for all the social, in-person conversations that are oxygen for the competitive mobile industry.”

It is that idea of sharing things in person that you sense is the real loss that people are feeling around the cancellation of MWC. For many vendors, there is simply no alternative to the trade show. No plan B that would gain the same eyeballs and traction that a stand and some flashy tech could have done.

Partner events and shows continue to be a staple of life in the channel and we all make the effort to trek out to some vast hall somewhere on the edge of town to hear, speak and learn. Those who talk of events disappearing only have to look at the hole that will be left by the absence of MWC to understand the importance of trade shows to help an industry promote, discuss and inspire.

Those of us who log on to the virtual alternatives that will be provided later this month will no doubt find the alternative nowhere near as satisfying.

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