Ericsson and Sony have withdrawn from the Mobile World Congress for the second year running, citing Covid-19 health and safety concerns for their staff.

The moves are a repeat of history from last year when Ericsson was one of the first companies to withdraw from the telecoms and mobile industry event. This then triggered a domino effect with big names such as Nokia, Sony, Facebook, LG and Amazon following suit, forcing the GSMA to cancel the event at the last minute.

It was the first major tech event to be cancelled because of the pandemic and its absence left a gaping hole in the technology events calendar, as well as decimating the GSMA’s revenues.

This year the GSMA decided to push ahead with a physical event in Barcelona for up to 50,000 people. It has been moved back by four months from its usual slot to 28 June to increase the chances of going ahead as vaccine rollouts around the world continue to pick up pace.

The GSMA said Mobile World Congress this year will host open-air events and make extensive use of body temperature checks and contactless interactions. Attendees will also need to produce a negative Covid-19 test every 72 hours.

However, Ericsson’s and Sony’s withdrawal will spark concerns that other companies will follow suit and cause a repeat of 2020.

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By GlobalData

An Ericsson spokesperson told Verdict: “In view of the continuing impacts from Covid-19 and our primary consideration towards our people, their health and well-being, we have decided not to participate in MWC 2021.

“The decision, whilst regrettable, reflects our precautionary approach to managing the pandemic from a people and travel perspective whilst vaccination programs are rolled out globally. We look forward to the opportunity to rejoin future events and continue to work closely with the GSMA and industry partners.”

In a statement to ITPro, Sony Mobile said it has “taken the decision that it will not be participating in MWC 2021″.

The spokesperson added: “As the world increasingly shifts towards digital and online opportunities to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), Sony Mobile will communicate in ways that can deliver our exciting product news to a wider audience.”

A GSMA spokesperson told Verdict that it “respects” Ericsson’s decision and pointed to its virtual event platform as an alternative means for “everyone” to attend the event.

The spokesperson added: “We are planning boldly but cautiously for an in-person event in Barcelona, recognising that planning in a pandemic is complicated. Global circumstances remain dynamic, and so we must behave accordingly, which means constant evaluation and fine-tuning. We are adapting as necessary whilst leading consistently with our role as convenors of a critical ecosystem.”

In other news TechCrunch reports that tech conference company Web Summit is set to spin its virtual conference software out into a separate startup business.  It follows soaring valuations for online events companies in the wake of the pandemic, with virtual events platform Hopin recently valued at $5.65bn – almost tripling its valuation in one year.

Read more: GSMA insist Mobile World Congress 2021 must go on in person