MWC 2024, Sunday 25 February

MWC 2024 officially opens its doors tomorrow, and our team is once again on the ground in Barcelona covering all the big tech announcements.

Our daily coverage starts today with our pick of announcements and developments ahead of MWC. Several companies held press events prior to the show, and below is our initial take on the main stories so far, ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) and network innovation to new smartphones and connectivity solutions.

MediaTek Adds Support for Offline Large Language Models

MediaTek had previously announced it is working closely with Meta to use its Llama 2 large language model as part of its ecosystem of AI experiences. Much like rivals, it’s advocating for a greater share of AI tasks to be managed on-device or through hybrid models rather than depending entirely on the cloud. CCS Insight expects this to be a common theme in 2024 as the benefits of improved performance, security and reduced costs offered by on-device AI are understood.

Shortly before MWC, MediaTek announced that its Dimensity 9300 and 8300 system-on-a-chip offerings are now fully optimized to support Google’s new Gemini Nano large language model and Meta Llama 2 applications, without cloud connectivity. The company will demonstrate an optimized Llama 2 generative AI application, which will be able to generate text-based summaries of long documents, and also promises an Android package to aid developers who use the Gemini Nano platform.

This battle in the semiconductor industry to establish leadership in AI, specifically in terms of dedicated on-device capabilities for generative AI, looks set to be a key theme in the smartphone market in 2024 and beyond. Samsung is already leaning heavily into Galaxy AI, Google is basing its entire Pixel sales pitch on AI, and Apple recently hinted that it will have more to say on the topic this year, probably at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

HMD Announces Multibrand Strategy, Barbie Phone and Focus on Repairability

HMD has already announced its intention to offer HMD-branded smartphones, but it used MWC to provide details of its future strategy. This will centre on being a multibrand device-maker offering HMD original devices, selling Nokia-branded feature phones and collaborating with other brands, the first of which will be Mattel to offer the Barbie Flip Phone that “will arrive in summer 2024.”

HMD announces partnership with Mattel for the Barbie Flip Phone

HMD, which the company went to great lengths to explain stands for Human Mobile Devices, has been operating since 2016 with a strong focus on repairable devices. Although it didn’t announce any smartphones of its own at MWC, the company underlined its continued emphasis on repairability, with plans to make it easier for people to repair their own devices by significantly reducing the steps it takes to replace the screen. It noted that in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, 25% of its smartphone sales in 2023 were repairable devices and in 2024 it expects this proportion to increase to 75% in these regions and 50% globally.

HMD also announced a modular smartphone platform, providing developers with design files and a software toolkit to develop accessories called “outfits” that can be integrated with a phone. This looks similar to Motorola’s Moto Mods line of accessories announced in 2016, with HMD giving examples such as an extended battery, a payment terminal, a barcode scanner or portable, connected medical equipment.

It’s disappointing that HMD wasn’t ready to reveal any new smartphone models or its new iconic Nokia feature phone at MWC, but the company is probably keen not to announce them too early to avoid significantly reducing their impact when they start shipping. It faces a significant task building the HMD brand in its own right in 2024, which will require substantial investment in an already crowded market of manufacturers trying to compete with Apple and Samsung.

Samsung Networks Counts Many New Partners

At its analyst event, Samsung’s networks division expanded its burgeoning ecosystem partnerships. Its public ecosystem relationships have risen from less than 10 last year to 23 across CPU, server, cloud, open radio access network (RAN) radio units, transport and rApps automation applications. The company focused on momentum for virtual RAN rather than discussing 5G-Advanced, 6G or AI in its business review, reflecting service providers’ focus on getting a return from today’s 5G, not the future.

On the back of its recent Telus win for virtual RAN- and Open RAN-compliant equipment, it hosted members of the Telus leadership team. Telus is midway through replacing Chinese supplier equipment and plans to move the remainder to Samsung by 2027. It expects the deployment to enable enhanced performance, energy efficiency, flexibility and automation.

Globally, Samsung claims to have reached 38,000 virtual RAN sites compliant with Open RAN. This doesn’t mean all these sites are operating as an Open RAN, with mixed suppliers. In Europe, Samsung aims to extend its UK beachhead with Vodafone, now into Romania, and is in trials with Vodafone in Spain and Germany.

AI is part of its RAN portfolio, but Samsung sees its advantages to be mainly in managing complexity and reducing power consumption. It believes networks are already very close to Shannon’s limit, and therefore expects only modest improvements from AI. The rising complexity is visible from Samsung’s expectations on the evolution of multiple-input, multiple-output technology. It sees 128TRx becoming common on 3.5 GHz and 6 GHz spectrum bands, and 256TRx on 13 GHz.

Samsung highlighted its in-house chipset expertise as a competitive advantage, throwing shade on rivals that rely on suppliers such as Marvell. Notably, Samsung develops these chipsets in its networks business, meaning it has close control over the requirements and road map, rather than relying on other Samsung business units.

