MWC Shanghai will be one of the first major industry events with an in-person element since the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak. Not only is it set to provide insight into key issues facing the industry, but it provides a glimpse into how the sister event in Barcelona in June could look.

Speaking to Mobile World Live, GSMA Limited CEO John Hoffman said not only will next week’s China event get people “around the table to talk about our industry and drive further enhancements,” but “it gives people a bit of hope, says let’s move away from the effects of Covid-19 and return to something normal”.

Traditionally MWC Barcelona is held earlier in the year than its Shanghai counterpart, though with China being “more open” than other regions the decision was made to switch the timing of the two events.

With extensive testing, tracking and entry requirements, Hoffman noted China has essentially made the country a “bubble” protected from Covid-19 outbreaks, with regional and national authorities both supportive of the GSMA’s decision on the event’s format.

“They see it as a coming out to showcase 5G in China. It’s on a scale unlike anywhere else in the world, but not a lot of people [elsewhere] recognise China has done these things.”

In addition to highlighting progress of the latest mobile technology in the region, Hoffman noted “all eyes are on us” in terms of both pulling together a physical show (which will also have a strong virtual presence via the My MWCS Online portal) and looking ahead to MWC Barcelona in June.

“We could have done it virtually, but in person we could take the learnings”, he added, noting the capacity of 20,000 is a significant cut from the 60,000 of the 2019 edition.

Likewise, MWC Barcelona is expected to have a scaled back capacity, with Hoffman estimating between 40,000 and 50,000 attendees for its 2021 flagship event compared with around 110,000 two years ago.

Barcelona on the horizon
While China’s policies on Covid control will see authorities take the lead, at MWC Barcelona the GSMA will take on a greater responsibility for testing, increasing the logistical challenge facing the organisation.

“Shanghai is about establishing the ability to bring people together in a tech space. A successful show is nobody gets ill and we get to discuss, debate the importance of China in the global market”, he said.

“Barcelona will be a little bit different, it is the big stage. Covid requirements will decrease our capacity. We’re not going to have 110,000 people, with travel restrictions, testing capacity and one-way traffic through the exhibition, there’s no way.”

Attendees in Barcelona will require a negative Covid-19 test result (within 72 hours) and testing will be available at the venue. Hoffman also stated that the GSMA will be using technology to create a “touchless environment”, from registration through to all events within MWC.

“Our view is it would be great if the world was vaccinated, but we can’t rely on that in 2021 so instead we’re relying on testing upfront to ensure our bubble isn’t just the Fira Gran Via but the whole of Barcelona.”

To that end, he emphasised the desire from all stakeholders in Spain to see MWC Barcelona back this year.

Shanghai highlights
Although the long-term view is towards Barcelona, MWC Shanghai promises to set the agenda for 2021’s big industry talking points, including the progress of 5G and a look at the mobile industry’s role in keeping the world’s economy moving during the pandemic.

Running from 23 February to 25 February at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre, the event will house a full conference programme and exhibition. For those unable to attend, events including keynote sessions, partner programmes and summits will be streamed online and available on-demand.

With China’s operators reporting rapid gains in both building 5G infrastructure and recruiting customers, it is no surprise to see discussions around deployment, advances towards standalone networks and services based on the technology featuring heavily.

Alongside the new network infrastructure technology, the event’s other core themes are AI, Connected Industry and Start-up Innovation.

Keynote speakers include Nokia president Pekka Lundmark, Huawei rotating chairman Ken Hu, ZTE executive director Xu Ziyang, China Mobile chairman Yang Jie, China Telecom chairman Ke Ruiwen, China Unicom chairman Wang Xiaochu, Verizon chief strategy officer Rima Qureshi and GSMA director general Mats Granryd.

The event also features an exhibition. Hoffman noted many of the large exhibitors had opted for more intimate settings for their showcases with larger spaces providing the ability to spread people out.

Highlights from the event and coverage of major news from MWC Shanghai will be available here on Mobile World Live next week.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.