By Chris Donkin

MWC Barcelona 2020: The hot topics

With four solid days of conference sessions, side events, panels and exhibition space, it can be hard to decide what to see and where. Luckily Mobile World Daily’s Chris Donkin is here to point you in the direction of some of the show’s major highlights.

MWC Barcelona 2020 is upon us after what has been an extremely busy 12 months in the industry. After a long wait, 5G is now a reality in several markets across the globe, and is set to provide the foundation for many of the innovations expected to take centre stage at the Fira Gran Via.

In addition to the core mobile industry content, guests can expect to see plenty of vertical industries represented, eye-catching demos on the showfloor and discussion on pressing global issues.

With such a wide variety of potential subjects on the table, coming up with a list of hot topics is tough to say the least. But here’s Mobile World Daily’s attempt, starting with the obvious.

5G alive

This time last year, only a handful of operators had 5G technology live, so discussion was heavily based on trials and the progress of these early deployments.

Now, a year later, attention in many countries has turned from launches to cost-efficient network expansion and the ever-growing list of business opportunities enabled by the technology.

For those yet to hit the button on 5G or still mulling the direction to take with the technology, there is a wealth of experience available from fellow attendees and in the many panels with a technical or business slant.

Advice on network rollouts will be available across the event and attendees can expect to see multiple demonstrations of technologies and strategies designed to allow rapid network expansion and aid the move to standalone versions of the technology.

There will also be a multitude of demonstrations of consumer, industrial and civic use cases for the new network technology. Everything from factory tech to VR gaming will be on show, providing an enticing vision of the 5G-supported future.

Rise of the robots

Over recent editions of MWC Barcelona, there have been no shortage of robots wandering the floor displaying a range of Artificial Intelligence (AI) features.

The likes of Hanson Robotics’ Sophia and SoftBank’s Pepper have demonstrated rapid progress in this area, with robot forms becoming increasingly human-like and much more advanced than the electronic marvels seen at events ten years ago.

Expect a wide range of AI-powered smart machines roaming the event again this year, providing visitors a range of photo opportunities (for those who can catch one) and no doubt creating a social media storm.

Questions about ethics inevitably accompany AI advances. The subject is set to be covered and, indeed, fiercely debated at a number of specific sessions throughout the conference programme, notably in Monday’s “Becoming AI-ready: Surviving and thriving in the robot age” session, where dystopian discussion is on the menu.

Of course, AI isn’t just about robots: a range of demonstrations will be showcasing practical uses in everything from smart cities to advanced network infrastructure maintenance systems.

Tricks of the light

Another development once considered the reserve of classic (and not so classic) science fiction films is communication using holograms. Thanks to 5G, though, this could soon become a reality in homes, workplaces and events across the world.

In the last year, a number of operators and vendors have demonstrated the technology so expect to see a new kind of video call like you’ve never seen before.

Outside of one-to-one communication and conference calls, potential use cases for the technology include providing real time holographic entertainment and even remote speakers at conferences.

So next time you’re in a keynote session it might be worth taking a long, hard look to check if the executive speaking is actually there in person or sat in their hotel room.

Going greener

Meeting the UN’s SDGs has been a major talking point at MWC Barcelona for several years now and this year looks set to be no exception.

Although several initiatives are likely to be touched on, the goal likely to garner the most attention given growing public awareness and demand for rapid moves on the issue is Goal 13 – climate action.

Major players have already set about defining and striving towards ambitious goals to cut their environmental impact and promote sustainability. Just last month Microsoft vowed to remove all of the carbon generated throughout its history by 2050, so attendees can expect some other big commitments and announcements ahead of, and at, MWC Barcelona.

In addition to updates on progress within operator businesses, demonstrations of how the industry can aid other enterprises and wider society with green agendas is likely to be a hot issue.

Outside of environmental concerns, the conference programme also has a significant focus on healthcare following the demonstration of the world’s first tele-mentored surgery over a 5G connection performed between a local hospital and the Fira at last year’s event.

How wireless connectivity can allow these cutting-edge applications will be covered on the main conference stage, with the key players from last year’s breakthrough in attendance in Keynote 7. Expect more healthcare demos on the show floor.


MWC Barcelona wouldn’t be what it is without a raft of device launches on the eve of the show.

Last year, foldables were a hot topic and, despite well-publicised teething problems with the form factor, there are likely to be a second wave unveiled either in prototype form or as full commercial models this time around.

With the first batch of 5G handsets already on the market, MWC will likely see compatibility with the new network technology included across a greater number of handsets, including several in the low to mid-tier.

We may also see compatibility extended deeper to other devices with a cellular connection, including tablets, wearables and laptops.

Confirmed to hold press events – and likely launch new devices – are Huawei, Oppo and Microsoft.

Everything else

In addition to all of the above, there will be a multitude of exciting innovations on display and a raft of discussions covering different areas including privacy, security, connected health, industry X, media and entertainment, customer relations, bizarre connected devices and apps.

You name it, you’ll find it at MWC, often in a hall where you least expect it. So if it’s your first time, have a full look around, and if you’re a seasoned veteran maybe have a wander into a new area. You never know what you might find!