July 16, 2024
What we expect from MWC 2024

In a little over a week’s time (February 26-29) around 85,000 or so attendees will descend upon the Fira de Barcelona for Mobile World Congress 2024. Over the past few years, the show has become arguably the most important mobile event of the year. Phone makers, telecoms and a variety of other tech vendors, journalists and analysts converge to discuss what the next year will hold for the industry.

Like every other major in-person event, the last few years have been rocky for MWC. In 2019, the show hit 109,000 visitors — not quite CES numbers (which hit ~175,000 that same year), but still an impressive turnout for what is ultimately a significantly more narrowly focused show. COVID hit the show hard for a few years (join the club).

After many major vendor withdrawals and weeks of handwringing, the GSM Association (GMA) canceled the 2020 event. A significantly scaled back version of the event happened the following year, with a hard cap on attendance. 2022 saw the beginnings of a bounce back to 60,000 attendees, while last year hit 88,500. Organizers anticipate a similar figure for this year’s event. The number is still down significantly from the show’s height, but MWC still qualifies as a large show.

It’s a good bit harder, however, to judge the show’s current level of importance for the industry. This is due in no small part to some macro trends that have impacted pretty much every tech industry tradeshow. Even prior to the pandemic, large vendors had begun migrating to their own standalone events, so as to not get lost among the noise. COVID only expedited the trend, as companies were forced to figure out live event streaming.

Some of the biggest industry names no longer have a major presence. Take Samsung, which has taken to announcing its new flagships during the once-slow weeks between CES and MWC. As we head into this year’s event, I would love to tell you that — as with CES — small, fascinating startups have rushed in to fill that void, but it’s not really the case. At least it’s nowhere near the degree of what we’ve seen from the Vegas event.

There is a decent enough startup presence at MWC, though it takes the form of its own sister event. 4FYN (that’s Four Years From Now) is celebrating its tenth year of existence in 2024. Hopefully that will translate into an exciting showing. The event is run by the same organization in the same venue. I’ve come to think of it as the Mobile World Congress equivalent to CES’ Eureka Park: a big, cacophonous room full of startups. There are honestly worst ways to spend an afternoon for work.

For the companies that participate on the show floor and in pitch-offs, it’s a chance to get an audience with MWC’s large and engaged audience. For us, it’s an opportunity to check out smaller firms that might have otherwise flown under the radar. The event isn’t exclusive to European startups, but they tend to dominate for reasons of proximity. It’s a lot easier to swing over to Spain than it is to fly across an ocean and a continent or two in order to hang out in the neon pit of despair that is Las Vegas, Nevada.

If you’re planning to show off some interesting new tech, let us know here.

Some of the trends I anticipate dominating the conversation include a continued focus on health-centered wearables, including newer form factors like the smart ring. Head-worn displays have always had something of a presence at the show. It seems to be among the bigger shows for HTC Vive, for instance. In the wake of Apple’s Vision Pro launch and Qualcomm’s commitment to AR and VR, I expect to be talking a lot about this once the show kicks off.

MWC is also a fun show for concept devices. This is where Lenovo/Motorola shine. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Lenovo is having the most fun among the world’s major consumer electronics manufacturers. Expect everything to fold and/or slide. Some will be pure concepts, but Lenovo’s not afraid to release some truly, delightfully weird stuff. There’s even a “transparent laptop” currently rumored for the event.

Speaking of rumors, Nothing’s mid-tier 2a handset is pegged for a March 5 release (albeit an apparently limited one here in the U.S.). Carl Pei’s old company, OnePlus, will also be present. Last year’s show found the company leaning into its own line of concept devices. This year, meanwhile, it’s rumored to be readying the release of the OnePlus Watch 2.

More broadly speaking, expect AI everywhere at MWC, but be prepared to cut through the BS (don’t worry, we’re here to help). Samsung broke the “generative AI smartphone seal with the Galaxy S24 line,” and now it’s going to be out in full form with applications ranging from helpful to ridiculous. I’m cautiously optimistic about the proliferation of AI devices in the mold of the Humane Pin and Rabbit R1. As with CES, I anticipate robots getting a moment to shine at the event, albeit primarily from European companies this time out. There’s also the matter of that Xiaomi car.

Above all, this is a big show for telecos, and yes, the 6G conversations have already begun. Remember before the inevitable deluge, however, that we’re still in the VERY early stage of development. No standard has been agreed upon and we’re likely ~four years out from actually seeing compatible devices. However, 5.5G/5G advanced is very much a reality being pushed by Chinese firms, in particular. Expect to hear a lot about this — and other things — from Huawei, which has spent the last several years slowly clawing its way back up after losing access to Google and Qualcomm products.

Also very real and likely to be very present at this year’s show is Wi-Fi, which succeeds Wi-Fi 6E as the latest wireless standard. TechCrunch will be live and present at MWC, as well.

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