Mobile World Congress Returns To Barcelona With ‘Hybrid’ Event

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Mobile World Congress returns to Barcelona for Europe’s first major tech conference since beginning of Covid-19 pandemic, with talks from Elon Musk and Samsung

The Mobile World Congress trade show makes its return this week, with a keynote speech from tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and a presentation from Samsung on “reimagining smartwatches”.

The event is to be a “hybrid” one, with an online component as well as an in-person element in Barcelona.

The latter is a landmark in itself, making it the first major tech conference staged in Europe since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Last year’s MWC was initially delayed from its usual February date, and was later cancelled.

Attendees are shown at MWC 2017 mobile
Attendees are shown at MWC 2017

Hybrid conference

This year’s event, to be held from 28 June to 1 July, is expected to see 30,000 to 40,000 attendees, down from more than 100,000 in 2019.

GSMA, which organises MWC, is instituting a range of health measures, including a recent negative Covid-19 test, face masks and a digital badge, as well as a contact-tracing app.

Barcelona deputy mayor Jaume Collboni told Reuters the city was not concerned about MWC triggering a coronavirus outbreak as the city has hosted other events recently, although on a smaller scale, and infections have plummeted in Spain.

The city plans to hand out free passes to the event to local residents in order to increase footfall.

MWC’s official agency is booking only 11 hotels, down from more than 400 normally, with Hotel Continental Palacete owner Josep Maria Malagarriga saying his premises were at 50 percent occupancy for Monday.

Telepresence

The industry hopes this year’s MWC agenda, combining physical, online and hybrid activities, will serve as a model for future events.

Many attendees said they were planning to attend virtually from around the world, with some companies getting into the “hybrid” spirit with tours of their stands via telepresence robots.

Samsung is the highest-profile company to have announced its MWC plans to date, with a smartwatch event to be made publicly available on its website and YouTube channel.

The Monday event, which is likely to highlight Samsung’s recent deal to work with Google on wearable devices, begins at 18:15 BST.

Samsung said it plans to cover the Galaxy ecosystem, its new smartwatch experience and mobile security.

Satellite broadband

The best-known keynote speaker is no doubt Elon Musk, whose presentation on Tuesday evening is to focus on SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband project.

Intel and Nvidia are to detail their 5G platforms and Huawei is also listed as an exhibitor, but hasn’t indicated its plans. Lenovo has said it plans to launch laptops, smart speakers and other devices.

Many companies, including Qualcomm, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, BT, Nokia, Sony, Oracle, Ericsson and Xiaomi, have said they wouldn’t be attending in person, but some may nevertheless be announcing products timed with the event.

Qualcomm president and chief executive Cristiano Amon, for instance, is delivering a joint keynote speech on Monday afternoon with Verizon chief Hans Vestberg and others.

Other companies with speakers at the event include Amazon’s AWS, IBM, Kaspersky, Orange, Deutsche Telekom ZTE and China Mobile.

Some of MWC’s events will be hybrid, such as a Wednesday morning panel on next-generation technologies such as remote surgery, advanced materials for building future cities and quantum computing.

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