BARCELONA (AFP, REUTERS) - One of the technology industry's biggest annual get-togethers is set to kick off in the Spanish city of Barcelona on Monday (Feb 28), under the shadow of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Mobile World Congress (MWC), where smartphone and telecoms companies show off their latest products and reveal their strategic visions, is expected to welcome more than 40,000 guests over its four-day run.
Organisers hope to return to a full-scale event after two years of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Russia's invasion of Ukraine has hampered preparations for this year's edition, with organisers forced to remove the country's dedicated pavilion. They also condemned the invasion on Friday.
Industry body GSMA, which stages the annual event, said in a statement it was complying with all sanctions and policies regarding Russia. It confirmed that Russian firms may still be able to participate.
But a few Russian companies will not be able to participate at the event because of economic sanctions, GSMA chief executive officer John Hoffman said in an interview, adding it was unclear which companies would be affected.
The invasion has sparked wider jitters, with the industry assessing sanctions slapped on Russia by the United States and Europe and a likely shortage of key raw materials caused by the conflict.
The MWC was cancelled at the last minute in 2020 as the pandemic spread from China to Europe, and last year's edition was drastically scaled down.
The pandemic continues to cast its shadow with big names like Sony, Asus and Lenovo pulling out or participating "virtually".
But organisers are bullish, with GSMA director general Mats Granryd saying 95 per cent of speakers will be in Barcelona.
Said Mr Constanti Serrallonga, general manager of Fira de Barcelona, the event's venue: "Build-up began a week ago and is advancing at good pace. We are expecting to see an edition that will almost look like a pre-pandemic event."
The Ukraine invasion has not led to any significant hotel cancellations in Barcelona related to MWC with the exception of some representatives from Eastern European countries, tourism website Hosteltur reported.
Among the tech giants confirming their attendance are smartphone behemoth Samsung, as well as Nokia, Ericsson, Google, Huawei and Verizon.
Focuses of this year's event include the rise of 5G, the opportunities offered by the Internet of Things (IoT), the metaverse and the impact of tech on the environment.
Few new products are expected to be unveiled by the major players, many of whom have showcased their latest releases in the weeks leading up to the get-together.
The show will, however, provide Chinese phone makers such as Oppo, Xiaomi and Vivo with a "coming out party", according to Mr Ben Wood of CCS Insight.
"It's the first time they will be able to flex their muscles at a big Western trade show," he told AFP, pointing out that they have all become much bigger during the pandemic.
They are filling a void left by Huawei, which has been hobbled by sanctions imposed by the US in 2019 over accusations its wireless systems could allow spying by Chinese state entities.
The entire industry will now need to reckon with sanctions over the Ukraine invasion, with the US already announcing restrictions on technology exports to Russia.
"The smartphone market, and other technology product markets, are unlikely to remain sheltered from the impact of the crisis in Ukraine, given the economic and geographic significance of both Russia and Ukraine," said Ms Marina Koytcheva of CCS.
Both countries supply raw materials such as neon and palladium used to manufacture smartphone components.
And the conflict could lead to shortages of many other products and rising prices, which could in turn hit demand for phones, she said.
The smartphone market grew by 5.7 per cent last year, with 1.35 billion devices sold worldwide, according to analyst firm IDC.
Samsung sold the most phones followed by Apple and Oppo.