MWC plans to go forward in person in 2021, but pushes show back to late-June

Over the past several months, it has become painfully clear that COVID-19 isn’t a problem that we’re going to leave behind in 2021. After hemming and hawing a bit, the CTA ultimately pulled the trigger for an online-only version of the show in January. Other tech shows are similarly — at best — still up in the air. There’s also the example of IFA, which was recently held in Berlin — albeit at a greatly reduced capacity.

Mobile World Congress, which traditionally falls in the late-February/early-March time frame was among the first major tech shows to be canceled on account of the pandemic. There was understandably a lot of last-minute handwringing on that one — but in hindsight, it’s pretty clear the GSMA made the correct decision.

This week, MWC’s governing body announced that organization’s flagship event will go on in Barcelona, but has pushed things back a few months. The show is now planned to run June 28 through July 1. A lot can happen between now and then, of course. Numbers could go down, a vaccine could be issued. But even this far out, a show of that magnitude still feels overly optimistic.

The calendar shuffling also finds the GSMA pushing its MWC Shanghai event into the February slot. That is, for what it’s worth, a considerably smaller show. In both cases, the organization would be well-served to have a robust online plan in place. Even if things go exactly according to plan, many potential attendees are still understandably wary of travel and big crowds. It seems likely that an event like this will have some permanent impact on the way trade shows are handled moving forward.

It’s certainly a difficult decision when dealing with a hardware show, where so much of its appeal lies in the ability to interact with devices in-person. That’s been a consistent shortcoming in all of 2020’s online-only hardware events. Such a show loses a lot of luster when it occurs entirely through a computer screen.