MWC 2017: What to expect

Alex Kidman 14 February 2017

MWC 2017

Mobile World Congress is the mobile industry's biggest showcase, and the 2017 conference should bring us a crop of shiny new smartphones.

Updated: Added latest news on Samsung's new Exynos processor, Nokia's 3310, Motorola Moto G5 and Moto G5 Plus and Huawei P10.

Mobile World Congress 2016 brought us some of the best phones of the year, including the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge and LG G5, as well as hardware announcements from everyone from Huawei to Sony.

Mobile World Congress 2017 is rapidly approaching, which means that the world of mobility is about to change once again as the big players in the mobile space announce their new phone hardware for 2017. It's not just a hardware frenzy, however, with significant news and deals emerging across other mobility markets, from the Internet of Things through to mobile banking, telco deals, future networks and software innovations.

What is Mobile World Congress?

Mobile World Congress is the largest and most significant mobile-first conference in the world, held annually in Barcelona. It’s run by the GSMA, or the GSM Association a group that looks after the interests of mobile network operators worldwide. MWC does incorporate several sub-conferences in other locations, but the primary conference is held in Barcelona, each year.

When will Mobile World Congress 2017 take place?

The official dates for Mobile World Congress 2017 are 27 February 2017 to 2 March 2017, although in terms of news announcements around hardware, software and partnerships, it’s not unusual to see launches just prior to the official start of the conference itself.

With only a couple of weeks to go before it starts, we're seeing more and more rumours, leaks and outright pre-announcements from major manufacturers covering their MWC 2017 strategies. Here’s what we expect to see at MWC 2017:

Samsung

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It was widely assumed that Samsung would announce the Samsung Galaxy S8 at Mobile World Congress, because history suggested that it would follow its usual course and announce the phone on the night before the show itself kicks off. The Galaxy S8 will have a lot of Samsung’s hopes resting on it after the explosive failure of the Note 7.

However, it now appears that Samsung will skip MWC as a platform for launching its latest premium phone, expected to hit retail availability at some point in April. It may well still have an impact on other smartphone manufacturers, however, as it has reportedly locked down availability for Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 835 for its new premium phone. That means other manufacturers are unlikely to unveil Snapdragon 835-based handsets, unless they're willing to wait to launch until after Samsung's phone hits the market. Samsung has simultaneously started hyping up its next-generation Exynos processor line, which could also see its debut in the Samsung Galaxy S8.

It has also been strongly rumoured that the "Edge" branded larger variant of the Galaxy S8 will instead be branded as the Samsung Galaxy S8+ when it launches.

That means that Samsung will head to MWC 2017 with the Galaxy S7 that it launched at MWC 2016 as its hero phone. It seems unlikely that it would launch an updated Gear VR headset with no new phone to wrap into it, although it's possible that a successor to the Gear 360 camera might make an appearance, or possibly other mobile gadgets or services, such as updates to Samsung Pay.

Samsung has announced it will hold a launch on 26 February 2017, where it's widely expected that it will formally launch the successor to the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S device, as well as a more general Android tablet, presumably the Galaxy Tab S3.

Tablets might not be the only gadgets Samsung chooses to reveal at the show. Samsung has the capability to produce plenty of mobile-centric devices, and MWC 2017 may be where it chooses to debut them, even if we don’t get to actually purchase any of them until later in the year.

LG

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LG went head to head with Samsung at MWC 2016 pitting its modular but ultimately disappointing LG G5 against the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

It's almost certain that LG will launch the LG G6 at MWC. Rumours suggest that LG has gone back to the drawing board for a more conventional design for what will presumably be the LG G6, but whether it opts to occupy a slightly less premium-priced space, or go all out with a revised feature set as it did with the G5, is still up in the air. It also appears increasingly likely that LG will announce a smaller version of the LG G6, tentatively either the LG G6 Compact or LG G6 Lite at MWC 2017.

LG has already raised the hype via a YouTube video talking up the features people really want in a phone, as well as announcing a new 5.7 inch display via its display subsidiary that appears likely to power the LG G6. It also seems likely that in order to simplify making the LG G6 water resistant that it will drop the removable battery found in previous generations of its G series phones.

Sony

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Sony’s presence at MWC is usually one of launching handset ranges rather than a single hero device, as it did in 2016 with three Xperia X devices. Those phones took some time to come to market and were supplanted somewhat via the very attractive Xperia XZ. Still, even though that phone won’t be that old by the time MWC rolls around, Sony is unlikely to want to cede any ground to its competitors, so the debut of what may well be the Xperia X2 series seems likely. In the meantime it has announced a new 1,000FPS-capable camera module for smartphones, although it seems unlikely it will rush to announce a phone to stick that module into at MWC.

Like its competitors, Sony has the capacity to reveal additional mobile gadgets or services, as it did with the Xperia Ear and the associated concept gadgets such as the Xperia Projector, Eye and Agent. Sony was very keen at MWC 2016 to point out that it sees a strong future in companion devices, so expect to see something from Sony in this category as well.

Huawei

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Huawei is another firm with its finger in many mobile markets, although it used MWC 2016 to launch a laptop rather than a handset. Having already announced the Huawei Mate 9, and revealed that it will launch in Australia in early 2017, it may be too soon for Huawei to go for a fully fledged flagship device.

