5G technology, foldables grab spotlight at MWC

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5G technology, foldables grab spotlight at MWC


From left, models introduce KT products ahead of this year’s MWC on Friday in Barcelona, Spain. SK Telecom introduces mixed-reality glasses and its blockchain-based mobile identity authentication system on Saturday. Models, from left, showcase the Q60, K50 and K40 smartphones from LG Electronics on Sunday ahead of the MWC. [KT, SK TELECOM, YONHAP]

MWC’s theme this year is “Intelligent Connectivity,” but it might as well be the “battle of the foldables.”

Formerly known as the Mobile World Congress, and held by the GSMA under that name since 2007, the event takes place this week in Barcelona, Spain. 5G will be very much front and center, picking up from last year’s focus on the technology itself with more of a focus this year on the actual use of 5G, with devices and solutions featured.

But foldable phones are shaping up to be the main attraction.

Samsung Electronics fired the first salvo last week with an unpacking event in San Francisco. There, the company introduced a foldable phone that opens like a book to transform into a 7.3-inch display tablet. The cover of the phone - the front when folded - looks like a conventional smartphone with a 4.6-inch screen. The company said it committed significant resources to achieving a display without a noticeable fold or hinge.

The phone, one of the first foldables on the market, comes with a hefty $1,980 price tag. It is set to go on sale first in the United States in April. A 5G variant of the foldable phone, likely to be even more expensive, is expected to be released in Korea in May.

The breakthrough is seen as key to the company and to the market. As the industry faces peak phone and general buyer fatigue, mobile makers have been struggling in recent years to come up with innovations that will attract customers. The foldable design was seen as one possible way of sustaining excitement and maintaining demand.

Despite Samsung’s first mover advantage, the major Chinese competitors are seen as close behind. They are likely to take a stand at MWC.

Huawei, for one, is all geared to battle the Korean company with its own foldable phone. The phone is expected to come out of the gate supporting a 5G connection. Huawei is also innovating the innovation, approaching the problem in a different way. The display panel will fold out so there will be no need for a separate display on the outside.

Xiaomi, another Chinese maker, seems to be adopting a double-folding design.

As the various origami combinations could result in different user experiences, critics are looking at what features the companies can offer to consumers with the new form factors.

Other phone makers, including Motorola, are expected to introduce foldable phones as well.

LG Electronics is not taking part in the battle for now. In a press briefing with reporters in Seoul held roughly a week before MWC, LG mobile communications division head Brian Kwon said the company’s major release will be a dual-display smartphone enabled with 5G rather than a foldable phone. It will be known as the V50 ThinQ 5G.

While Huawei, Xiaomi and LG held briefings to unveil their phones Sunday local time, a day prior to official opening of the MWC, details weren’t available at press time.

With 5G becoming a reality in Korea in March, the actual use of the technology will also be important to MWC.

A major focus will be virtual reality (VR) content, as that is one of the easiest ways to show consumers what the technology can offer. While 4G LTE led the way to heavy consumption of video, carriers believe 5G will lead to heavy consumption of higher-capacity material, such as VR, augmented reality (AR) and holograms.

SK Telecom, the country’s largest carrier, said its “killer” content will be VR games. Last week, the company signed a deal with Nexon to develop VR versions of three popular games: Kart Rider, Crazy Arcade and Bubble Fighter.

Consumers will be able to feel as if they are riding a racing kart when playing the VR version of the Kart Rider game utilizing the high-speed and low-latency features of 5G, SK Telecom said. The carrier is planning to sign more partnerships with global media and gaming companies during the MWC.

At MWC, KT will be demonstrating a VR game in partnership with VR content developer Appnori. The carrier said it will be a sports game where users can play baseball, table tennis and badminton as if they are in a stadium. It is multi-player, allowing many users to access the same sports game at once, according to KT.

LG U+, the country’s smallest carrier, said consumers will be able to enjoy its mobile massively multiplayer online role-playing game (Mmorpg) Lineage 2 Revolution through the LG V50 ThinQ 5G. The dual-display terminal comes with a game-pad feature, the carrier said. One of the two monitors will become a control pad, while the game is shown in the other display.

Apart from VR, SK Telecom is preparing to demonstrate blockchain-based ID solutions in partnership with Germany’s Deutsche Telekom. The carrier and T-Labs, a research body under the telecommunications company, will sign an agreement to jointly develop a more secure identification system.

While users currently have to input personal information - including date of birth and phone number - to access sites online, the Korean company said blockchain technology will enable users to prove identity on the internet without revealing private information.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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