In core networks, Samsung cited wins with KDDI on a standalone 5G core commercial network; SK Telecom and Telus on virtual roaming gateways that improve responsiveness for roamers through use of Amazon Web Services; and LG U+. However, the company sees greater revenue opportunities from RAN than its core business.

Samsung has strong momentum in North America on virtual RAN, but in Europe the business needs to gain commercial footholds at more operator groups quickly, before all decisions have been made on Chinese equipment switch-out.

Honor Focuses on AI for Smartphones and PCs

Honor announced its new “AI-powered all-scenario strategy” at a lavish press event. It also confirmed the global launch of the Honor Magic6 Pro smartphone and announced an AI PC. This is in line with the broader trend at MWC which sees AI being added to a wide range of consumer electronics devices, most notably smartphones and PCs.

The Magic6 Pro smartphone, which has already been launched in China, is powered by the company’s MagicOS 8.0 operating system based on Android 14 and uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile platform. The phone supports on-device AI and offers what Honor calls its “intent-based” user interface to deliver a “more personalized and intuitive experience”.

This includes Honor’s AI-powered Magic Portal, which it claims supports more than 100 of the world’s most used apps. Honor demonstrated examples such as image-based shopping; links between applications, such as using an address in a text message to trigger actions such as automatically opening Google Maps; and the ability to drag booking details or online search results from social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok into other applications.

In China, the Magic6 Pro uses Honor’s own on-device large language model, however, the firm also demonstrated the open-source Llama 2 model, which could be used for international variants.

It also unveiled the Honor MagicBook Pro 16, an AI PC powered by Windows using processors from Intel and Nvidia. AI capabilities will offer smart picture search, document summaries, text comprehension, subtitles and more.

Honor presents new devices enhanced with AI

These announcements reflect our growing concern that as more and more device-makers use AI to differentiate their products, the messaging is becoming extremely confusing and risks rendering AI as a nebulous term that means very little to consumers. Honor also faces challenges in how to internationalize its AI efforts; partnerships with the likes of Google and Qualcomm will play a key role in overcoming this.

Deutsche Telekom to Showcase New Version of Cell Tower to Go

Cell Tower to Go is a mobile mast solution offering temporary enhanced capacity, for example on a large construction site or at a major event. Deutsche Telekom says it’s smaller, lighter and more capable than previous versions. A leading feature is its sectorized antenna, which makes it possible to target specific areas to improve mobile coverage. It can also provide greater capacity than before as it supports three frequency ranges.

One of its first major outings will be at the upcoming UEFA Euro 2024, which is being hosted in Germany. Temporary coverage is an important focus for operators in other markets, such as the UK, where a battleground is emerging at major events such as music festivals (see UK Operators Dial Up Coverage at Major Events).

Xiaomi Unveils New Flagship Smartphones

Xiaomi unveiled the 14 and 14 Ultra, both with a heavy focus on photography. The company was keen to extol the virtues of the 14 Ultra and its numerous camera modes developed as part of its deep relationship with Leica.

Xiaomi 14, the company’s latest flagship smartphone

Although impressive, we question how much more value advances in smartphone photography can provide, as the vast majority of devices already boast excellent capabilities and additional upgrades are barely discernible to most users.

Surprisingly, at a time when most other smartphone-makers are focused on using generative AI to help people tweak their photos, Xiaomi spoke relatively little about this, spending much less time on time on AI overall than rivals. However, one of the most striking features on the Xiaomi 14 is AI Portrait mode. Based on a library of photos of a person, the phone can generate portraits from simple text prompts. Xiaomi demonstrated lifelike photo-style images of people based on prompts such as “on a snowy mountain”. This appears incredibly straightforward and raises further questions about imagery produced by AI; we believe there will be growing unease about how simple it is for people to doctor real photos, and this text-to-photo process takes this dynamic even further.

Xiaomi’s HyperOS was also a focus throughout the presentation. This operating system is designed to span multiple devices, helping to tie together disparate devices and user experiences into a more cohesive offering. It ranges from smartphones to smart home devices and scales as far as Xiaomi’s connected car. The operating system also uses AI and machine learning to anticipate user needs and offer more intelligent interactivity, something all device-makers appear to be offering at MWC.

The Xiaomi 14 starts from €999 and the Ultra from €1,499, signalling Xiaomi’s desire to compete directly with premium device-makers such as Apple and Samsung. However, we wouldn’t be surprised to see heavy discounting in the life cycle of the products given Xiaomi is best-known as a price-disruptive brand.

Telefonica to Show Off Connectivity for Unmanned Vehicles

As in recent years, the monetization of 5G networks will be an important point of discussion at MWC, as the industry desperately seeks a return on its expensive investments. For its part in this agreement, Telefonica will provide 5G and private network connectivity. EHang is a Chinese company specializing in electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles, which transport passengers and cargo without a pilot on board. The two companies will showcase various applications in air mobility and smart city management and plan to target sectors such as transport, logistics, healthcare and emergency services.

If you’d like to discuss any of the stories we touch on here, please get in touch. And if you’re attending MWC: come and see us! Click to here to book a meeting.