MWC 2024: Uncovering what’s next in mobile and beyond at MWC24

This year’s edition of MWC comes under the banner of Future First and, with the era of 5G now in full swing, the event promises to provide a glimpse into how emerging technologies built on this connectivity are poised to impact the mobile industry and beyond.

MWC Barcelona 2024­­ has six central themes running across the event: 5G and Beyond, Connecting Everything, Humanising AI, Manufacturing DX, Game Changers and Our Digital DNA. These core areas have shaped the session programme, keynotes and will be evident across the show floor.

Here MWC Daily News’ Chris Donkin previews the key elements likely to dominate the event and highlights some of the essential things to see and do during your time at the Fira Gran Via.

Generation AI

In the 12 months since the last edition of MWC Barcelona, Generative AI has dominated the technology industry headlines with companies from across the mobile sector eager to grab a slice of the highly hyped and much debated space. So, it’s no shock to see it feature so prominently on this year’s schedule.

Expect the technology to be a frequent reference point across the event with plenty of lively discussion about its usefulness, who runs it, industry use cases and whether it’s just another bubble about to burst.

Its journey into mainstream consciousness has not been without controversy with questions over whether the models are getting too good, bias and the knock-on societal impact of a highly AI-aided workforce.

One of the most interesting issues from a pure mobile industry perspective is how this rapidly evolving technology can be best embraced – whether that’s within an operator’s own business or through building go-to-market models to sell the technology to third parties bundled with more traditional services.

Regulation is never far away when it comes to developing technology areas. In this case data management, copyright, ethics and how models are developed are likely to be key themes.

It will also be a real shock if at least one prominent speaker doesn’t bring up some AI-fear cinema classics, so better brush-up on The Terminator, Robocop and Blade Runner terminology before hitting sessions on the topic to ensure the references aren’t lost.

Time for a reality check?

On the subject of hyped technology, rewind to early 2023 and talk of the metaverse was inescapable, but to say the chatter has died down since would be a massive understatement.

However, a lot of major players backed it heavily and it was always meant to be a long-term play so it’ll be interesting to see how prominent this alternative world is at this year’s event, and what the future is now deemed to be for the floated virtual space.

By the opening of MWC24 at least some people will have got their hands on Apple’s AR/VR Vision Pro device, assuming something hasn’t gone wrong between the time of writing and delivery of the first shipments. Should this, and other headsets fresh to the market, be well received it may breathe fresh life and impetus into the whole concept.

Perhaps those proclaiming it dead will find talk of its decline has been overplayed. It’ll just take one or two sock blowing-off demos on the show floor to reignite the imagination.

For both consumer and enterprise segments there are likely to be plenty of MR/XR/VR/AR headsets and applications being showcased alongside related accessories like haptic gloves and suits. The odd hologram may also make an appearance.

So keep your eyes peeled and you might just be able to witness what could be the future of work, play and everything.

A slice of the action

While MWC’s Future First theme lends itself to discussion on concepts expected to shape the 5G-Advanced and 6G eras, the continued drive to generate cash from existing investments is likely to be front and centre of many attendees’ minds.

With an ever-increasing number of nations entering the standalone 5G era the show is expected to be bursting with food for thought on uses for the upgraded infrastructure and potential of private networks within industry.

Use cases of network slicing are being touted for a range of sectors with data points and eye catching deployments available to back-up conceptual discussions of previous years.

Sport arenas, heavy industry, broadcast and healthcare have been long touted as potential golden eggs for 5G, and given some of the demonstrations and deployments presented by operators and vendors in the last year these will form a massively important strand of MWC24.

Digital manufacturing is one of the core themes of the event alongside “game changers” covering extended reality. So expect inspirational presentations and ideas from work already going on with third parties.

Following last year’s flagship Barcelona MWC the GSMA announced 56% of the 88,500 attendees at the event came from industries adjacent to mobile. To build on this, the event’s popular Industry City has been expanded and rolled into a new Connected Industries area in Hall 4.

The area covers Industry 4.0 in Manufacturing alongside summits on smart mobility, fintech and mobile commerce, sports and entertainment.

Within this zone demonstrations from a range of segments will be available covering areas such as healthcare, hospitality, maritime, manufacturing, mining, aviation and agriculture.

With such a proliferation of exhibitors showcasing how mobile technology is already enabling digital industries expect a healthy smattering of robot arms and automated bots in the halls. And, if it’s anything like last year, the robots will also be preparing a few decent lattes and well poured beers.

Transforming the network

Open RAN, adoption of satellite connectivity and sustainability have been prominent industry issues over the last year and, given the huge presence of key vendors in the halls, MWC provides the perfect opportunity to discover innovations set to shape tomorrow’s mobile networks.

The space race has been hotting-up all year and, with several dedicated sessions taking place, the future role of non-terrestrial networks is sure to be a key talking point. Those with a keen interest in the extra-terrestrial will also be hopeful at least one of the exhibitors brings some rocket or satellite kit with them.

