Dearth of phones at MWC Americas turns the hardware spotlight elsewhere

Tim Cook, Apple CEO
Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to introduce a new iPhone at the company's own event once again rather than at MWC Americas. (Apple)

This article is part of our Mobile World Congress Americas preview coverage. Other posts in this series highlight this increasingly global industry, IoT, policy and analyst perspectives.

At this year’s big trade show for the U.S. wireless industry, don’t expect much in the way of phone news.

“I do not expect any consumer hardware announcements at the show. I'm not sure if any vendors will even be there; only one has reached out to me for a briefing that week,” Avi Greengart, research director for consumer platforms and devices for GlobalData, told FierceWireless recently.

“I have very low expectations. Most companies I’m talking to either aren’t participating or have a very low-profile presence. Much like the CTIA days, I’d expect lots of talk and keynotes from carriers but little of any substance,” agreed Geoff Blaber, VP of research for the Americas for analyst firm CCS Insight.

Indeed, this year’s fall wireless trade show appears to be scheduled at the same time that Apple will unveil its new iPhones: The company is slated to trot out three new iPhones including a high-profile flagship device as well as an LTE-enabled Apple Watch on September 12, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. That timing would likely put Apple’s event directly against MWC Americas’ kickoff keynote that features speakers including the chief of the FCC, CEO of América Móvil and the GSMA’s own director general.

“It’s a big challenge for the GSMA to resurrect that show, particularly [given] Apple’s determination to own the newsflow that week,” Blaber noted.

Lenovo’s Motorola, at least, confirmed it will maintain a booth at MWC Americas this year laden with its current products, but a company spokesperson confirmed Motorola is not planning to make any announcements at the show. ZTE too plans to have a presence at the event. Other major U.S. handset makers contacted by FierceWireless didn’t reply to questions on their intentions for the show.

CCS Insight research chief Ben Wood said that most big handset announcements will likely occur at the IFA show in Berlin the week before the MWC Americas show.

Nonetheless, the relative dearth of handset news at MWC Americas will likely turn the spotlight in other directions, and the show’s organizers appear prepared for that. The GSMA is bringing its “Innovation City” to the event, having already found success with the attraction at its MWC Barcelona and MWC Shanghai shows. The GSMA promised its Innovation City at the MWC Americas show will feature demonstrations from AT&T, KT Corporation, MasterCard and others highlighting initiatives including IoT, future networks and the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Thus, phone enthusiasts probably won’t find much to get excited about at this year’s MWC Americas, but those devices beyond phones—from drones to robots—likely will step into focus.