Tech firms flock to Spain trade show in shadow of Ukraine conflict

One of the technology industry's biggest annual get-togethers is set to kick off in the Spanish city of Barcelona on Monday, under the shadow of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Tech firms flock to Spain trade show in shadow of Ukraine conflict
Spain's King Felipe VI (C) and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez greet attendees as they arrive on the opening day of the MWC (Mobile World Congress) in Barcelona on February 28, 2022. - The world's biggest mobile fair is held from February 28 to March 3, 2022. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

The Mobile World Congress, where smartphone and telecoms companies show off their latest products and reveal their strategic visions, is expected to welcome more than 40,000 guests over its four-day run.

Organisers hope to return to a full-scale event after two years of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has hampered preparations for this year’s edition, with organisers forced to remove the country’s dedicated pavilion.

READ MORE: World’s biggest mobile show in Barcelona drops Russia pavilion

Industry body GSMA, which stages the annual event, said in a statement it was complying with all sanctions and policies regarding Russia.

It confirmed, however, that Russian firms may still be able to participate.

The invasion has sparked wider jitters, with the industry assessing sanctions slapped on Russia by the United States and Europe and a likely shortage of key raw materials caused by the conflict.

Pandemic woes

The MWC was cancelled at the last minute in 2020 as the pandemic spread from China to Europe, and last year’s edition was drastically scaled down.

The pandemic continues to cast its shadow with big names like Sony, Asus and Lenovo pulling out or participating “virtually”.

But organisers are bullish, with GSMA director general Mats Granryd saying 95 percent of speakers will be in Barcelona.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivers an opening speech during a dinner at the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) to mark the inauguration of the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world’s biggest mobile fair in Barcelona, on February 27, 2022. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Among the tech giants confirming their attendance are smartphone behemoth Samsung, as well as Nokia, Ericsson, Google, Huawei and Verizon.

Focuses of this year’s event include the rise of 5G, the opportunities offered by the Internet of Things (IoT), the metaverse and the impact of tech on the environment.

Few new products are expected to be unveiled by the major players, many of whom have showcased their latest releases in the weeks leading up to the get-together.

‘No shelter’

The show will, however, provide Chinese phone makers such as Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo with a “coming out party”, according to Ben Wood of CCS Insight.

“It’s the first time they will be able to flex their muscles at a big Western trade show,” he told AFP, pointing out that they have all become much bigger during the pandemic.

They are filling a void left by Huawei, which has been hobbled by sanctions imposed by the US in 2019 over accusations its wireless systems could allow spying by Chinese state entities.

The entire industry will now need to reckon with sanctions over the Ukraine invasion, with the US already announcing restrictions on technology exports to Russia.

“The smartphone market, and other technology product markets, are unlikely to remain sheltered from the impact of the crisis in Ukraine, given the economic and geographic significance of both Russia and Ukraine,” said Marina Koytcheva of CCS.

Both countries supply raw materials such as neon and palladium used to manufacture smartphone components.

And the conflict could lead to shortages of many other products and rising prices, which could in turn hit demand for phones, she said.

The smartphone market grew by 5.7 percent last year, with 1.35 billion devices sold worldwide, according to analyst firm IDC.

Samsung sold the most phones followed by Apple and Oppo.

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Spain to invest €11 billion to become Europe’s microchip factory

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday announced his government will use €11 billion of EU funds for Spain to become a manufacturer of microchips, key components in our digital world and an element of "global geostrategic importance”. 

Spain to invest €11 billion to become Europe's microchip factory

Spain wants to lead the way in Europe in terms of microchip and semiconductor development. 

In the words of Pedro Sánchez at the ‘Wake up, Spain’ tech conference on Monday April 4th: “The Spanish government wants our country to be at the forefront of industrial and technological progress”.

Microchips and semiconductors are everywhere and needed for all manner of modern technology to function. Digital products in everyday life such as smartphones, digital cameras, televisions, washing machines, cars, fridges, medical devices and LED bulbs all use these tiny integrated circuits.

In 2020, more than 932 billion chips were manufactured around the world and in 2021 production continued growing into a €550 billion industry.

Covid-19 restrictions led to a global shortage of microchips and semiconductors as well as supply chain bottlenecks, in part as a result of their production still being mainly centred in Asia, namely in Taiwan. 

“Semiconductors are essential elements in all energy sectors and acquire global geostrategic importance in the context of digital transformation”, Sánchez stressed.

His words come at a time when the war in Ukraine has forced many European countries to question their dependency on Russian natural gas and their lack of self-sustainability overall.

Spain’s Prime Minister highlighted that Spain is at the centre of economic recovery plans in Europe and that it has already received €19 billion from the European Commission.

“Receiving the funds was the first of the challenges, but the important challenge now is to execute (the measures) quickly and efficiently,” he added, and that “they have an impact on people’s daily lives”.

US tech giant Intel is also set to invest an initial US$17 billion (€15.4  billion) to build a semiconductor factory in Germany and R&D facilities in France, Poland and Ireland.

The Spanish government is yet to give more details about what its new €11 billion microchip plan will consist of, but it is set to be approved by the European Commission soon.

READ ALSO – Meta, IBM, Google, Amazon: How thousands of tech jobs are being created in Spain