The expanding reach of wireless and mobile communications is evident at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, as the displays and discussions go far beyond phones and gadgets.
The technology and telecommunications world has descended on Barcelona, Spain, this week for the annual Mobile World Congress, where luminaries, industry leaders and marketers gather to view the latest in wireless technology.
The conference, which opened Monday and runs through Thursday, draws thousands of attendees along with journalists and representatives from thousands of companies.
This year’s keynote speakers include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Vodafone Group chief Vittorio Colao and Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields.
The opening was hampered by a subway strike in central Barcelona, with underground services due to be cut by half during peak hours.
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Here are some of the first-day highlights.
Samsung shows off VR, new phones
Samsung Electronics showed off virtual-reality hardware alongside its latest Galaxy S7 smartphones, in its latest attempt to breathe life into its premium line and wrest ascendancy back from Apple.
The new phones go on sale March 11 sporting a 5.1-inch screen using its own Exynos or Qualcomm processors, with a larger 5.5-inch Edge model equipped with the same kind of wraparound display the company debuted last year.
While the phones look almost identical to the S6 line, Samsung is bringing back a memory-card slot and adding a longer-life battery after the absence of a removable power unit alienated fans last year.
Samsung’s efforts to win back customers saw it keep the form and shape of last year’s models while fixing their shortcomings and touting their potential role in the coming virtual reality boom.
“Samsung’s trying to shift consumers’ sights to bundled products, such as VR headsets and a 360-degree camera, which would help it keep the smartphone margin from decline,” Lee Jae Yun, an analyst at Yuanta Securities, said in Seoul, South Korea. “This is a good try, but Samsung can’t help slashing the prices of new premium smartphones to keep its market share. ”
— Bloomberg News
AT&T sees drones in its future
AT&T is so eager to get customers to use drones — connected to its wireless network, of course — that it is testing out the unmanned aircraft for its own operations.
AT&T is working on eight cases for drone use inside the company, including sending the devices to do spot checks of cellular towers, inspect construction sites, or help handle initial assessments of technical troubles in the field, Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan said.
“We’d rather send a drone out that has an antenna that collects signals to troubleshoot before we dispatch a person,” Donovan said in an interview Monday.
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless network operator, wants in on the growing interest in drones and has enlisted Intel to help test how drones work when connected to a network. Many drones today are controlled over shorter-range radio signals, meaning they can’t be controlled far away or when there’s interference, such as a tall building.
— Bloomberg News
Zuckerberg still on mission
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed Monday to press on with his 3-year-old effort to bring the developing world online, even after Indian regulators banned one of the pillars of the campaign.
He said the banned service, Free Basics, was only one program in his Internet.org campaign, so he could proceed with other initiatives. Indian regulators banned Free Basics this month because it provided access only to certain preapproved services — including Facebook — rather than the full Internet.
“Facebook isn’t a company that hits a roadblock and gives up,” Zuckerberg said at the Mobile World Congress. “We take the hits and try to get better.”
This was his third appearance at the show to promote Internet access to everyone in the world. He has argued that online connections can improve lives and fuel economic development.
To achieve that goal, Zuckerberg has highflying dreams for someday providing Internet connections through a network of drones, satellites and lasers.
He said Monday that Internet.org would launch its first satellite over Africa this year and “we are about to test flying Internet drone solar planes that can fly three months a year.”
Free Basics is for people who live in areas with Internet service but can’t afford it.
Facebook works with wireless carriers in poorer nations to let people use streamlined versions of Facebook and certain other online services, without paying data charges.
— The Associated Press
Ford shifts into high gear
Ford CEO Mark Fields says the company is tripling its investment in new technologies that will ultimately lead to self-driving vehicles — but will keep making cars for drivers who want to be behind the wheel.
Fields said it was no coincidence Ford chose the Mobile World Congress to unveil its new Kuga SUV, which features its latest connectivity and driver-assisted technology.
“We are really emphasizing our transition from an auto company to an auto and mobility company,” he said in an interview.
The Kuga includes the latest version of Ford’s connectivity technology, Sync 3, which the company says includes improved voice commands and easier access applications on a driver’s smartphone.
Fields said that over the next five years investment will increase threefold in autonomous driving technologies, such as one-button parking assistance and guidance to keep a car in its lane and help braking in heavy traffic, with the ultimate goal of a fully autonomous car.
— The Associated Press