Has it really come round again? MWC 2017 is just four weeks away. As ever, it will present an unmissable opportunity to network, try out gadgets, absorb new ideas and queue for lunch. Here’s your sneak peak at the show’s big attractions…

Are you are going to Mobile World Congress? Have you booked your flights yet? If not, start walking now.

Veterans of the show (this will be my 16th) will know how megalithic the expo has become. When it was plain old 3GSM, it was held in a small conference centre in Cannes.

By 2006, the GSMA realised that tens of thousands of mobile execs might need more than a few yachts and one smoky cafe to sustain them.

It moved the show to Barcelona, and 50,000 showed up. Last year, the attendance broke 100,000.

Hence: you’ll never get a flight.

Yes, MWC Barcelona is a world away from 3GSM Cannes. The truth is, Mobile World Congress is not a ‘mobile’ show any more. Not like it was. In the ‘old’ days, the focus was exclusively on handsets and networks. Gradually, content and VAS crept in (which was when the MEF started going).

Today, MWC hosts car companies, premium watch brands and smart city exhibits. In 2016, there was even an Oral B stand.

Toothbrushes!

Of course, what links all these elements is, well, what links them. Connectivity.

The operators, processor vendors and infrastructure specialists are building towards 5G. And they want to facilitate a world of connected things. Not just phones.  That said, there will still be many excellent handsets to see (tablets too). So let’s look ahead to the big showcase in just four weeks’ time…

The return of Nokia

Last year, Ford had more ‘devices’ at MWC than Nokia (it had a car). Nokia’s reinvention as a backend networks company was complete.

But there’s another bit of Nokia (owned by Finnish company HMD Global) that owns the rights to make phones. And this one will be back at MWC in 2017 with its new Android device, the Nokia 6. And maybe the budget Nokia Heart.

A non-modular LG G6

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 12.18.52LG was a big winner PR wise in 2017. Attendees were all over its modular G5 device, with bits you could snap on an off according to your taste.

The public were less interested, and it appears that modular was a brave experiment that is now being ‘parked’ (Google also canned its similar Project ARA). So instead, look out for the G6 which apparently has an unusually tall 2:1 ratio.

BlackBerry is back

It’s been a strange few years for the company formerly known as RIM. Five years ago, it ruled MWC. Nearly everyone who went had a BlackBerry. Then in no time, well, they didn’t. The company ploughed on and gave us weird devices like the square BlackBerry L. Then in September it got out of hardware.

The end? No! A new firm, TCL, is making BlackBerrys again. It has already previewed an Android device codenamed Mercury. At MWC expect a proper launch.

Something different from the ‘challenger’ brands

Is it racist to say smartphones all look alike? There will be lots of sleek rectangles at MWC. But you can still find innovation if you look hard enough.

So check out the smaller OEMs. Previously, for example, Oppo unveiled a camera that swivelled. And Russia-based Yota has a lovely device with e-ink that turns its back into a display.

pokemon.jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-422,289Where will Pokemon Go next?

Keynotes can be risky at MWC. Sometimes the big names play it safe and their talks can be bland. That said, two stand out this year. First is John Hanke, creator of Pokemon GO and founder of NIANTIC. He should have fascinating things to say about AR and the future of gaming.

Then there’s Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. Expect to hear him talk about what’s next for streaming video – and maybe some opinions on Net Neutrality.

Android Wear 2 devices

The wearables market has had a sobering time since the hysteria of MWC 2015, when most of the big device makers rushed out watches and fitness trackers – and advertised them on every wall in Barcelona. In the interim wearables have remained a minority interest. Some OEMs – Motorola for example – have pulled back.

However, MWC 2017 should see the debut of some Android Wear 2.0 devices. The OS was initially unveiled at Google’s I/O conference last May, and Google is promising a launch in Feb. Android Wear 2.0 supports standalone apps on the device (no need to have a smartphone connected). LG could be the stand to visit.

Smart speakers

If 2015 was all about wearables, and 2016 was the year of VR, it’s a safe bet 2017 will be in thrall to the voice-activated smart speaker.

Screen Shot 2017-01-25 at 12.22.05The success of Amazon’s Echo has prompted a stampede towards this new sector. And for those who missed CES, MWC could be the first opportunity to have a good look at Google Home, Omaker WoW, LG Hub Robot, Lenovo Smart Assistant and others.

A reality check for virtual reality

At times, MWC 2016 was a bit like Disneyland, with people queuing round the block for rollercoasters. VR rollercoaster simulations, that is.

2017 will be different. There will be Vives and Oculuses (Occuli?) and Gears. But the novelty will be gone. So most interest will be on Google Daydream headsets. Google introduced Daydream last year as a new VR platform for Android built into Nougat. Reports suggest Huawei could unveil its own headset in Barcelona.

Drones, robots, AI… head to Hall 8

Hall 8 is a long old walk from the main entrance at MWC. But it could be worth the trek this year as GSMA has re-branded it as NEXTech. It says Hall 8 will showcase all the sexy stuff “from VR and AR, to robotics, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and more”. Watch out for drones.

And what you won’t see…

The Samsung Galaxy S8

Sunday nights is traditionally Samsung night at MWC. Every year the OEM’s press event gets bigger. In 2016, it went stratospheric with the launch of the raved-about S7 Curve and that appearance by Mark Zuckerberg.

However, it’s possible Samsung will take a year off in 2017. Certainly, there will be no S8 preview. It seems Samsung may still be recovering from its Note problems…

The Surface Phone

What’s going on with Windows Phone? How many devices will be on show at MWC? Probably not many (though HP is backing the OS). Microsoft watchers still think a Surface phone is coming this year. CEO Satya Nadella has encouraged this thinking with talk of Microsoft being positioned to make “the ultimate mobile device”. But not in time for Barcelona.

Apple

As ever, the industry’s most influential company will not be officially present at MWC. It will send some execs, but they will have their badges facing inwards.

MEF Connects MWC 2017 – Member registration is open

MEF Connects MWC in association with American Express takes places on Monday, 27th February. Now in it’s 15th year this is the premier networking event on the first night of Congress, bringing together over 400 members and industry guests from across the mobile ecosystem.

MEF is also hosting a series of sessions for members and guests to showcase the work of MEF’s Programmes and Chapters throughout MWC week – find out more.

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