What to expect at MWC 2019
5G, foldables and a whole lot of handsets are waiting to be unveiled at the MWC 2019, the world's biggest mobile show.
Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the world's biggest mobile-centric trade show. Officially speaking, it kicks off on 25 February 2019 through to 28 February 2019. However, from a consumer news perspective, a lot of the news kicks off on the two days prior to 25 February, and this year we're expecting mobile news to flow through from around 20 February.
Mobile World Congress is a massive event that brings together technology companies, journalists, networks, analysts, buyers and just about anyone with skin in the mobile game. Still, in terms of trends that will affect consumers in 2019, we can expect to see a lot of news around two key mobile areas.
2019 is the year where we'll see lots of action on the 5G front as well as the emergence of more widely available foldable phones, with expectations high that we'll see a wide range of models incorporating flexible form factors. It may be some time before you're able to buy them, but MWC 2019 is where the veil will be lifted on multiple new models.
So, what can we expect from the world's biggest brands at MWC?
Samsung rather deliberately short-circuited the MWC 2019 process by holding its launch for the Samsung Galaxy S10 family on 20 February 2019 in San Francisco. .
A simple glance at a globe will tell you that's nowhere even near Barcelona, but that does leave the question rather open as to what Samsung will show off at MWC 2019 itself. Sure, it'll show off the Galaxy S10e, the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+, and maybe even a few more peeks at the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G or maybe even the Samsung Galaxy Fold.
There's no scheduled press event for Samsung, but it still might sneak out a product announcement or two. Don't expect any new tablets, though -- Samsung already announced its newest tablet device, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e in the week before MWC 2019.
Image: Ice Universe
Sony's MWC showings are always special, and it's all but certain that we'll see the company's first flagship phone for 2019 in the form of the Sony Xperia XZ4 emerge early on 25 February. Sony always tends to go "last" in the launch stakes, and it'll probably do so at the MWC venue in Fira Barcelona as well. It's just Sony's way of doing business.
It's expected that the Sony Xperia XZ4 will feature a Snapdragon 855 processor, a 21:9 aspect ratio and a triple lens camera array in one of its own branded phones. Sony showed off a dual lens sensor at MWC 2018, and it can't really hold out on multi lens photography much longer if it wants to remain truly competitive.
There's also the prospect of Sony showing a smaller XZ4 model, the Sony Xperia XZ4 Compact. Rumours are mixed on this one, but I'm hopeful that Sony sticks to producing a compact but powerful handset to go alongside the regular XZ4. It can't just be Google that makes good small phones, can it?
We've also seen leaks that suggest that a lower-cost Sony device, the Sony Xperia XA4, may make an appearance. It too is speculated to feature a dual-lens camera, with a Snapdragon 660 on board and that same rather tall 21:9 aspect ratio. Sony's presumably banking on its cinema muscle to convince consumers that a 21:9 ratio phone is ideal for movie watching on the go.
One area where Sony could impress is with further development of its Xperia wearable concept devices. The Sony Xperia Ear Duo was a fascinating device for mobile office workers, but plenty of the company's other Xperia concept devices are yet to come to market.
With Sony's strong focus on providing devices that aren't just good looking but also functional, I'm hopeful we'll see some really cool concepts, if not actually finished devices at MWC 2019.
Image: XDA Developers
LG needs a hit phone on its hands. Not that devices like the LG G7 ThinQ or LG V40 ThinQ were bad devices, but sales figures tell the story about how well they were received and the dent they were able to make in Samsung's dominance of Australian mobile purchases.
LG's certainly planning big. It's confirmed that it will use MWC 2019 to launch the LG G8 ThinQ, featuring the Snapdragon 855 and Infineon's REAL3 image sensor chip on the front-facing selfie camera. This uses a time-of-flight lens to measure light off faces, allowing for faster and more accurate facial recognition than the current AI and algorithmic approaches used by phones such as the Apple iPhone XS. It will also use a vibrating speaker array using the front glass for superior audio output.
At the same time, LG has investments in developing foldable phones, and it essentially stole the show at CES 2019 with its smart "rollable" OLED TV. It knows folding up plastic and glass pretty well, and could well make an impact with a foldable phone at MWC 2019.
It's feasible we may see a glimpse of LG's foldable ambitions emerge at MWC 2019. With the LG G8 ThinQ taking centre stage, like Samsung, LG won't want to take the shine off its new star offering.
Alongside the LG G8 ThinQ, it's also feasible we might see new budget and mid-range entries in LG's mobile family to target the ever-expanding market of folks who are baulking at the prices commanded by premium handsets.
On the 5G front, LG's CES 2019 keynote called out the company's 5G ambition to be among the first to launch 5G devices. Leaked images of what's purported to be the LG V50 ThinQ suggest that it'll be a 5G phone on US network Sprint, and it may emerge at MWC 2019.
Huawei's had some challenging times of late, and it's been in the news for all the wrong reasons around its purported business practices and, particularly locally, the ban on its 5G hardware being used in Australian networks.
