LONDON (AP) – The latest folding-screen smartphones, immersive Metaverse experiences, AI-powered chatbot avatars and other eye-catching technologies are set to wow attendees at the annual MWC wireless trade show, which begins Monday.
The four-day event, held in a huge conference center in Barcelona, is the world’s largest and most influential gathering of the mobile industry. The variety of technologies on display illustrates how the show, also known as Mobile World Congress, has evolved from a forum for mobile phone standards to a showcase for emerging wireless technologies.
Organizers expect up to 80,000 visitors from as many as 200 countries and territories when the event resumes in full force after several years of pandemic disruptions.
Here’s a look at what to expect:
There was a lot of buzz about the Metaverse at last year’s MWC and other tech shows like last month’s CES in Las Vegas. Expect more at this event.
A number of companies plan to showcase their Metaverse experiences that will allow users to connect with each other, participate in events far away, or step into fantastic new online worlds.
Software company Amdocs will use virtual and augmented reality to offer users a ‘meta tour’ of Dubai. Other tech and telecom companies are promising Metaverse demos to help with physical rehab, try on clothes virtually, or learn how to fix airplane landing gear.
The metaverse’s popularity exploded after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg touted it as the next big thing for the internet and his company in late 2021. However, doubts have been creeping in lately.
“Any business model around the metaverse is a big question mark right now,” said John Strand, a veteran telecommunications industry consultant.
AI has caught the attention of the tech world thanks to dramatic advances in new tools like ChatGPT that can hold conversations and generate human-readable text. Expect artificial intelligence to be used as an “overused buzzword” at MWC, said Ben Wood, senior analyst at CCS Insight.
Companies promise to show how they use AI to make home Wi-Fi networks more energy efficient or spot counterfeits.
Microsoft press representatives have hinted that they may have a demonstration of ChatGPT, but have not provided any details. The company added AI chatbot technology to its Bing search engine, but struggled to make fixes after responding with insults or wrong answers to some users who were granted early access.
Startups will demonstrate their own AI-powered chat technology: D-ID will show off their spooky “digital human” avatars, while Botslovers says its service promises to “free people from boring tasks”.
NOT JUST SMARTPHONES
The MWC has been on the upswing over the past decade as the smartphone era boomed and device makers vied for attention with glittering product launches. Today, smartphone innovation has plateaued and companies are increasingly introducing phones in other ways.
Attention at the show will focus on potential applications for 5G, the next generation of ultra-fast wireless technology that promises to unleash a wave of innovation beyond smartphones, such as automated factories, driverless cars and smart cities.
“Mobile phones will still be a hot topic at MWC, but they’ve become a mature, iterative and almost boring category,” Wood said. “The only excitement will come from the volume of foldable designs and prototypes, but the true size of the market for these premium products remains unclear.”
Device launches are being dominated by a slew of lesser-known Chinese brands including OnePlus, Xiaomi, ZTE and Honor, which are trying to take market share from market leaders Apple and Samsung.
Chinese tech giant Huawei will have a strong presence at MWC despite being blacklisted by Western governments as part of a broader geopolitical battle between Washington and Beijing over technology and security.
Organizers say Huawei will have the largest presence at the show among around 2,000 exhibitors. Even after the US urged its allies to get its cellphone companies to block or restrict Huawei’s network equipment over concerns Beijing could trick the company into cybersnooping or sabotaging critical communications infrastructure.
Huawei, which has repeatedly denied these allegations, has also been pressured by Western sanctions aimed at starving out components like microchips.
Analysts say one message Huawei could be sending with its oversized display is defiance of the West.