The most important tech show of the telecommunications industry, which regularly attracts over 100,000 attendees from across the globe, will take place in the Spanish city of Barcelona from 25 to 28 February.

MWC Barcelona: A heady mix of AI, 5G and global politics

Attendees can expect to see all the ‘mega-trends’ of today come together: 5G, AI and machine learning.

The event will offer a thorough industry progress report on the digitalisation of our network and communications structures, societies and industries.

5G will be an acronym on just about everyone’s lips. Expect plenty of announcements around 5G network readiness, pilots and rollout plans from the carriers. Attendees will also be wanting to get a good look at the first generation 5G phones and get a sense of their capabilities.

The Chinese manufacturers, in particular, will be in force, and people are expecting to see the unveiling of half a dozen 5G phones from them alone – and much scrutiny will be given to form factors and superior pricing.

As widely discussed in the media, the three key devices themes this year are likely to be 5G speed and capabilities, new ‘foldable’ form factors, and multiple rear cameras.

From the carriers themselves, we’ll see an array of so-called 5G use-cases: The new services that this new technology promises, both for the enterprise and the consumer market. To date, self-driving cars, remote surgery, smart cities and gaming are anticipated to be high on the 5G trend list, although these are still considered to be ‘far-off’ use cases.

Huawei and ZTE

Typically considered ‘the boring end of the market’, vendors this year will be uniquely challenged to answer MWC attendee questions about the politics now dominating the 5G space, and particularly the attitude by the US government to Chinese mega-vendors Huawei and ZTE citing national security concerns, and any likely European movement in the same direction.

The GSMA – the mobile telecommunications industry’s key trade organisation – recently warned European regulators to tread carefully. Any negative backlash against these vendors could have serious consequences for the entire 5G market, the organisation said.

AI and machine learning will also dominate vendor and carrier stands and demos, as the industry starts to get more comfortable with algorithm-driven decision-making in virtually all industry functions, from networks to improved customer service.

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