The Mobile World Congress, the largest trade show in the mobile and telecom industries, canceled this year’s event in Barcelona later this month because of COVID-19 fears.
There are a lot of ways to think about the cost of the virus-induced cancellation: 100,000 visitors no longer flying into Barcelona, no longer spending half a billion dollars on restaurants and hotels and transportation. Other costs, though, are harder to measure.
Ask mobile industry analyst Avi Greengart, who runs his own company in New Jersey. To him, the cost of a canceled Mobile World Congress is about $3,000 in non-refundable travel expenses. But he said the bigger losses were the insights and the light-bulb moments from back-to-back conversations.
“When you’re meeting with a whole bunch of companies doing the same kind of thing, you can tease out trends that you might not have been able to have gotten from one meeting one week, another meeting two months later,” Greengart said.
For a small business like his, the trade show is an annual chance to connect with device makers or carriers from Brazil, India, Finland or China. It’s also an efficient way to step out of the garage, as it were, said marketing consultant Dorie Clark.
“So often, in the tech field, you are in heads-down mode, and all you can do is what is immediately in front of you,” Clark said. “A conference is the opportunity to take the pulse for new trends. You go into heads-up mode.”
For the big mobile companies that spend millions each year in Barcelona on marketing, cancellation means they’re missing out on discovery, according to analyst Roger Entner at Recon Analytics.
“This discovery process, of finding new ideas for the big companies, is an incalculable loss because they are relying on innovation from small companies to become competitive,” Entner said.
To be sure, the mobile industry is good at conference calls. But Entner pointed out the in-person handshakes that lead to deals won’t happen on Zoom or Skype.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?
Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.
How has the pandemic changed scientific research?
Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.
What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?
Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”
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