This year, the mobile industry is all about 5G, foldable phones, and fractious politics

The race to 5G—and foldability

This year, the mobile industry is all about 5G, foldable phones, and fractious politics
This year, the mobile industry is all about 5G, foldable phones, and fractious politics

More than 100,000 telecom executives, mobile-industry insiders, analysts, reporters, and gadget gawkers have descended on Barcelona for Mobile World Congress—sorry, MWC Barcelona—which kicks off today (Feb. 25).

The theme of this year’s MWC is “Intelligent Connectivity.” Is there is any other kind?

If you thought there was a lot of 5G hype last year, steel yourself. Carriers are starting to roll out higher-speed 5G networks around the world in 2019, so nearly every device manufacturer is racing to position themselves as a leader in adopting the technology. Realistically, these networks are only starting to be built, and almost no one can actually take advantage of the networks in their daily life for years.

As far as devices go, every phonemaker seems intent on releasing a folding phone this year (see below for details). To get one, be prepared to open something else that folds—your wallet—because these things are not cheap.

Huawei is one of the expo’s largest sponsors, but that’s not why it will be the talk of MWC this week. The world’s largest network equipment seller is under fire from US officials, who accuse it of building backdoors into telecom systems on behalf of spies in Beijing. America’s attempts to enlist European allies in blacklisting the Chinese firm appear to be faltering, though, and Huawei will seek to win converts in Barcelona by trying to focus on technology, not geopolitics.

What everyone is talking about at MWC

Several tech companies jumped the gun and announced new products ahead of the expo’s opening. Here’s a rapid rundown of the weekend’s announcements:


The Chinese tech giant introduced a new version of the MateBook X Pro laptop with a massive, sharp screen that gives Apple a run for its money. Huawei also made waves with the Mate X, what it calls the “world’s fastest foldable 5G phone.” (Take that, Samsung.) Living on the edge will cost you a lot of yuan: The Mate X starts at a cool €2,299 ($2,600).


According to the Chinese gadget maker, “the 5G era has arrived!” (You’ll probably hear a lot of people say that this week.) For Xiaomi, this means a 5G-compatible version of the Mi Mix 3 it released last year (it also now has a slide-out selfie camera). The company also launched a new flagship device, the Mi 9, that has huge display, wireless charging, and three rear cameras for €449.


HMD, the Finnish group which owns the rights to the iconic mobile brand, unveiled five new low-cost devices. These range from the €30 feature phone with a month-long battery life to the €700 flagship that features five (yes, five) cameras—a nightmare for trypophobics. More

Mike MurphyDave Gershgorn & Jason Karaian in Barcelona