02 Mar 2018

Mobile World Congress 2018: trends, news, announcements

Editor Ian Poole looks at Mobile World Congress 2018 and what happened there: the main themes, major news and the technology trends.

Held in Barcelona, Spain, Mobile World Congress is the major event for the cellular telecommunications industry and in 2018 it was held between 26 February until 1 March 2018.

Each year GSMA Mobile World Congress provides a conference with industry leaders providing keynotes as well as many others providing information about the latest technologies and trends.

In addition to this it provides the opportunity to visit the huge exhibition and also to network amongst the thousands of other visitors and exhibitors that attend each year.

Others also use this opportunity to discuss and make business deals, making this one of the most valuable occasions for the year in the mobile telecommunications industry.

Whilst many people expect the weather to be sunny and bright, this year, the weather was cold, wet and dull, and there was even some snow. However the cold was contrasted by the really hot technology inside the event.

Event figures

The event is one of the largest exhibitions in the world and this year it attracted more than 107,000 visitors from 205 countries and territories. Over 55 per cent of this year’s Mobile World Congress attendees held senior-level positions, including more than 7,700 CEOs, up from more than 6,100 CEOs in 2017. Approximately 24 per cent of attendees were female, an increase from 23 per cent at Mobile World Congress 2017; additionally, 28 per cent of speakers in the conference programme were female, compared with 21 per cent in 2017.

Mobile World Congress 2019 banner

Mobile World Congress also enabled more than 2,400 companies to have stands and demonstrate a huge range of cutting-edge products and services. The exhibition area extended across 120,000 net square metres of exhibition and hospitality space at Fira Gran Via, including the new South Village, and this compared with more than 2,300 in 2017.

Major themes

With so many exhibitors, stands, keynotes and general talk around Mobile World Congress there was a huge amount of news and opinions from the different companies.

Rather than being just a mobile phone based conference, it could be said that it addresses every aspect of the mobile and digital connected worlds. Companies were looking at a variety of different topics – some looking at the 5G New Radio, 5G NR, whilst others were interested in the new phones, or the Internet of Things, and still others looking at aspects like the networks, and aspects like AI and machine learning were very evident. Also this year there was an increasing emphasis on connected cars as the technology is moving forwards and many companies are preparing for the fully connected car.

Mobile World Congress 2019 banner

MWC Conference

The MWC conference is a major area of the overall event, attracting some very high profile speakers. The conference programme delved into topics such as 5G, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), content and media, drones, blockchain, policy and regulation, and many others. The keynote sessions featured leaders from established players and industry upstarts, as well government agencies and the development community.

Keynote speakers represented organisations including Airobotics, Atrium TV, Bharti Enterprises, BT Group, China Mobile, CNN Worldwide, Ericsson, European Commission, Formula 1 Driver Fernando Alonso, GE, Go Beyond Investing, HTC, Hyperledger, McAfee, McLaren Technology Group, NTT DOCOMO, PullString, Rakuten, Red Hat, SheWorx, Government of Spain, SoftBank Vision Fund, Sprint, Synchronoss, Tata Communications, Telefónica, Telenor, Telia, Teralytics, United Nations Foundation, United States Federal Communications Commission, Vodafone, World Bank Group, World Food Programme and W20 Argentina Group.

5G development

Naturally one of the key points of interest was that of 5G. With the 5G NR standard released in December 2017, many companies were showing systems and test instrumentation that demonstrated their capabilities in this arena. Super high data rates - 4Gbps was a figure that was seen on the Keysight stand where they were using a Qualcomm modem.

Other companies too were demonstrating systems with very high bandwidths and data transfer rates. The top rates of even a few years ago are left well behind.

There was a lot of emphasis on massive MIMO and mmWave systems with many companies demonstrating systems. Rohde & Schwarz had some impressive gear to test massive MIMO and mmWave systems.

Mobile launches

As expected Mobile World Congress saw a number of phone launches. Many of the big manufacturers produced new handsets. The major launch of the event was from Samsung. With their huge market presence it was interesting to see where their new offering would proceed.

Last year the Samsung S8 launch was delayed until after MWC as a result of the additional testing needed after the disastrous issue of batteries. Also in previous years, many companies had focussed on virtual reality which was probably a relatively small market, after all, who wants to go around with a high thing over their eyes.

