Trends to Watch at MWC 2024

The connected world’s cornerstone event is just around the corner. MWC 2024 returns from Monday 26 February to Thursday 29 February, promising to be a hub of activity for over 95,000 attendees and 2,400 exhibitors. The technologies and developments on show typically define the calendar year for major themes and priorities across technology industries.

In the build-up to the event, members of the CCS Insight analyst team hosted a free webinar on what to expect. Along the way, they offered insight into their areas of expertise, including the key technologies they expect to take centre stage and the different agendas of prominent exhibitors.

Here’s a recap of the dynamics to watch in Barcelona. If you’re attending MWC, we’d love to meet you! Book a meeting with us here.

Operator Developments and AI Integration

An important focus for telecom operators will be the hot industry topic of artificial intelligence (AI). There’ll be demonstrations of various uses for the technology, including everything from customer care to network planning, security and fraud detection. Keep a close eye on South Korea’s SK Telecom, which actually considers itself an AI company, rather than a pure telecom operator. We believe it will use the event to show off some significant AI demonstrations.

As usual, there’ll be a focus on the evolution of mobile networks. This year, that will include the journey to standalone 5G and beyond, with glimpses into the 6G era. Various operators will again showcase how connectivity solutions can support new applications and services, so watch out for demonstrations in areas such as drones, private mobile networks, extended reality, fixed wireless access and the Internet of things (IoT).

Expect Asian operators to pitch their vision for 6G, just as Japan’s NTT Docomo notably did a year ago. Under-pressure European operators will probably steer clear of this area, instead focusing on cashing in on their existing networks.

Away from the exhibition floors, operators have a bit of a tradition of airing their grievances at regulators during keynotes and sessions. Last year, there was a huge debate about whether big tech should contribute to the cost of deploying networks, a notion now more commonly known as “fair share”. This is bound to be front and centre of many of the conversations this year as well.

Some CEO speakers have already been announced for the Monday morning keynote slots, including operators from the growth region of Africa in the form of Ethiopia’s Ethio Telecom. The usual European faces are there too — Deutsche Telecom, Vodafone and Telefonica — but we’re hoping this signals plenty of interesting updates and a slight shift away from the perennial grumbles about regulation.

Network Technology Innovations

Just as for telecom operators, AI will be a big theme for many network infrastructure suppliers. Expect to see demonstrations and announcements here focus on optimizing the radio access network to handle increasing complexities, increasing the number of spectrum bands coming through to help with densification, and improving energy efficiency.

We’ll see the typical application of network analytics to drive end-to-end insights, and AI used to help build more-intelligent services using 5G cloud core capabilities.

There’ll be plenty of discussion of 3GPP Release 17 and standalone 5G, which is available now, and what applications Release 18 and 5G-Advanced will enable quite soon.

Last year, open APIs were a big theme, so perhaps this time operators will expose some of the new capabilities led by APIs, potentially looking at some of the quality-of-service benefits for standalone 5G.

Keep an eye out for Open RAN developments too. In December 2023, AT&T announced a partnership with Ericsson to accelerate Open RAN in the US, so it’ll be interesting to see if this has spurred global momentum.

Looking at long-term developments, we’ll see more discussion about 6G, especially as the World Radiocommunications Conference has been talking about what spectrum should be used for it. Beyond improving connectivity, we expect proposed applications at the event to include mass sensing in cities and support for smart glasses and extended reality.

Standards for Non-Terrestrial Networks

Some might be expecting muted news from the non-terrestrial network (NTN) industry at MWC 2024, particularly as the deal between Qualcomm and Iridium for Snapdragon Satellite, which was a big story of last year’s show, has now broken down, and Samsung made no mention of satellite connectivity with the recent launch of its Galaxy S24 smartphone series.

So, is this hype over? We don’t think so. Instead, we’d highlight the growing importance of telecom satellites in the mobile story. As we move into Release 17 and Release 18 of 3GPP standards, CCS Insight expects more satellite technology to be built into the workings of terrestrial networks and devices.

MWC 2024 should offer more evidence of this standards-based approach, which could translate into developments in NTN IoT applications and device connectivity.

We’ll see progress on the network side, with suppliers like ZTE, Sateliot and Skylo holding a presence at the show, joined by more-established names in the satellite industry like Intelsat, Orbcomm and SES.

Connected Devices Focus on Software

It’s no secret that smartphones are no longer the big story at MWC. However, foldable devices will still be a major talking point, with intense competition between Chinese manufacturers such as Honor and OnePlus and other brands such as Samsung and Lenovo.

The main story to look out for will be the shift away from hardware and toward software, with AI again becoming a primary focus that will span the connected device industry. On-device AI will be an important theme for most manufacturers present at the show.

Despite the hype for AI, there should be discussions about the best way to communicate these capabilities to consumers, but this should be more about explaining AI’s benefits and applications rather than trying to sell AI specifically.

There’ll also be a lot of discussion about how Apple will implement AI on the iPhone and, of course, the privacy and regulatory conditions associated with the technology.

Beyond smartphones, AI PCs are set to have a big show. Microsoft will drive this conversation with Windows Copilot, but a dynamic that could be of greater interest is the semiconductor story.

Intel is increasingly aiming to articulate its vision for the future of computing, underpinned by AI capabilities, but watch out also for Qualcomm. It looks to be one of the more significant players entering the PC silicon space, and we could see an attempt to position itself as the premium AI platform for Windows computing.

It’ll be interesting to see whether any AI assistant devices filter through to MWC. After the Humane AI Pin was revealed, we witnessed the Rabbit R1 making headlines at CES 2024 with an interesting vision for connected devices. We’ll be looking to see if leading smartphone-makers take a leaf out of this playbook and try to articulate how their AI capabilities will get more intelligent and require less input from a user to get things done.

Elsewhere, although wearables aren’t typically a huge focus at MWC, it’s notable that Samsung recently announced its Galaxy Ring. It’ll be interesting to see how the company and other device manufacturers pitch wearable tech in their ecosystems as they try to sell a broader connected experience. This could be a big trend.

One other talking point will be spatial computing. Don’t be surprised if some exhibitors bring an Apple Vision Pro headset with them, which, being unavailable for sale in Europe, will mainly serve as the ultimate piece of stand candy.

Sustainability and the Circular Economy

Sustainability will remain an overarching theme, with exhibitors showcasing their environmental commitments across all aspects of technology, from devices to network infrastructure.

Specifically, look out for the circular device economy, focusing on the reuse and recycling of devices — this area is gaining traction, highlighting the industry’s efforts toward more-sustainable practices.

This ties into other industries too; expect networks to move away from just trying to save power and toward a wider discussion that encompasses a stronger focus on hardware, be that componentry, transportation, supply chain and more.

For deeper insight into our expectations for MWC 2024, watch the entire webinar here: CCS Insight will be on the ground at MWC in Barcelona, and we’d love to meet as many of you as possible. If you’d like to book a meeting to discuss our research and see how it could help your organization, click here: