AI and 5G in focus at top mobile fair

February 24, 2018 by Erwan Lucas With Daniel Silva In Madrid
Samsung will unveil its new flagship devices—the S9 and S9+ - on Sunday on the eve of the fair

Phone makers will seek to entice new buyers with better cameras and bigger screens at the world's biggest mobile fair starting Monday in Spain after a year of flat smartphone sales.

But with no major innovations awaited in handsets, analysts expect the four-day Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to focus on new uses for artificial intelligence (AI) and the looming deployment of super-fast 5G wireless networks.

Smartphone giants Huawei, LG or HTC are not expected to launch a new flagship device at the annual show, so Samsung will have the opportunity to grab the spotlight when it unveils its S9 and S9+ phones on Sunday on the eve of the fair.

The teasers suggest major changes to the camera, which will reportedly allow for "super slow-motion" videos and a new camera lens that improves low-light photos: features some of its rivals already offer.

The camera "seems to have become a major source of differentiation for the latest generation of smartphones," said mobile analyst Ben Wood of CCS Insight.

Samsung suffered a humiliating recall of its Galaxy Note 7 device in 2016 after several devices exploded but its Galaxy 8 smartphone was a consumer and critical success.

The company remained the world's biggest seller of smartphones in 2017 with a 21.6 percent market share, up from 21.1 percent in the previous year, according to research firm IDC.

Apple, which as usual will not be present at the show, was the second biggest vendor at 14.7 percent.

The world's biggest mobile fair will be held from February 26 to March 1
'Sea of sameness'

Overall global sales for 2017 were virtually flat—down 0.1 percent at 1.47 billion units—as phone makers struggled to come up with innovations that encourage customers to upgrade their devices.

"The sea of sameness continues to erode the impact that new models have on the market," said Wood.

In addition to better cameras, phone makers will focus on introducing bigger screens in mid-market devices, not just flagship ones, to try to boost their sales said Ian Fogg, senior director of mobile and telecom at IHS Markit.

"They are all really struggling to find good differentiation points to drive that upgrade cycle. They are not just competing with each other, they are competing with the phone that consumers already own that they may consider good enough."

The sector is hoping the introduction of blazing fast 5G mobile internet service—which is is about 1,000 times faster than the 4G widely available in the developed world—will trigger a wave of growth in equipment sales and mobile services.

The first deployment of 5G wireless networks, which are quick enough to download a full length film in less than a second, are expected in key markets like the United States, Japan and South Korea at the end of the year.

"We are in a phase of acceleration... as much for 5G as for artificial intelligence," said Jacques Moulin, the director general of IDATE, a French think tank on the digital economy.

The tech industry in December agreed on most universal standards for 5G, clearing the way for future wireless connections to support functions such as driverless cars and traffic systems.

"We will hear much more pragmatic discussion around 5G, around commercial trials, around what initial 5G networks will deliver. It is transitioning 5G from a future technology that has many possibilities into more of a business as usual approach," said Fogg.

Explore further: Phone firms turn to artificial intelligence at top mobile fair

Related Stories

Samsung set to launch new flagship smartphones

February 21, 2018

Samsung Electronics will unveil its next flagship smartphones—the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+—on Sunday, after it reported record profits in recent weeks and its vice chairman was released from prison.

ZTE launches world's first 5G-ready smartphone

February 26, 2017

Chinese telecoms giant ZTE unveiled Sunday what it said is the world's first smartphone compatible with the lightening-fast 5G mobile internet service that networks expect to have up and running by 2020.

Recommended for you

Fish-inspired material changes color using nanocolumns

March 20, 2019

Inspired by the flashing colors of the neon tetra fish, researchers have developed a technique for changing the color of a material by manipulating the orientation of nanostructured columns in the material.

Researchers shed new light on the origins of modern humans

March 20, 2019

Researchers from the University of Huddersfield, with colleagues from the University of Cambridge and the University of Minho in Braga, have been using a genetic approach to tackle one of the most intractable questions of ...

One transistor for all purposes

March 20, 2019

In mobiles, fridges, planes – transistors are everywhere. But they often operate only within a restricted current range. LMU physicists have now developed an organic transistor that functions perfectly under both low and ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2018
"phone makers struggled to come up with innovations..."

Try this for an innovation: Lower your prices. With telephone companies no longer subsidizing new mobile phone purchases, while still charging sky high monthly rates for service, multi-hundred dollar phones are just not in the budget.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2018
You will see the Qualcomm X24 2 Gbps LTE modem in action before you would see the 5G X50 or more likely a combination multimode 4G/5G with the two chips. Many new flagship phones would probably start using the 1 Gbps X20 LTE modem in the Qualcomm 845 mobile platform.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2018
"We are in a phase of acceleration... as much for 5G as for artificial intelligence," Hard to get excited about this if there isn't a killer app to exploit it and drive demand. Without it this looks to be far out on the curve of diminishing returns.

The killer app would be to get around the exorbitant service charges. Elon Musk needs to get onto this.

not rated yet Feb 24, 2018
Lower the prices. Any first rate company who lowers their prices will grab a much larger share of the market.
Thorium Boy
not rated yet Feb 26, 2018
Maybe people have stopped convincing themselves they need new phones ever year or two? Better cameras? Who cares? You view images on 5" screens. VGA was good enough.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.