Look who’s converging. This year’s Mobile World Congress Americas show, scheduled for Sept. 12-14 in Los Angeles, is breaking free of its mobile-phone roots to embrace Internet of Things and drone zones, hopefully breathing new life into a trade show that has really struggled for the past several years.
MWC Americas is the latest iteration of what was once the CTIA show, a must-attend event for mobile gurus through the first decade of the 2000s. But as product launches and supply chains became more global, consumer tech attention shifted to the now-colossal Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. That left CTIA as a “towers and accessories” show, where back-end deals would get made but relatively little of consumer interest would happen.
This year’s exhibitor list does have some interest to consumers. Nokia, Qualcomm, and Samsung Networks will probably be showing off new 5G equipment. Sprint, Telus, and Verizon represent major wireless carriers, and Samsung and ZTE are the No. 2 and No. 4 handset vendors in the US.
If the US pulls ahead of other countries in 5G—or at least in a different direction—that could reignite the need for a US-centric mobile trade show. The vibrant CTIA trade shows of years past largely happened because our networks were so weird and incompatible with global systems, so manufacturers and partners felt the need to have a special event to talk only to US and Canadian carriers. That lessened in recent years as our networks and phones have converged to global-standard 4G LTE.
Otherwise, the new drones, IoT, and “smart cities” zones may expand MWC Americas’ appeal enough to keep it relevant. As Samsung noted in a recent earnings release, the 5G world is going to have radical new opportunities beyond phones. Everything will be connected to everything else (and probably managed with voice interfaces), blurring the lines between a “wireless” trade show and a general-purpose electronics show like CES or IFA.
Partnering with MWC, which is the biggest global mobile-phone show of the year, made sense for CTIA, the American wireless carrier trade association. MWC runs satellite events around the world throughout the year, with MWC Shanghai being particularly successful. Ziff Davis, our parent company, is a major media sponsor of MWC this year.
MWC Americas still suffers from taking place during a very crowded few weeks. IFA, the gigantic “Euro CES,” runs through the first week of September in Berlin, and Apple will probably have its iPhone XI event on Sept. 11 or 12. Apple does not attend other trade shows. The result is that mobile-tech folks tend to be really, really exhausted by the time MWC Americas comes around.
Timing may help this show in a different way, though. We’re coming up very quickly on US 5G launches, with AT&T pledging to launch a mobile 5G service with hotspots by the end of the year, and Verizon saying it’ll start up a fixed-wireless 5G service in three to five cities. Those companies may use MWC Americas to launch new 5G products.