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Barcelona becomes the big stage for the mobile industry’s signature annual trade event.
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The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ have a new camera with Super Slow-mo video, low light capability and AR Emoji for a more personalized way to express yourself. Josmar Taveras
Visitors walk past a 5G logo during the Mobile World Congress on the third day of the MWC in Barcelona, on March 1, 2017.(Photo: Josep LagoJOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Samsung takes the wraps off its widely anticipated Galaxy S9 smartphone at a large tech conference Sunday, a launch that tends to herald the new year for smartphone releases — some alongside it at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, and others at unveilings later in the year (Apple, Google Pixel).
The South Korean electronics giant is the headline exhibitor at the mobile industry’s annual signature shindig that commences over the weekend, drawing some 108,000 attendees.
The S9 represents Samsung’s turn to try and leapfrog Apple’s most recent iPhones, as the rivals resume their bottomless battle for smartphone supremacy. Leaks point to a Galaxy phone with, among other features, an improved camera system.
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Global sales of smartphones totaled 383 million units in the third quarter of 2017, Gartner says, a 3% rise over the same period in 2016. During the quarter, Samsung had a 22.3% unit market share, compared to 11.9% for Apple.
In some respects, Samsung will be returning to form by unveiling its latest flagship at the conference, as it has done with many of its product launches in the past. But last year was a departure—while exhibiting at MWC per usual, Samsung chose to postpone the launch of the Galaxy S8 until weeks later.
While you can expect other companies among the 2,300 exhibitors to flaunt their own new devices, not just phones but tablets, computers and wearables too—including Sony, Asus, Alcatel, Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo and HMD Global (Nokia)—MWC is less a product showcase than an event focused on big picture ideas and trends: artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IOT) and of course, the high-speed networks that promise to keep everything connected.
I’m referring to “5G,” the next generation of wireless technology, a roll-out that picks up momentum in the months ahead following such global 5G testbeds as the PyeongChang Olympic Games in South Korea that will end just as MWC begins.
Early indications are that the first 5G installations will mainly involve “fixed” solutions, that are essentially alternatives to speedy broadband in the home. Fast mobile 5G is for the most part a 2019 and beyond story. But in the days leading up to MWC, AT&T announced the names of the first U.S. cities where it expects to deliver mobile 5G by the end of this year: Dallas and Waco, Texas, plus Atlanta.
The major U.S. carriers, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon will all be in Barcelona pushing their respective visions for 5G, while global powerhouses like Intel, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Huawei are doing the same.
Google will be on hand too, and leading into MWC announced that its Google Assistant virtual assistant, which is already available in eight languages, will expand to more than 30 languages by year end, reaching 95% of Android phones worldwide.
Google is also adding to so-called “routines,” letting the Assistant accomplish a bunch of tasks when you issue a single vocal command. (Amazon’s Alexa offers a similar feature). For example, when you get home from the office, you can say, “Hey Google, I’m home” and the Assistant on your Google Home speaker or smartphone will automatically turn on lights, share reminders, play your favorite music and so on.
FILE – In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, Federal Communication Commission commissioner Ajit Pai speaks during an open hearing and vote on net neutrality in Washington. The Senate has confirmed Pai, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, despite Democratic complaints that he will undermine net neutrality. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
There will be fewer big name speakers taking the MWC stage this time around. In defining what MWC has become, Michael O’Hara, who heads marketing for the GSM Association that puts on the show says, “we’re a little bit less on celebrity, and a little bit more on `how do we point to the future?’”
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But one high profile personality who is scheduled to speak is Ajit Pai, who as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has led the controversial roll-back of net neutrality regulations in the U.S. He’ll appear on a panel with a counterpart from the European Commission Andrus Ansip, as well as top executives from Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and the World Bank.
Pai canceled an appearance at CES last month, only days before the start of that show.
O’Hara says there will be a greater emphasis at this year’s event on gender diversity. Twenty-five percent of the keynote speakers will be female, including Kathy Calvin, the CEO of the United Nations Foundation, Cher Wang, the chairwoman of HTC, and Sue Siegel, the chief innovation officer at GE.
According to O’Hara, 23% of the MWC attendees were women; he hopes the number will tick past 25% next week.
“Some other events have had some feedback that they’re not doing enough in that area; we certainly are working really hard to drive the right level of female attendance, and…creating an environment that is comfortable for female attendees.” That translates into dress codes for booth staff and a strict ban on so-called “booth babes,” or women hired for marketing purposes, often dressed provocatively.
I’ll be on the ground in Barcelona. Stick with USA TODAY for ongoing coverage.
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Email: [email protected]; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter