Ericsson has decided to pull out of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 in Barcelona due to the risk posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
It is a huge blow for the largest telecoms trade show of the year with one of the biggest exhibitors pulling out just two weeks before it was due to begin.
It comes after Korean firm LG opted to withdraw earlier this week, while Chinese tech firms, Huawei and ZTE, announced they would sideline employees from their home country.
Ericsson said they had “closely monitored the development and adhered to recommendations from relevant national authorities and international bodies, such as the WHO”.
The telecoms giant said it appreciated the efforts of the GSMA to get the show on and control the risk, but they could not guarantee the safety of its employees and the thousands of visitors.
“The health and safety of our employees, customers and other stakeholders are our highest priority,” said Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly. We were looking forward to showcasing our latest innovations at MWC in Barcelona. It is very unfortunate, but we strongly believe the most responsible business decision is to withdraw our participation from this year’s event.”
GSMA responded by saying it “continues to monitor and assess the potential impact of the Coronavirus on MWC Barcelona 2020 as the health and safety of our exhibitors, attendees and staff are of paramount importance. “
The event organiser said it was working with exhibitors to ensure World Health Organisation advice to reduce risk of the virus spreading was being carried out.
“These measures include not only adhering to advice from the WHO and other health authorities, by respecting travel restrictions where they exist but also by arriving early in Spain to allow time for self-quarantine, ensuring access to masks and replacing attendees from high-risk countries with local European-based colleagues and representatives,” a statement read.
It added that Ericsson had reaffirmed its commitment to be at the exhibition for 2021.
Ericsson is instead set to showcase its portfolio and innovations, including the demos and content created for Barcelona, to customers in home markets at local events called “Ericsson Unboxed”.
A number of other leading tech firms, including Sony, Samsung, Huawei and Microsoft, are still due to appear at MWC.
But Paolo Pescatore, an analyst for PP Foresight, thinks there is now a risk the show may not go ahead.
“This is a huge blow and puts the show in doubt,” he told City A.M. “All eyes are now on who will pull out next. While the numbers will be down this is out of the GSMA’s hands.”