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Smartphone Lobby Wants Conference for 50,000 People in June

Nate Lanxon
·4 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The global wireless industry is planning to allow tens of thousands of international visitors to congregate for its flagship event in Barcelona in June, more than a year after it was axed due to the pandemic.

The GSMA trade body said everyone present will have to show a negative Covid-19 result to access the Fira Gran Via venue and repeat the test every 72 hours. Rapid testing centers will be made available on site and organizers are considering using hotels for more.

Additional measures being put in place for one of Europe’s most important business gatherings include a new contact tracing mobile app, real-time occupancy monitoring, improved air conditioning at the venue, and an increased number of on-site medical staff.

“We believe that we can have around 45,000 to 50,000 attendees, as of today,” Stephanie Lynch-Habib, the GSMA’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview on Monday, adding that visitor interest is expected to be strong.

“About 80% of our top 100 clients committed to a three-year participation when we canceled last year,” she said.

The show will be a test of whether the pandemic is under control enough to make vast in-person events viable, and safe. MWC Barcelona, which in 2019 attracted 109,000 attendees from 198 countries, was one of the first major European conference casualties when it was axed in February last year.

Lynch-Habib said 17,000 people attended the GSMA’s MWC Shanghai event in February this year and there had been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 on site. This bolstered belief that a larger gathering for Barcelona could be conducted safely.

The GSMA’s confidence isn’t unique, either: Web Summit, typically even larger than MWC Barcelona, is on track to take place in November with more than 70,000 people descending on Lisbon, a spokeswoman for that show told Bloomberg on Monday.

Not everyone is convinced the time is right for large gatherings. Peter Diamandis, XPrize Foundation founder, said he’d been “humbled and pained” after hosting a small in-person event in January that left many infected with Covid-19, himself included, despite requiring rapid testing and the wearing of masks.

“As a scientist, engineer and medical person, I believed we were using the very best that science had to offer,” he wrote in a blog post last month. “I thought five physicians and 452 tests and my entire safety team could maintain safety. I was wrong.”

Safety Precautions

The GSMA said in a statement its plan was “developed in coordination with and approved by the Catalan health authorities.” Visitors to MWC Barcelona will have to download a new mobile app that acts as both a digital badge for entry as well as a contact-tracing beacon, it said.

“The technology that we will use through a digital badge means we’ll be able to detect if someone is standing in an area for more than 15 minutes, to enable eventual contact tracing,” Lynch-Habib said.

That data will be available to health authorities “if needed to mitigate potential further exposure,” she said. “That’s something that all attendees will have to agree to before entering.”

Other measures the GSMA is implementing at the venue include:

Temperature checks at all access pointsRestaurant re-designs to facilitate social distancingNew fresh-air injection and ventilation systemsOn-site medical personnel to conduct assessments

Bringing MWC Barcelona back as a large in-person event is critical for the GSMA, as the show accounted for as much as 80% of the trade group’s pre-pandemic annual revenue. It was forced to cut about a fifth of its workforce last year after canceling its flagship conference.

The removal of the Barcelona show from the industry’s 2020 calendar meant telecom heavyweights lost significant opportunities to generate marketing buzz around their latest wares, such as 5G devices and Internet of Things products. The industry’s biggest players often spend tens of millions of dollars to exhibit at the Barcelona show, and smaller ones pay in the hundreds of thousands.

(Updates with additional detail from subheading onward)

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