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TECHNOLOGY

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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ECONOMY

Barcelona to host Mobile World Congress until 2030

The Mobile World Congress, the telecom industry's biggest annual gathering, will be held in Barcelona until 2030, extending its current contract by six years, organisers said Monday.

Barcelona to host Mobile World Congress until 2030

The event, which draws more than 100,000 people to Barcelona, has been held in Spain’s second largest city since 2006.

The existing agreement between the GSMA association that hosts the congress and local authorities ran until 2024.

“We are thrilled to announce that MWC will remain in Barcelona through to 2030,” said GSMA director general Mats Granryd said in a statement.

“Barcelona is so intertwined in the MWC experience, it’s hard for me to think about one and not the other,” he added.

The gathering was one of the first events to be cancelled in 2020 as Covid-19 started to sweep across the world.

A scaled back edition was held in 2021 in June instead of February as is usually the case, with many events staged online.

The 2022 edition, which returned to its normal format, drew 61,000 participants, far less than the over 100,000 who attended in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

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