The Mobile World Congress (MWC) kicked off in Barcelona, Spain on Monday with less-than-usual attendance and beefed-up health measures, as tech and telecom companies present their latest inventions, devices and discoveries.
MWC was cancelled last year because of the coronavirus outbreak. And this year’s comeback makes it one of the few trade shows to open its doors even though COVID-19 continues to rage in many parts of the world, with the Delta variant the latest reason some countries are reintroducing restrictions.
“Obviously, there is a huge difference from previous years. This show is going to be much smaller, much safer from a health and safety perspective,” Mats Granryd, director general of the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), told Reuters news agency.
“We’re taking a lot of precautions: testing people regularly within 72 hours, no hands, everything is touchless,” he added.
MWC expects up to 30,000 people to attend this year, a small fraction of the 100,000 visitors that usually come to Barcelona from around the globe to attend the trade show.
Spain has hosted the show since 2006, and usually tech companies set up elaborate pavilions to unveil the latest mobile devices, entertain clients and lobby government officials.
China’s Huawei, a major sponsor of the MWC, is one of the few big names that will have a show stand this year.
And despite the myriad precautions, companies like Ericsson, Nokia, Intel, Sony and Qualcomm decided not to come this year. South Korea’s Samsung, the world’s biggest mobile phone maker, is only holding a virtual device launch.
Moreover, a third of the trade show’s 350 speakers, including Tesla founder Elon Musk, will give speeches and presentations virtually.
One of the tech companies in attendance was Verizon, which on Monday showcased two robots, saying that bots use 5G connectivity and mobile edge computing to communicate with each other.
“When you have more than one robot on the floor, you run into a problem, as these are still just machines, and they can’t naturally communicate with one another,” Verizon’s Chief Strategy Officer Rima Qureshi said at the event in Barcelona.
“5G will make it possible for robots to connect with other robots and devices of all kinds in a way that simply wasn’t possible before,” she said.
Smarter robots are considered vital to making areas such as factory floors more efficient through automation. They can also be deployed where natural disasters hit to help in rescue operations.
The two robots presented on Monday were a dog-like robot called Gigi that walked on four legs and a boxy bot named Mekeal that rolled in on wheels.
According to a Research and Markets report, the market for the global 5G in the cloud is expected to reach $10.6bn by 2028.
As for the MWC and the surrounding community that hosts it, Spanish authorities estimate that the MWG usually generates 473 million euros ($564m) and more than 14,000 part-time jobs for Barcelona’s economy. Last year’s cancellation was a major economic hit to the city, with hotels, restaurants and taxi companies losing business.
The Spanish government eased COVID-19 restrictions by lifting the requirement to wear face masks outdoors as long as people practise social distancing. But attendees must wear masks indoors.