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MWC 2018: The biggest talking points of this year’s show

As Mobile World Congress delegates return home after a week of schmoozing and hustling in Barcelona, we look back at the major talking points from this year’s show.

Samsung steals the show (again)

Over the last few years, fewer and fewer smartphone manufacturers have been using MWC to launch their latest wares. It was perhaps unsurprising then that Huawei, LG, Google and HTC each chose to unveil either only minor updates to their smartphone lineups or none at all.

Samsung, meanwhile, made the biggest splash of the show with the launch of the Galaxy S9 and S9+. The reviews have been favourable, but beyond a redesigned camera, the phones aren’t significantly different from their predecessors.

HMD, the firm that owns the Nokia brand, once again launched a modern version of one of its classic devices. This year, it was the turn of the Nokia 8110 to be reinvented. The phone might not have caused as much of a stir as last year’s 3310 reboot, but it still boasts an impressive two day battery life and is available in a banana-esque yellow (if that’s your sort of thing).

5G is coming, but will it make money?

The biggest talking point of the show was undoubtedly 5G. While none of the smartphone manufacturers unveiled 5G-ready devices, several of the chipmakers announced technology which will pave the way for the big reveal next year.

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei revealed its first 5G chip, which it claims supports the standard established by the 3GPP governing body in December. Intel showed off a concept 2-in-1 5G-enabled laptop, and Qualcomm launched a 4G LTE modem which promises download speeds of up to 2Gbps.

But while consumers might associate 5G with smartphones, many of MWC’s biggest exhibitors were keen to promote alternative applications for the communications network. Virtual reality, self-driving connected cars and drones were among the most eye-catching of those touted at the show.

However, developing the 5G network that supports these applications may be easier than finding a way to fund it. Jeon Hong-Beom of KT (formerly Korea Telecom) told attendees at an Intel event on Sunday: “The big issue is whether 5G can make money? It is not a technology only issue, it is a business issue.” KT had partnered with Intel to roll out 5G connections at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang last month, and Hong-Beom said he hoped the trial would help the company to find a “killer application” for the technology.

Cisco’s Louis Samuel told NS Tech he thinks “the 5G that is required is way more humble than some of the use cases that have been touted”: “The only viable use case that we can think of that will generate new topline revenue for the service providers has been enterprise. For that to happen, the network has to be easily used by enterprises. If it’s not the path of least resistance, it’s unlikely the network will be used.”

In 2020, the Olympics will return to Asia, with Tokyo due to pick up the baton for the global sporting spectacle. Intel has partnered with Japanese mobile provider NTT Docomo to transform the capital into a smart city replete with 5G connections. Intel’s Asha Keddy told NS Tech there are several reasons Asia is ahead of Europe when it comes to rolling out 5G: “South Korea and Japan – they have the density of population and it’s a very electronic generation, so that creates the demand that Europe doesn’t have.”

She added: “One of the biggest challenges that Europe has is the number of operators – so if you look at the size and scale of the economics you’re taking a pot and you’re dividing it into tiny, tiny, tiny pieces.”

The FCC’s Ajit Pai and the EU’s Andrus Ansip went head-to-head over net neutrality

The most anticipated session of the week was a panel featuring the Federal Communications Commission’s Ajit Pai and the European Commission’s vice president Andrus Ansip.

Pai used his opening remarks to lay out his strategy for positioning the US at the forefront of the 5G revolution. He vowed to open up more of the radio spectrum in auctions later this year and defended his work on repealing the net neutrality rules that the FCC itself introduced in 2015. “The US is making a shift from preemptive regulation to targeted enforcement,” he said. “We had a free internet for two decades up until 2015 and we will have a free and open internet going forward.”

Ansip, who is also the commissioner for the digital single market, told Pai he did not believe that the throttling of internet content would become an everyday practice following the changes. But he added: “We are following those developments very carefully and, of course, we are especially worried about European content in the United States, how this content will be treated, and we will not accept blocking, throttling or discrimination.”