It's not afraid to play in the mid-range space, however, or for that matter offer up wearables, which could be another avenue for it with Android Wear 2.0 coming down the track. Huawei has announced a media launch for the Sunday before MWC 2017 kicks off. Last year, Huawei used its MWC launch to announce the Huawei Matebook which we're still to see officially in Australia, while this year it has teased the launch of the Huawei P10 phone. Like Samsung, Huawei has the capability to produce multiple mobile gadgets, as well as the network technology behind 5G networks, so it may have multiple announcements to make in Barcelona.

Motorola

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Motorola and its parent Lenovo will no doubt announce new mobile hardware at MWC. The big caveat here is that to date Lenovo’s strategy has been to only release Moto-branded hardware to the Australian market. That raises the distinct prospect of some interesting technology announcements around products that we won’t actually see released locally.

Moto is the exception to that, and with Motorola so firmly placing its bets behind its Moto Mod range, we’d expect to see some new Mods, if not new phones at MWC if only to maintain momentum for both the strategy and the branding.

Prior to MWC, extensive details leaked around the Moto G5 and Moto G5 Plus, both of which are mid-range successors to Motorola's exisiting Moto G range. There's no word as to Australian availability or pricing for those phones, but it's a range that usually does appear in Australia at some point.

Motorola has an event scheduled for the Sunday prior to the official start of MWC 2017 where it will announce the Moto G5 and Moto G5 Plus, as well as likely successors to the Moto Z and Moto Z Play phones.

Microsoft

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Despite rapidly falling market share, Microsoft is still exceptionally keen to stay in the mobile space, recognising it as key to the company’s fortunes as it shifts over time into a services company.

The rumour that’s done the rounds for some time now is that Microsoft will announce a Surface-branded smartphone, although it’s equally as likely that it will simply use MWC to show off Windows 10 Creator Update across a range of mobile devices including tablets and 2-in-1 laptops.

HTC

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HTC skipped MWC 2016, preferring to wait out the storm before announcing the HTC 10. It has essentially gone down the same road for MWC 2017, instead opting to announce the HTC U Ultra and HTC U Play smartphones just after CES 2017.

With the HTC U Ultra being HTC's latest premium push it seems unlikely that HTC will announce a second competitor phone at MWC 2017. However while it announced specifications for its new phones, it has yet to reveal pricing or availability, which may be where it makes its MWC 2017 splash. It should also be remembered that HTC has a significant play in the VR space via the HTC Vive, so it's feasible that its big MWC 2017 news could be less mobile-centric and more VR-focused.

Blackberry

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Blackberry is set for something of an MWC-led resurgence, or at least it has to be hoping it is. Officially speaking, Blackberry is out of the hardware game, having transitioned to a software development house that also licenses out the Blackberry branding and that iconic patented keyboard design. Alcatel has stepped up to sign a deal to be the exclusive maker of Blackberry-branded phones.

It briefly showed off the Blackberry "Mercury" phone at CES 2017, and it's expected that the formal launch on the Saturday prior to MWC 2017 will reveal full details on the phone.

Alcatel

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Speaking of Alcatel, the TCL-owned phone maker isn't just in the Blackberry game, with its own line of self-branded phones set to be unveiled at MWC 2017.

The current rumours suggest that it's going to launch modular phones, similar to Motorola's Moto Mods but with Alcatel's typical budget to mid-range pricing at the big show. Alcatel has significant presence in the Australian market, especially for fans of affordable prepaid phones, so the odds are good that much of what it announces at MWC 2017 will make it to our shores before long.

Nokia

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Hey, remember Nokia? Once upon a time, Nokia was the name in mobile phones, but then it went and sold that mobile business in its entirety to Microsoft, at which point it agreed not to market phones under its own name for a couple of years. That exclusivity period has now expired, although so far all we've seen is the China-exclusive Nokia 6 phone. However, just like once-glorious Blackberry, these aren't precisely Nokia-produced phones, but instead handsets made by an external manufacturer. In Nokia's case, it's HMD Mobile, a Finnish company that has secured the exclusive licence to produce handsets under the Nokia name.

At MWC on the Sunday just prior to the start of the conference, "Nokia" will announce new Android handsets, currently rumoured to be dubbed the Nokia Heart. Another rumoured handset, the Nokia P1, seems less likely thanks to its suggested inclusion of a Snapdragon 835 processor. Then again, Samsung's exclusive might only extend to selling devices, not announcing them for later sale after the Galaxy S8 hits the market.

Nokia has confirmed that it will relaunch the iconic Nokia 3310 handset at MWC, although whether that's a publicity stunt or a serious push for developing markets where a simple feature phone could have some traction remains to be seen. If the prospect of a feature phone in Australia tempts you, there are plenty of choices already available.

Hey, where’s Apple?

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While Apple’s iOS-based iPhone devices make up a healthy quantity of smartphone sales, the Cupertino company traditionally never turns up to MWC, preferring its own heavily stage managed events to unveil its new handsets and devices.

Don’t expect Apple to appear at MWC, although the timing of the event will roughly coincide with the one-year anniversary of the iPhone SE, so we may see rumours swirling around its successor in that timeframe.

Finder will be present at MWC 2017 reporting all the news as it happens, so stay tuned for the latest updates.

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