Open RAN has been a strong stream in recent years and 2024 looks to be no different as deployments continue to increase in both their numbers and scope. The event is set to showcase progress made so far with players at the forefront of this ecosystem presenting related sessions.

On the topic of opening infrastructure, one of the major announcements of MWC23 was the launch of the GSMA Open Gateway initiative. Momentum on this has continued all year, so expect some major updates to progress at MWC24.

Get into the big issues

MWC has a proud tradition of highlighting the important and sometimes difficult issues faced by the mobile sector and world as a whole.

Although many of these are covered off on the keynote stage (see article right) deeper dives, technical sessions and specialist subjects are well catered for at the many side sessions.

Ways to improve diversity within the industry, support new talent, deal with the emergence of AI and its impact on the workforce are issues facing companies across the globe. Discussion on these topics are sure to feature prominently around the Fira.

Across the nine halls of MWC and 4YFN there will be 17 different stages with over 1,100 speakers set to feature.

Once again MWC Barcelona hosts a specific Ministerial Programme where mobile industry leaders, regulators and other authorities unite to discuss important policy issues for today and into the future.

Other standalone events and tracks include the Sports Tomorrow Congress, held on Monday and Tuesday in collaboration with FC Barcelona, which brings together technology experts to discuss what’s next in that field.

The Diversity 4 Tech programme also makes its reappearance with a range of sessions offering the opportunity for attendees to gain a deeper understanding of the benefits of diversity and learn practical steps to creating a more inclusive industry community.

Expect the unexpected

With such a packed agenda of sessions and meeting diaries crammed to breaking point finding time for a thorough explore of the exhibition halls can be tough.

However, these unscheduled walks might just be where the next big business opportunity or technology is to be found. They also provide the perfect opportunity for some pretty unusual team photos.

With exhibitors spread across the show covering everything from the latest in electronic dance mat technology to vehicles, there is inspiration (and often something a bit strange) around every corner.

According to statistics from GSMA Intelligence the number of connected IoT devices will reach over 15 billion in two years. Many of the types of devices and sensors being adopted will be showcased across the halls at MWC, alongside technology central to actually connecting them.

Unusual draws in the exhibition last year included a robot dog, a big name CEO drumming on his stand, a replica of Godzilla, retro handsets, high-end vehicles, industrial machinery, a multitude of extended reality experiences and video games including a classic Street Fighter II cabinet.

So when you have a minute take a stroll. On the next stand you might discover a game changing technology, or a large display of mobile phones last used twenty years ago.

Tomorrow’s devices and some of today’s

As is always the case at MWC the halls are awash with the latest smartphones and wearables, so the exhibition provides a great opportunity to check out the latest wares from some of the biggest names in the consumer technology industry.

The days and weeks prior to MWC are usually packed with device launches, and this year looks to be no different with many of these handsets making their event debut in Barcelona.

There are also a number of launches from big name OEMs slated to happen in Barcelona around the Fira so be sure to check-out MWC Daily News, the Mobile World Live website or look up at the TV screens around the venue for the latest on those.

In terms of smartphones, the foldable market continues to mature, so expect a lot of promotion of hinge technology and improvements in flexible screens. Over the last year several vendors have unveiled new concepts around materials for displays and batteries which will provide an interesting glimpse of the next handset evolutions.

Of course, connected consumer technology is more than just mobile handsets. In the last year there has been a jolt of interest in the previously mentioned connected eyewear scene, both at the ultra high-end (Apple, we’re looking at you) and more affordable units designed to resemble traditional glasses.

Smart watches and fitness bands too bulky? Well, luckily smart rings are beginning to make tracks in the devices market. Samsung teased it was getting into this emerging market at the end of the launch of its latest flagship Galaxy last month.

Keep an eye out for these small pieces of connected tech on some of the more consumer tech focused stands.

Power of connection

Often in event previews such as this the importance of actually meeting people is glossed over, but collaboration with partners, actually seeing colleagues face-to-face and forming new connections is a huge benefit from in-person shows such as MWC.

In today’s world of remote working in-person events provide an opportunity to connect with colleagues you may only see on video calls for the rest of the year. Long term partnerships are formed and maintained and, as the pandemic demonstrated, there is no real replacement for physical events.

Networking spaces can be found across the event alongside specific meeting rooms and a range of food and drink options.

The GSMA and numerous exhibitors are putting on a range of networking and winding-down activities across the four days.

Several food and entertainment spaces will be available serving-up authentic food, cultural and entertainment experiences.

Among these Beat Barcelona, which is on the outdoor terrace just outside Hall 8, will be putting on culinary delights alongside live music every day. In partnership with L’Hospitalet City Council the Meet & Eat space is present for its ninth year, located a short stroll from the South Entrance complete with its delights from local chefs and artists.

So why not grab a pew, a robot-poured Estrella and meet a current or future industry colleague. After such a packed schedule you definitely deserve a rest!

See more: Journey to the Future at MWC Barcelona 2024

See more: MWC 2024: Future First – Experience the Power of Connection

See more: GSMA unveils new keynote speakers and features for MWC Barcelona 2024