CES 2019: 5G to Make Debut as a Multi-Faceted Technology

At CES 2019 next week, 5G is expected to make a strong showing, not simply as a means to improve mobile phones, but as a game changer for everything from robots and drones to video games, sports and shopping. Although Samsung has already shown prototype 5G phones for Verizon and AT&T, ETC consultant George Gerba noted that, “the need to upgrade phones will not occur till 2020 when most metropolitan areas should be closing in on the first wave of 5G.” “This is one of those evolutions that will happen in waves and with some bumps,” he said.

The New York Times defines 5G as “a set of technical ground rules that define the workings of a cellular network, including the radio frequencies used and how various components like computer chips and antennas handle radio signals and exchange data,” adding that consumers will have to buy new phones and carriers must install new transmission gear to get 5G’s benefits.

The improved speed depends on geography and specific wireless services; Qualcomm has “demonstrated peak 5G download speeds of 4.5 gigabits a second, but predicts initial median speeds of about 1.4 gigabits.” NYT notes that this is “roughly 20 times faster than the current 4G experience,” and means that “downloading a typical movie at the median speeds cited by Qualcomm would take 17 seconds with 5G, compared with six minutes for 4G.”

Latency will also dramatically improve from “50 to several hundred milliseconds” to “a few milliseconds,” enabling virtual or augmented realities and, in the long run, “remote surgery or connected cars.”

AT&T has “switched on its mobile 5G service in 12 cities, with seven more targeted in its initial rollout plan,” but, noted Gerba, “the recent test of AT&T last week had their new 5G mobile service with almost identical speeds to their 4G service.” “This is likely to persist as the 5G infrastructure is yet to be consistently applied throughout any complete system of distribution,” he said.

NYT added that, because “smartphones aren’t ready yet for a direct connection to 5G networks,” AT&T will first sell a Netgear-made 5G hot-spot device. AT&T Labs president Andre Fuetsch, who is the carrier’s chief technology officer, said that, “the first Samsung smartphones for AT&T’s 5G network will be available in the first half of 2019.”

Verizon is selling a “a 5G-branded service based on its own variant of the technology” to a limited pool of households in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento, and stated it will serve 5G to smartphone users in the first half of 2019. Sprint said it “might also switch on a 5G service first for smartphones next year, initially targeting nine American cities,” while “T-Mobile has stressed a nationwide 5G launch in 2020, but said it was installing gear in 30 cities that would be ready when 5G smartphones appeared in 2019.”

“However none of that matters in the two to five year time span,” said Gerba. “This is a disruption that will appear to be in slow motion until it quickly engulfs many old business models and alters experiences and consumer expectations for entertainment … keeps them and their robot car from harm and connects all their devices and home.”