The Impact of the Coronavirus on Global Electronics Conferences

2 days ago by Tyler Charboneau

This article explores how the virus disrupts the circulation of ideas that occurs at worldwide conferences for electrical engineers.

The novel coronavirus—now dubbed COVID-19 by health officials—has accounted for over 64,000 confirmed cases in 27 countries. As such, semiconductor companies are exercising caution when planning for upcoming conferences.

Technology giants like Foxconn and Apple temporarily halted operations of Chinese factories and experts expect this slowdown to impact global device manufacturing. According to Reuters, the virus could halve China’s smartphone sales in the first quarter.

But COVID-19 isn't only impeding device production. It's also impeding the discussions that lead to device production.

This article explores how the virus disrupts the circulation of ideas that occurs at worldwide conferences for electrical engineers.


The Impact of the MWC 2020 Cancelation

The GSMA recently canceled Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2020 when key attendees began pulling out of the conference.

Ordinarily, the event is known for hosting thousands of exhibitors and attendees annually, including some of the smartphone industry’s biggest names. In fact, GSMA has reported that the conference draws over 100,000 each year with China attendees accounting for 6% of those present. Some notable Chinese attendees from years past include Xiaomi, Huawei, and Siemens.


MWC 2019

MWC 2019 welcomed thousands of attendees last year. Image courtesy of GSMA


But in the weeks approaching this year's conference, Intel, LG, Vodafone, ZTE, Nvidia, Sony, Amazon, Cisco, and Ericsson—among others—withdrew their attendance. The risk of the coronavirus spreading at this international venue, along with the domino-effect of company drop-outs, proved too consequential for GSMA to stay their course for MWC.

While MWC's cancelation will certainly affect the way major manufacturers discuss emerging smartphone technology, it also might mean that engineers who would have attended might miss out on educational opportunities that such conferences offer. 

MWC had planned to focus heavily on design innovations in 5G smartphone devices, IoT devices, and AI. Each of these topics was primed with "hands-on" exhibitions.

Before the cancelation, MWC had expressed that their conference agenda was "meticulously crafted from months and months of research so that we can present some of the most sought-after topics in the tech space today." 


Is embedded world Still Happening?

An even more relevant conference to EEs, embedded world, has announced that they still plan on holding their 2020 conference from February 25–27 in Nuremberg, Germany. According to Reuters, Germany has so far accounted for 16 total cases of COVID-19


embedded world

embedded world start-up presentation. Image used courtesy of embedded world

Notable embedded world Dropouts

embedded world typically draws tens of thousands annually, but many of these companies are opting for safety in lieu of exposure. While some key attendees for embedded world have merely echoed the hesitations of those who anticipated MWC, others have dropped out altogether.

For one, STMicroelectronics—one of the world’s foremost manufacturers of ICs, MCUs, and sensors—has dropped out. IoT leader Telit is also withdrawing.


Chinese Presence

The embedded world site specifies that Chinese citizens will be allowed to the conference, accounting for 1% of attendees. 

Significantly, conference organizers have revealed that of the 100 companies currently registered for the event, "About 5% of them come from the Hubei region and the city of Wuhan." Sahar Esfandiari and Meghan Morris from Business Insider have found that Wuhan, which is no intellectual slouch, is shutting down many manufacturing facilities, including Siemens and BOE Technology Group. These companies contribute readily to the EE world. 

Although many of the companies attending embedded world aren't based in Wuhan proper, some are still headquartered in some of China’s most-populous areas. 

embedded world organizers do not anticipate that companies based in Wuhan or Hubei will actually attend the exhibition.


What Does embedded world Have in Store for Engineers?

Those who choose to attend embedded world will have access to what conference organizers call the "most important sector get-together for developers and decision-makers." In addition to exhibitions that present new innovations and lectures that analyze industry trends, the conference also offers a "Student Day" where thousands of university and college students can connect with potential employers. 

The major educational conferences that might appeal to an electrical engineer include: 

  • Electronic displays
  • Connected systems
  • Embedded OS
  • Hardware safety and security
  • Hardware engineering
  • Embedded vision
  • System-on-Chip (SoC) design and development

embedded world and conferences like it not only generate excitement for attendees; they spark future developments. Engineers who attend embedded world year after year look forward to the continuing education that such conferences afford.  


The Effect of coronavirus on Other Conferences

Many companies have been monitoring the coronavirus situation closely as conference dates approach. While we can't decisively predict more exclusions from these events, it's likely that public health developments will affect attendance at events to come.

The Applied Power Electronics Conference (APEC) is still slated for March 15–19 in New Orleans, Louisiana. It should be noted that there are currently 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US. While not a large deterrent yet, it's possible that the virus’ reach could expand in a month’s time. APEC seemingly draws a smaller, more localized crowd than its counterparts overseas, which might help mitigate the risk of exposure. 

Our own Kate Smith, Director of Content for All About Circuits, recently returned from the Automation Technology Conference (ATX) West in Anaheim, California. While safety concerns failed to sideline events, showrunners were keen on promoting public health measures. 


Coronavirus warning at AVX

A sign promoting public awareness of COVID-19 symptoms at ATX


The Future is Dubious

Conferences give the microphone to some of the largest electrical engineering teams in the world. Such powerhouses share a wealth of knowledge with attendees every year. 

By and large, we’re still in wait-and-see mode globally. The progression of the coronavirus has been unpredictable and it's possible that the virus is preventing important exchanges of ideas and technologies. 



What are your thoughts on MWC and embedded world's responses to the outbreak? How might important global conversations on design persist in the wake of Chinese quarantines and manufacturing pauses? Share your thoughts in the comments below.