With the kickoff of the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona fast approaching, smartphone makers, including Samsung, LG, and Motorola, are preparing to launch their latest devices for 2018. Among the likely debut highlights: the Samsung Galaxy S9, an update of LG's V30, and the Motorola G6.

Scheduled for Feb. 26 through March 1, MWC 2018 will feature exhibits, talks, and other programs focused on key themes, including the future of telecommunications service providers; opportunities and challenges arriving with 5G and other network advances; the evolving digital consumer; technology's impact on society; the Internet of Things; artificial intelligence; and the changing media landscape.

MWC is the largest annual conference and expo for the mobile device and services industry. Organized by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), a global industry organization for mobile operators, this year's event is expected to feature more than 2,300 exhibitors and draw more than 108,000 attendees from around the world.

'Cambrian Explosion' in Network Tech

As part of their theme of "Creating a Better Future," MWC organizers plan to showcase a variety of emerging technologies at the GSMA Innovation City. The innovation space will feature exhibits and hands-on demonstrations of mobile tech driving changes in healthcare, retail, industry, transportation, and other areas of daily life.

"For this year, we're actually in an immensely exciting position in the industry," Alex Lawrence, senior research manager, said in a GSMA video about MWC. "Some people have described it as being on the cusp of a Cambrian Explosion* in the way that networks look, the way they work and so on."

Lawrence said the network developments now under way with automation, virtualization, edge computing, and other innovations will bring dramatically different capabilities than, say, the step-changes seen in moving from 2.5G to 3G network connectivity.

"If you look at the technologies that are being worked on at the moment... we can see that what people choose to invest in and build their networks out with will shape their strategy enormously... so you'll end up with networks with very different capabilities from each other, which is almost unprecedented," he said.

Also on the MWC agenda are several programs focused on women in technology, including a panel discussion on diversity as "a driver of innovation" and an invite-only event, "Leaving No One Behind: Ensuring Digital Inclusion for All."

Samsung Event on Eve of MWC

Among the companies planning to roll out their latest products at MWC 2018 is Samsung, which has scheduled an "Unpacked" event on the eve of the event's kickoff. In its invitation, Samsung dropped hints about the Galaxy S9, saying it "reimagines the camera and redefines the way you share your moments."

So far, leaked images of the S9 and S9 Plus show devices that are similar in design to last year's models, with narrow bezels bordering the front screen face, as well as a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, something that's no longer available in the competing Apple iPhone X. Mobile tech writer Evan Blass has also tweeted out images of Samsung's new DeX Pad dock, which enables users to plug in their Galaxy phones for use in PC mode.

Other device makers set to appear at this year's MWC include China's Huawei, whose efforts to finally launch a smartphone in the U.S. were thwarted by a last-minute pullout by AT&T during January's CES electronics event; LG, which typically unveils a new flagship every year in Barcelona; Motorola; Sony; HTC; and BlackBerry/Alcatel.

Mobile World Congress 2018 will be held primarily at Barcelona's Fira Gran Via, with some events, including the 4YFN (4 Years from Now) Expo for startups, housed at Fira Montjuic.

Editor's Note: For those not familiar with the term "Cambrian Explosion," it implies a time of rapid, unprecedented evolutionary change. It refers to a time in history that started 542 million years ago and lasted for approximately 40 million years. During that period, life expanded from simple, single-celled organisms to virtually every current phylum of life known today. It certainly seems like an overstatement to say that we are on the "cusp of a Cambrian Explosion in the way that networks look, the way they work and so on," but the point is well-taken. Big changes are coming.