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[MWC] What to expect at Mobile World Congress 2017

IT and communications industry officials walk around to register for the Mobile World Congress 2017 at the Fira Gran Via Exhibition Center in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday. (Yonhap)
IT and communications industry officials walk around to register for the Mobile World Congress 2017 at the Fira Gran Via Exhibition Center in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday. (Yonhap)
BARCELONA -- With the theme of “The next element,” Mobile World Congress 2017 kicks off Monday, with around 2,200 tech firms showcasing their new devices and technologies.

The biggest trends of MWC, one of the more highly anticipated tech events that happens every year in Barcelona, Spain, is likely to be artificial intelligence and 5G, exhibited by smartphone makers, software developers and telecom operators. 

Handsets makers unveil AI-powered smartphones

Most tech firms, including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Huawei, Nokia and SK Telecom, planned big announcements Sunday at the venue, the day before the tech congress kicks off, to showcase or offer a glimpse of AI-powered smartphones and devices.

LG Electronics planned an unpack event to unveil its new flagship smartphone LG G6 featuring a voice-command system Google Assistant. G6 is the first non-Google smartphone to come with Google Assistant, which was first used for the Pixel and Pixel XL that Google rolled out in October. Google Assistant can help users make a phone call, play music and search the internet via voice commands.

Samsung Electronics arranged for the reveal of its new Galaxy Tab S3 tablet, along with a teaser video for the Galaxy S8 to give a glimpse of its flagship smartphone. The new device adopting its own voice-recognition assistant Bixby is expected to control all of Samsung’s home appliances and electronics via the technology.

China’s tech giant Huawei is presenting its premium smartphone P10 featuring Amazon’s AI assistant Alexa and Nokia, its PI with its own voice-recognition technology Viki.

Throughout the event, SK Telecom will showcase NUGU, a voice-activated AI platform that understands and processes Korean, as well as intelligent devices powered by NUGU.

SKT said, “We will make NUGU jump into the global market by adding voice recognition in English.”

5G and connected cars

Just as the Consumer Electronics Show has become much more about cars over the last decade, MWC is also turning into a congress for connected cars. This time, 5G and connected car technologies are likely to make headlines, with tech firms gearing up to showcase how 5G will be applied for self-driving cars.

The data transmission speed of 5G is 1,000 times faster than 4G, making it a key technology for autonomous cars that require massive data, such as information on their surroundings and traffic signals.

German luxury vehicle company BMW, attending MWC for the first time, is slated to unveil its 5G-based self-driving vehicle. BMW, which unveiled a connected car utilizing SK Telecom’s 5G network last year, is expected to test-operate self-driving cars in the US and Europe in partnership with Intel and Mobileye.

Other global automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Volkswagen, will reveal 5G-based self-driving car technologies. Tech giants, including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Intel, IBM and Huawei, will also unveil 5G-based connected car solutions.

From Tuesday to Thursday the week before MWC, the 5G Automotive Association held a forum in Barcelona to discuss 5G-based autonomous driving services and platforms. The members included global automakers Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi and tech giants SK Telecom, China Mobile, NTT DoCoMo and Verizon.

Korean Tech CEOs gather at MWC

Many Korean tech firms’ chiefs are gathering at MWC to make big announcements, deliver a keynote speech or explore new business opportunities.

Samsung Electronics’ mobile head Koh Dong-jin, who was on the stage to unveil the Galaxy S7 at last year’s MWC, is likely to keep a low profile this time, as Samsung has delayed revealing its flagship smartphone Galaxy S8 to April. Koh is expected to spend his time meeting clients and partners instead. An executive from Samsung’s European arm was put in charge of the company’s presentation of the new tablet Galaxy Tab S3.

Samsung’s local smartphone rival LG, which had big losses in its handset business last year, is betting big on its new flagship model G6. LG Electronics Vice Chairman Jo Seong-jin will meet management from telecom carriers and distributors in the US and Europe to discuss partnerships for the new device. LG’s mobile communications chief Cho Jun-ho took charge of the official reveal of the G6 and a press conference on its global marketing plans.

As to the nation’s three telecom operators, all the top executives in the companies are gathering in Spain.

KT Chairman Hwang Chang-gyu is slated to make a keynote speech Monday. Hwang, who also had delivered a keynote speech titled “5G and Beyond, Accelerating the Future” in 2015, will make a speech with the theme “Mobile. The Next Element” this time. He is expected to unveil how KT is preparing for 5G at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games as an official partner.

SK Telecom‘s CEO Park Jung-Ho, who was appointed two months ago, is joining the event following his visit to CES in January. Park, who is slated to have a press conference Tuesday, is expected to view market trends and explore new business opportunities.

As for LG Uplus, Vice Chairman Kwon Young-soo will visit the event, but the company has no plan to display new technologies or hold a press conference. 

By Shin Ji-hye ( /The Korea Herald correspondent