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Barcelona mobile show losing Korean players

Feb 06,2020
Korean companies are bailing out the MWC Barcelona 2020, the world’s largest exhibition for mobile devices, out of fear of the new coronavirus.

LG Electronics canceled its plan to have a booth and fly Korean reporters to Barcelona, citing safety concerns.

The “safety of its employees, partners and customers” should come foremost, LG Electronics said in a Wednesday statement. The move came more than two weeks before the annual show is scheduled to open on Feb. 24.

“This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel, which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders,” the statement said.

“In lieu of its participation in MWC, LG will be holding separate events in the near future to announce its 2020 mobile products.”

The company added that despite its withdrawal, top executives will take part in meetings with global mobile carriers in Barcelona as planned.

LG was preparing to introduce in Barcelona its latest high-end smartphones: the G9 ThinQ and the V60 ThinQ. The company typically saves its biggest smartphone releases every year for the MWC.

LG’s cancellation will be expensive. The event’s organizer, GSMA, imposes fines on cancellation. Hotel reservations and plane tickets for staff will also incur some cancellation costs. An LG spokesman explained that “despite the expense, the company made a decision that it’s not as important as safety,” adding that the cancellation penalties were “under negotiation.”

The MWC takes place far from China, the epicenter of the new coronavirus. But the event draws large numbers of Chinese companies and attendees. Huawei unveiled its first foldable phone, the Mate X, at last year’s exhibition.

“The MWC typically draws around 100,000 people -- around 30 percent of them are Chinese,” said an industry source.

The event became even more important for Chinese IT companies after Washington embarked on a trade war with Beijing. The absence of Chinese companies like Tencent and Alibaba from CES 2020 in January, a major electronics trade show held in Las Vegas, made headlines this year.

According to the United Nations, the mechanism behind the new coronavirus’s transmission is still unclear but respiratory diseases in general can be transmitted through human contact and also by touching a surface infected by the virus.

An exhibition that allows hands-on contact with all kinds of mobile devices may not be the safest spot for avoiding the illness.

Other Korean companies are weighing options to change their plans for the MWC.

Mobile carrier SK Telecom has decided not to take local reporters to Barcelona. A media briefing with CEO Park Jung-ho was canceled. The company will keep its booth at the event but will minimize the number of staff going to the event.

LG U+ wasn’t planning to set up a booth this year and said CEO Ha Hyun-hwoi’s attendance of the event was not yet decided. In the past, LG U+ CEOs attended. KT, which has a booth reserved, said the matter is under consideration.

Samsung Electronics said there was no change to its original participation plan as of Wednesday.

The company’s Unpack event for the Galaxy S20 and the Galaxy Z Flip in San Francisco, Feb. 11, will be unaffected as well, said a company spokesman.

As for the MWC’s organizer GSMA, the association released a statement Tuesday saying that the virus had “minimal impact on the event thus far” and highlighted that the show “will proceed as planned.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]