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This is where you'll find your next smartphone

Mobile World Congress is the biggest and most important smartphone party of the year. And unlike a lot of tech trade shows, most of the gadgets appearing here are ones that you'll actually be able to buy.

Mobile World Congress takes place at Barcelona's Fira Gran Via.
Sarah Tew/CNET

"Congress" usually isn't a word that inspires excitement, but the Mobile World Congress is anything but usual. Held every February in Barcelona, Spain, it is the the premier global event for the wireless industry. Think of a smaller CES, but pack it with only smartphones, tablets, and everything mobile, and you'll get the idea. Then, drop it all in one of the world's most seductive cities -- sorry, Las Vegas -- and you wind up with a most exciting tech show.

Full CNET coverage of the 2014 Mobile World Congress

But there's another very good reason why Mobile World Congress (MWC) is worth your attention: You'll actually be able to buy many of the smartphones that show up here (well, not at the show, but definitely over the next few months). That's been true since the first time I attended the show in 2008 (see the slideshow below for proof), and it will be true this year, thanks to our friends from Korea, Finland, and elsewhere. Here's what we expect from them in just a few days.

When Samsung schedules one of its signature "Unpacked" events, the news is guaranteed be huge (trivia: one of Samsung's first "Unpacked" events was at the 2010 Mobile World Congress). Indeed, we expect to see the Galaxy S5 and a Tizen-powered Galaxy Gear smartwatch when Sammy takes the stage next Monday. For the Galaxy S5, Samsung will be under pressure to improve on the well-received Galaxy S4 with new features like a fingerprint sensor and a 64-bit chip. The stakes are higher for the Galaxy Gear, given the original Galaxy Gear continues to suffer from limited features and apps.

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung S5 and other Mobile World Congress soothsayings

Though Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's phone business has yet to close, Nokia has invited us to meet "under the tree" in Barcelona. I won't try to read the invitation's tree leaves to closely, but rumors predict that Nokia will show up with an (gasp) Android phone. Yes, you read that correctly, the company that gave Windows Phone 8 a bear hug at MWC 2011 may partially defect to an OS rival.

The company formerly known as Sony Ericsson skipped a formal presser in 2013, but it's back this year with a real event. The rumor mill hasn't been as noisy here, but I'd expect a new Xperia tablet running Android 4.4 KitKat and at least one new smartphone.

Everyone in wireless comes to the show, from trendsetters like Samsung to smaller startups desperate to break through. Sarah Tew/CNET

LG is going into Mobile World Congress with five new phones that it revealed just this month alone: The G Pro 2, the G2 Mini, the L90, the L70, and the L40. Barcelona will give us the chance to see those handsets in person for the first time, plus anything else new that LG brings.

Who else will have toys...and who won't?
Huawei will have a press conference on Sunday where it could reveal a smartwatch, and Motorola will hold a presser Tuesday night. Moto promises only an "update on the business" (so, no new phones). Throughout the week, we'll also see new devices from ZTE, hear more about Mozilla's Firefox OS, and peruse the wares from YotaPhone and a host of Chinese vendors aggressively trying to grab the global spotlight. As for HTC, though, we'll have to wait until March 25 to see the successor to the HTC One (for now, called the HTC One 2).

Points if you speak Spanish (or even better, Catalan), but the show runs in English. Sarah Tew/CNET

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg probably won't come to MWC bearing a new Facebook phone, but he will give a keynote on the first day of the show. Zuck is a big change from the usual crowd of carrier and infrastructure CEOs usually speaking at the show, and it shows MWC is becoming a hotter tech ticket. He's supposed to talk about "extending the benefits of ubiquitous Internet access to the unconnected world," which should translate to bringing the mobile Internet (and Facebook!) to more places. On the other hand, maybe he'll talk about that $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.

So, what shouldn't I miss?
I know that's a lot to digest, and that's only what's to come from the major players (look also for plenty of news from startups working far on the mobile frontier). As we have for the past few years, CNET will be on the ground in Barcelona to bring you all the new gadgets in words, pictures, and video. In fact, MWC has grown so big and so important that we're sending our largest team ever (25 editors from four countries) including our first contingent from CNET en Espanol. Brace yourselves, smartphone fans, you're in for a ride.

If you're planning to follow along (and there's no reason why you shouldn't), here are the MWC press conferences CNET is live blogging. Though officially the show runs from Monday, Feb. 24, to Thursday, Feb. 27, the fun really begins this Sunday night.

Sunday, Feb. 23

Time: 3 p.m. in Barcelona (calculate to your time zone)
Follow CNET's live blog

Monday, Feb. 24

Time: 8:30 a.m. in Barcelona (calculate to your time zone)
Follow CNET's live blog

Time: 8:30 a.m. in Barcelona (calculate to your time zone)
Follow CNET's live blog

Mark Zuckerberg's Keynote
Time: 6 p.m. in Barcelona (calculate to your time zone)
Follow CNET's live blog

Samsung Unpacked
Time: 6 p.m. in Barcelona (calculate to your time zone)
Follow CNET's live blog