Global mobile industry fair in Shanghai left po-faced by unstable internet services
Participants at a closely watched industry event about mobile technology in Shanghai were shocked on Wednesday to find themselves in the ironic situation of not being able to rely on the Wi-fi connection provided at the conference site.
The GSMA Mobile World Congress (MWC) launched its first Asia-focused event in China’s financial capital this week, hot on the heels of the hugely successful, and inaugural, Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia in the same city in May.
Both CES Asia and the ongoing Mobile World Congress Shanghai attracted global industry leaders and analysts to attend various meetings and exhibitions, but the latest round of disruptions to mobile internet services has left the organisers embarrassed.
MWC Shanghai provides two official Wi-fi connections, both of which went down briefly ahead of the keynote speech on Wednesday morning by Xi Guohua, chairman of China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile network operator by subscribers.
The connections soon recovered but remained unstable throughout the day, despite China Mobile serving as a technical support party throughout the proceedings.
The most likely cause of the meltdown was over-capacity. Such incidents are commonplace at big international sporting events in the city, for example when large crowds gather to watch the Shanghai Rolex Masters, Chinese Formula One Grand Prix or World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
Moreover, to raise the profile of the first Asia-focused MWC event, the organisers encouraged participants to log on to Twitter to share their thoughts and comments.
This may have surprised some Chinese guests as the social networking service has been banned on the Chinese mainland for seven years, even though it can still be accessed by Great Firewall-leaping virtual private networks, which can be obtained in China for a few US dollars a month.
MWC Shanghai urged participants to tweet using the official hashtag #MWCS15, which is advertised throughout the conference site. When CES Asia was held in Shanghai in May, it also had an official Twitter-friendly hashtag: #CESAsia.
The disconnect between the reality of censorship in China and the organisers' apparent ignorance of this ruffled some feathers at this week’s event.
“I’m a bit disappointed because I definitely need a VPN to get on Twitter if I want to say something about the event,” said one media industry participant.
Making matters even more complicated, many internet users in China have complained about the increased instability of VPN services in the country this year.
Beijing has been keen to strengthen its control of the internet under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, who ascended to power in November 2012.
Yet in August 2013, when US business magazine Fortune hosted its annual forum in the western Chinese city of Chengdu, attendees were somehow able to access Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times and numerous other blocked sites. They only encountered restricted access at the hotel where the event was held.
Such cases are rare, however, as local governments in China must seek special permission from Beijing to temporarily lift internet restrictions.
George Chen is managing editor of SCMP International Edition. For more Mr. Shangkong columns: facebook.com/mrshangkong or follow @george_chen on Twitter.