After the GSM Association (GSMA) made the difficult decision to cancel Mobile World Congress (MWC2020), the largest mobile event in the world, last February, it spent months working with exhibitors on a revised package of discounts to future events. For most exhibitors, the compromise package meant agreeing to forego any cash refund. Instead, these companies agreed to a series of rebates on future events, including a 65% credit on MWC2021, a 35% credit on MWC2022, and a 25% credit on MWC2023.

The event, held annually in Barcelona, was originally scheduled for this week. However, last September the GSMA agreed to postpone the event by four months to hedge its bets, just as Europe was heading into its second wave of Covid-19 infections. The question now is whether even the additional four months will be enough time to carry off a physical event.

GSMA still focused on physical event

According to a February interview with Mobile World Live, GSMA CEO John Hoffman is still intent on a physical event in Barcelona, but with fewer attendees and a lot of pandemic-related precautions. Hoffman indicated he expects 40,000-50,000 physical attendees, less than half of the 110,000 who attended in 2019. The GSMA also plans to require attendees to produce a recent negative Covid-19 test result and will create a “touchless environment” for things like conference registrations, entering and leaving halls, and the like.

Despite the GSMA’s optimism, a physical MWC2021 is no guarantee. Covid-19 cases have declined steadily since early January, but the pandemic continues to kill over 6,000 people per day globally, with Spain remaining one of the hardest hit countries.

Vaccinations are progressing slowly

Then there is the slow pace of vaccinations across most European countries. Thus far, Spain reports having administered just 3 million doses out of a population of 47 million. And even in countries such as the US that are further along, it appears increasingly clear that the vaccine will not be available to everyone who wants it until sometime in the summer.

Despite all these challenges, it seems clear the GSMA will do everything in its power to make this year’s “in person” event happen. And its future may depend on it: the Barcelona event, by some estimates, accounts for fully 80% of GSMA’s annual revenue.