This year Samsung focussed on the camera technology using the slogan: “The Camera Reimagined.” The new S9 and S9+ provided excellent low light performance, high pixel count . . . and then processing to create emojis and Mickey Mouse versions of the faces on the images and a host of other things as well. All very clever, but may be of limited use for some people after they have used it a few times.

All of this poses the question about smartphones. They have been around for many years and have not really been developed for a few years. Yes, the performance has improved, but basically they offer the same type of functionality.

Short range technologies

One of the main areas in which a lot of 5G development is progressing is on mmWave techniques. However another area that needs to be considered is light communications. A company named pureLiFi has developed a very effective in home or in-office link using light communications. With bandwidth of many systems being a limiting factor, this could prove to be a winner.

IoT and M2M communications

There was a huge amount of interest in the Internet of Things, IoT. NBIoT was obviously well represented and there was a lot of talk about how it would become a reality. Other technologies like LoRa were also being advertised.

The concept for IoT and all its applications in smart home sand smart cities are now well established and many applications were seen from a host of different companies. The technology is now starting to mature, but the market is still in its early days. It takes time for new infrastructure to be implemented and there is still a lot of nervousness in many sectors.

In addition to this, domestic users can be reluctant to adopt totally new technology at times, and therefore this market will take its time to grow.


One key area of any radio access network is the antenna. A good number of interesting antenna technologies were on show. An active passive antenna system from RFS offered the possibility of replacing existing antennas with a new antenna of the same dimensions to enable additional 5G capability. This is particularly attractive for operators as changing the outline of the antenna can have huge cost implications as a result of needing to change the mast configurations.

Another interesting development was seen from Taoglas who were showing a software defined antenna that had a beam steering capability.

Networks & backhaul

Apart from the radio access network and the phones, there was also a lot of interest in the networks themselves.

The NGMN had an interesting press conference outlining the way forwards for 5G. One comment that was made that 5G was needed by operators to enable them to provide the data capacity needed as consumption becomes ever greater and at an increasing rate. Cost per bit and overall efficiency were key aspects.

There was also a lot of talk about software defined networks. Although this has been a theme for some while, other aspects like software defined fronthaul are now also coming to the fore. By using generic hardware and being effectively able to move the resource to where it is needed, even in new areas like fronthaul, network capacity can be utilised far more effectively and costs reduced.

Associated technologies

One of the points that came out of this year’s Mobile World Congress was the size of the ecosystem which encompasses mobile technology.

It was not long ago that NFC was on the point of taking off for contactless payments. Now this is incorporated in many cards and transactions are easy. However there is a limit of 20 to 40 Dollars, Pounds, Euros, etc. A company named Fingerprints has devised a very interesting technique for overcoming this and providing a very secure payment using biometrics. The payment transaction will only be accepted if the finger of the authorised user is touching the card. Simple, and very effective. The transaction takes no longer than a normal contactless payment.

Another very interesting technology was demonstrated by a UK based company called Speechmatics. They are focussing on speech technology and using it to provide on device decoding of speech.


Mobile World Congress 2018 was as busy as ever. There were the same difficulties of trying to move through the crowds to get to meetings on time. The Tuesday was probably the busiest day, but all days had huge crowds.

In terms of earth shattering announcements, there were possibly very few, but the general trend is to move forwards to 5G. Whilst some of the use cases like the ability to have remote medial operations will be very limited in the overall usage of the new network, it will certainly give a greater ability to do more . . . but without doubt the main justification for moving to 5G is the capacity increase that it provides.

Then there must be the prize for the most off the wall idea. This certainly must go to the connected Morse code workboots. This was being demonstrated in the Innovation City area and gave workers the ability to tap out Morse code on their boots if they became injured, etc.

With MWC18 now over, the task of planning MWC19 starts. With a vibrant city like Barcelona, the backdrop is ideal and it also has the infrastructure to cope with the enormous influx of visitors.

Mobile World Congress 2019 is set for 25 - 28 February 2019 . . . see you there!

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About the author

Ian Poole is the editor of Radio-Electronics.com. Having studied at University College London to gain his degree he went on to undertake a career in electronic development working for companies including Racal. He became the hardware development manager at Racal Instruments where he was in charge of the hardware development activities within the company. Later moving in to freelance work as a consultant he also developed Radio-Electronics.com to become one of the leading publications for professional electronics engineers. He is also a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and is the author of over 20 books.

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