Grave global events overshadow Mobile World Congress once more

MWC 2022 was supposed to mark a return to normal after the two-year pandemic, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has ensured that won’t be the case.

While diplomatic tensions between the US and China mean the world of telecoms is never too far removed from global geopolitics, the most significant act of military aggression on the European continent since World War Two has made it hard to concentrate on anything else. Russia launched a full invasion of Ukraine just days before the start of the show, wrong-footing everyone, it seems, and forcing the rest of the world to scramble for a response.

Global mobile industry association the GSMA, which runs MWC and had to cancel it while the Covid pandemic sent the world into lockdown, is no exception. Today, on the eve of its first full Barcelona event for three years, it published the following on its website.

GSMA position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The GSMA strongly condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The situation is fast-moving, and we understand that various governments are considering broader sanctions against Russia. In light of this emerging situation and considering the tragic loss of life, MWC seems immaterial under the circumstances. MWC is a unifying event with a vision to convene the mobile ecosystem to progress ways and means that connectivity can ensure people, industry, and society thrive.

The GSMA follows all government sanctions and policies resulting from this situation. There will be no Russian Pavilion at MWC22. Security for the event is constantly reviewed and adjusted as information emerges.

It does indeed seem immaterial. Every exhibitor, attendee and commentator must now carry the weight of anxiety and sadness with them at what we all hoped would be a celebration of the industry we have devoted our professional lives to. Whatever we try to achieve at the show now feels just one smartphone news bulletin away from being rendered irrelevant.

But try we must. Walking around beautiful Barcelona and seeing its pavement cafes and bars buzzing with activity despite the surprisingly cold weather, serves as a reminder of the lighter side of life, of what it’s all about. The people we see here don’t seem to ask too much, just the chance to drink and chat with their mates and generally have a bit of a laugh every now and then.

While MWC is expected to be diminished this year, and may never recover its pre-pandemic attendance levels, those that do attend will be reminded why shows such as this are vital. Yes, you can have meetings over Zoom and sign contracts electronically but, ironically, telecommunications will never provide an adequate substitute for face-to-face meetings.

The social dynamics of meeting in person are unique. From non-verbal communication to shaking hands (which also seems to be finally returning) to combining business with pleasure over a drink or meal, a face-to-face conversation is a much richer and more enduring social interaction than any other. That’s we always record the Podcast in-person, if at all possible.

So while the GSMA’s position on the Russian Pavilion is understandable in the circumstances, it’s great to see so many other countries that have found their telecoms industries used as pawns in the return of The Great Game represented here. Let’s use this time to remind ourselves of all that we have in common, personally as well as professionally, and to show what can be achieved when people put aside their differences and just try to get along.


Image credit: GSMA

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  1. Avatar David Piachaud, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics 02/03/2022 @ 3:32 pm

    The article in News written by Scott Bicheno records the GSMA statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
    But it fails to set forth any contribution that the telecomms industry might make. Surely there are possibilities.

    Russian attitudes are largely shaped by Russian television, controlled by the Russian Government, which servilely echoes the views of President Putin. Aside from the internet and brave anti-war protesters there is little information that allows the Russian population to understand why the whole world, barring Belarus, condemns Russia or to understand the suffering being inflicted in their name on the people of Ukraine.

    One crucial channel of communications is the telephone. Its potential has yet to be realised and your organisation could – and should – play a vital role.

    In contrast to most wars, the peoples of Russia and Ukraine can understand each other – most Ukraineans speak Russian – and most households in both countries have phones.
    If one in twenty Ukraineans were each to phone ten Russians, then half the Russian population could be spoken to. Of course that would not of itself bring peace but it could make a huge difference.

    It is surely not beyond the skills and resources of the telecomms industry to provide channels of communication, via third party countries if necessary, to provide listings of their subscribers, and to provide free access for Ukraineans to explain person-to-person what is being done to their country. Perhaps the Russian Government might seek to block this but this would risk their entire phone system being shut down.

    Wars almost always occur when nations have radically different interpretations of the situation and of events. Communications – in fact telecommunications – are a key to better understanding.

    Surely the telecomms industry can do more than regret that the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is overshadowed by the terrible events in Ukraine.

    Surely it can take rapid and significant initiatives that could make a real contribution to peace.

    • Scott Bicheno Scott Bicheno 03/03/2022 @ 2:26 pm


  2. Avatar mike short 06/03/2022 @ 8:34 am

    For balance let me add, for any industry built on global standards and collaboration (such as Mobile), any war is profoundly upsetting and disruptive to the people directly affected, as reflected in Scotts article. Even before MWC 2022 started, calls to Ukraine were being zero rated by some operators, roaming charges waived, connectivity being assured, and international media reporting supported. Fundraising using Digital techniques and support to diplomatic efforts. Key players in the industry have suspended supplies to the principle aggressor.
    This has all happened very quickly with real industry leadership and response, but it is not for a global sector to deal with ALL the issues such aggression can bring, even if there is still room for good ideas and an end to bloodshed .

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