That's not likely to stop the Chinese behemoth from making a strong showing at MWC 2019, although the form it chooses to take for that launch is still a little murky. It's teasing out that its event at MWC 2019 will be about "connecting the future", although that could mean just about anything:
— Huawei Mobile (@HuaweiMobile) February 1, 2019
It now appears likely that the Huawei P30 Pro will launch separately at the end of March in Paris, but Huawei's already made some bold pronouncements around its MWC 2019 plans that could eclipse even that.
Huawei initially promised that it would bring a foldable phone to market in late 2018, but that clearly didn't happen. It's now said to be showing off its foldable designs at MWC 2019 as well as its own 5G phone designs.
It's already launched the underlying chipset in the form of the Balong 5000, where many of its competitors will be using Qualcomm's X50. At the Balong 5000 launch, Huawei stated that it would launch a 5G foldable phone at MWC 2019. Yes, that's right – Huawei's combining this year's two big trends into one smartphone product, and it might just steal the show doing so.
Huawei may be blocked from providing hardware for Australia's 5G mobile networks, but the same ban does not apply for its handsets, so it'll be fascinating to see what Huawei shows off – and how quickly we might see it Down Under.
Nokia always puts out a pleasing array of affordable handsets at MWC, but this year all eyes are on its flagship ambitions. There have been plenty of leaks around the Nokia 9 PureView phone, and especially its crazy array of five rear cameras.
Yeah, five cameras is going to be a thing in 2019, and with Nokia's tie-up with ZEISS for optics, that could give the company its first really competitive camera phone since HMD Global licensed the name and started producing Nokia-branded Android phones.
It would be surprising if Nokia didn't also use MWC 2019 to refresh its regular phone lines with specification bumps, although the naming conventions could be tricky. We've already gone from the Nokia 5 to the Nokia 5.1 and even the Nokia 5.1 Plus. What's next? The Nokia 5.11? The Nokia 5.2? Only the Finns know for sure.
Nokia's other MWC party piece has been grabbing headlines by "reimagining" classic Nokia designs as low-cost feature phones. It's already remade the Nokia 3310, and last year saw the re-emergence of the Nokia 8810.
Will 2019 be the year we see the Nokia 5110 5G?
Maybe not – I'm totally guessing here – but it seems likely we'll see a "new" classic Nokia as part of the company's MWC 2019 line-up.
Motorola has used previous MWC events to launch its affordable and highly popular Moto G series phones, but these are expected instead to be formally unveiled a couple of weeks prior to MWC 2019.
So where does that leave Motorola for the big show? Able to show off its next premium flagship phone, that's where. Where previously Moto Mods were the new hot prospect in the Moto world, this time around rumours point to the return of a classic Motorola brand.
It's being suggested that the Motorola RAZR brand will once again emerge from the Motorola brand library – this time in the form of a foldable phone. That would obviously tie in nicely to the original RAZR's branding as the must-have flip phone of the early 2000s.
There's not a whole lot of detail around a next-generation Motorola RAZR just yet, but like every other foldable phone, expect it to command a price premium when and if it launches in Australia. We didn't see every Moto Z phone Down Under, and Motorola Australia is well aware of its brand position as a seller of quite affordable phones.
Oppo is rather fond of Barcelona – for the trivia fans they're the "Official Mobile Device Partner" of Barcelona FC – and the company is holding what it's calling an "innovation event" on 23 February ahead of MWC to show off its new innovations.
It's announced that this will include a 10x optical zoom mobile lens, but have not said whether this will be encased in an actual handset. That's a crucial distinction because back in 2017, Oppo used its MWC launch to show off a 5x optical zoom camera system. The number of phones that Oppo has released with that 5x optical zoom to date is precisely none.
There's no doubting that flagship phones need exceptional cameras to stand out, so hopefully Oppo's cracked whatever issues kept its 5x optical zoom system from coming to commercial reality.
It actually wasn't that long ago that Microsoft used MWC to launch new Lumia phones on its own Windows 10 Mobile platform, but those days are behind the American behemoth, with the company announcing that all Windows 10 Mobile support will end on 10 December 2019.
So what's Microsoft up to at MWC? It's holding an event where Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is going to present, and the suggestion is that it will focus on its "mixed reality" Hololens product. To date, that's been a developer's playground rather than a consumer's delight, but it's not really clear what Microsoft's play at MWC might be.
Qualcomm will naturally have a presence at MWC 2019 since it's the processor family of choice for everyone not called Huawei, with its Snapdragon 855 processor and X50 5G modem set to appear.
It's also pretty likely that Qualcomm will talk up its future processor and chip plans at the show, including modem designs likely to take more of the finalised 5G specification on board, and possibly even mid-range successors for its current processor families.
As the world has shifted increasingly mobile, Qualcomm's got its hands in all kinds of markets beyond the pure "mobile phone" play you might expect, although predictably we'd expect it to give even more detail around how it sees 5G networks rolling out in 2019.
Telstra always holds a press event just prior to MWC to talk about its upcoming plans and any network milestones it's about to hit, usually in concert with network building partners such as Ericsson.
With Telstra CEO Andy Penn having declared 2019 to be the "year of 5G" as far as Telstra's concerned, we'd expect that to include further news around its network rollout plans, and possibly some teased information about the 5G phones that Telstra says it will bring first to Australian consumers.
We'll be reporting on all the big news coming out of MWC 2019, so stay tuned for further updates.
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