MWC 2024: AI in focus at world’s top mobile fair in Spain


Samsung Galaxy S24 series smartphones at a Samsung store in Seoul. Google and Samsung have both recently unveiled new flagship handsets with flashy AI-power tools such as advanced photo editing and easier online search which they are expected to highlight at MWC 2024. — AFP

BARCELONA: The world’s biggest mobile phone fair throws open its doors in Barcelona on Feb 26 with the sector looking to artificial intelligence to try and reverse declining sales.

Phone makers are expected to focus on the unique AI-powered tools of their latest handsets at the four-day Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where 95,000 attendees and 2,400 exhibitors from around the world are awaited for an event that lasts until Thursday.

Telecoms operators will use the event to explore how AI can help improve their operations, from boosting security to providing better customer service.

AI “is clearly democratising and is now embedded everywhere: in phones, in devices, in networks”, said Thomas Husson, principal analyst at Forrester who sees it reviving innovation in the sector.

The event comes as global smartphone shipments declined 3.2% to 1.17 billion units in 2023.

It was the second consecutive yearly decline, according to the IDC consultancy, as consumers took longer to upgrade their devices due to a lack of innovations, high inflation and economic uncertainties.

But shipments rose 8.5% in the fourth quarter to 326.1 million units which suggests “momentum is moving quickly toward recovery”.

Google and South Korean giant Samsung have both recently unveiled new flagship handsets with flashy AI-power tools such as advanced photo editing and easier online search which they are expected to highlight.

Other smaller handset makers such as China’s Honor are set to unveil new devices at the event.

Honor’s new flagship phone features a camera with AI motion-sensing capabilities that can detect and automatically take a picture of a moving object at the best moment.

Robots and flying cars

AI had already "kicked off" before the last MWC in 2023 but “a year later we have a much better idea of how operators and the mobile industry can take advantage of it”, said Peter Jarich, head of intelligence at telecoms industry group GSMA, the event organiser.

Among the 1,100 speakers who are scheduled are Michael Dell, founder and CEO of the personal computer firm Dell, and Microsoft president Brad Smith.

Aside from AI, discussions are expected to focus on the consolidation of the European telecoms market after the EU on Tuesday approved the merger of the Spain operations of French telecoms giant Orange with its Spanish rival Mas Movil.

There is also likely to be debate about whether big tech should contribute to the cost of deploying the networks their products rely on, a notion commonly known as “fair share”.

The annual congress, which has been held in Barcelona since 2006, initially focused on phones but has since expanded to include all sorts of connected devices such as drones and robots.

Among the more eye-catching devices which will be on display is the working model of what US firm Alef Aeronautics says is the world's first “real” flying car and a lifelike robotic dog by Tecno mobile that can understand voice commands.

Drought emergency

The event comes just three weeks after Catalonia’s regional government declared a drought emergency in Barcelona and the surrounding area following three years without significant rain.

It means tighter water use restrictions will be in place, especially for agriculture.

Public fountains in Spain's second city have long been turned off, while hotels are running awareness campaigns to encourage guests to use less water.

Water reservoir levels are so low that the regional government has made plans to allow deliveries by ship if necessary.

“A lot of people who aren’t from around here might not realise we're in the middle of a drought,” said GSMA’s director general.

“We will try to make sure people drink less water and save water as much as possible.” – AFP

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