NEW YORK— Smartphone launch season is starting, but this year, the smaller players are setting the tone.

Samsung’s decision to avoid launching  its latest Galaxy smartphone at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, as it has for several years running, potentially clears an opportunity for its Korean rival LG Electronics to strut its stuff at the tech conference that kicks off this weekend in Barcelona, drawing some 100,000 attendees.

LG has already teased the G6 Android flagship that is expected to be unveiled during a press event Sunday. The company hinted that it will be a waterproof phone with a big screen that you’ll nonetheless be able to easily manipulate with one hand.

Also on the agenda of what has become the mobile industry’s signature confab: appearances by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son and new Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai.

Now in its 31st year and 12th in Barcelona, in all some 2,200 global companies will be exhibiting at the show, including most of the big name mobile industry players apart from Apple.

No Samsung flagship, but plenty of others.  Samsung had unveiled its last several Galaxy S-series phones at MWC, but now is expected to unleash in the spring the widely-anticipated Galaxy S8 phone—or whatever the Korean tech giant calls the smartphone that it hopes will get you to forget the Note 7 phablet handsets that kept catching fire last year.

Look instead for Samsung to refresh its tablet lineup during its own press event on Sunday, and maybe provide at least a glimpse of the S8.

Several other phone-makers will unveil their own new devices over the weekend into next week, including Huawei, Motorola (Lenovo) and Sony. ZTE is also a possibility.

Best of Mobile World Congress 2016

And one of the most interesting things to watch on the product front surround what would-be comeback stories from once dominant but now diminished brands, BlackBerry and Nokia

If pre-show rumors prove correct, the Finnish manufacturer HMD Global, which now owns licensing rights for the Nokia brand, is going to introduce, among other phones, a throwback device that recalls the Nokia 3310, a handset that was popular in the pre-iPhone era.

Whatever new phones are released at MWC, a basic question remains: what will it take to get consumers excited? Some will wait for the aforementioned S8, likely weeks away. Some will wait even longer to see if Samsung has a replacement for the ill-fated Note 7.

And an even bigger shadow is cast by Apple, which is expected to unveil the 10th anniversary iPhone in the fall.

Of course, for all the talk of new phones, MWC isn’t a product-heavy showcase such as last month’s CES trade show in Las Vegas.

“We built this show in getting the leading CEOs in our industry together,” says Michael O’Hara, the chief marketing officer for the GSMA, the organizers of the event.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. (Photo: Netflix)

CEOs on stage. To a U.S. audience, Hastings may be the most recognizable name to the take the MWC stage. He’ll be speaking in a Monday evening slot reserved the last couple of years for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Hastings is likely to discuss Netflix’s international experiences just a year after the company went global.

SoftBank’s Son will be speaking on a panel with other telecom executives. It remains to be seen if he says anything about the prospects of revived T-Mobile-Sprint merger talks in the aftermath of last week’s Reuters report that SoftBank, which owns about 83% of Sprint, was considering ceding control to Deutsch Telekom, which owns about 65% of T-Mobile.

FCC Chairman Pai will be contributing to a panel devoted to expanding the “5G” economy. The path to next generation 5G networks and services will surely be a major topic of conversation in the corridors of the Fira Gran Via conference facility.

Other conference speakers include Pokemon Go creator and Niantic CEO John Hanke, Kaspersky Labs CEO Eugene Kaspersky, and AT&T Entertainment Group CEO John Stankey.

Numerous topics are also on the MWC agenda: the Internet of Things, connected vehicles, gender diversity, and artificial intelligence. Along those lines, executives from Google and IBM Watson will be among participants in a session on AI, chatbots and virtual assistants.


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