CES: Understanding the 5G Ecosystem in 2019 and Beyond

CES 2019 in January will highlight discussions about what we can expect with 5G next year and beyond. Fifth-generation mobile communications brings faster speeds, lower latency and the ability to connect more devices, meaning it will not simply speed up mobile phones but power nascent digital technologies from VR and IoT to autonomous vehicles and smart cities. CES 2019 offers a Wednesday 5G summit, and the first 5G products will be sprinkled across the show floor. The ETCentric team will be in Las Vegas reporting on a number of companies in this space.

According to MarketWatch, Moor Insights & Strategy, which said the evolution to 5G will produce mobile phones 100 times as fast as their 4G counterparts, estimated that infrastructure spending on 5G will exceed $326 billion by 2025.

Manufacturers are first looking at data centers (AMD, Broadcom, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Samsung); network transformation to help telecom and other communication companies to upgrade their networks to 5G and modems and/or supply intellectual property that contributes to the 5G standard (Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia and Samsung); and operators to deliver mobile services (AT&T, China Mobile, Orange, Singtel, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone).

Reuters notes that, according to global wireless trade group GSMA, “deals to start building mass-market 5G networks are still largely a year away, but by 2025, 1.2 billion people are set to have access to 5G networks,” one-third of which will be in China. Qualcomm, it says, makes half of all core baseband radio chips in smartphones, with Taiwan’s MediaTek providing one-quarter of the market and Huawei and Samsung Electronics developing chips for their own devices.

The 5G standard is not a single monolithic technology. PC Magazine explains that “5G primarily runs in two kinds of airwaves: below and above 6GHz,” and reports that Verizon launched the first “5G” home service — although not based on the global 5G standard — on October 1 to a handful of U.S. cities. AT&T began its launch of networks based on the global 5G standard in the last quarter of 2018; Verizon will upgrade its network to the standard in 2019.

PC Magazine adds that, “all 5G devices, initially, will need 4G … to make initial connections before trading up to 5G,” which explains why mass-market penetration is an evolution, not a revolution.

T-Mobile exec Karri Kuoppamaki notes that the low-frequency (below 6GHz) networks use existing cellular and Wi-Fi bands and cell sites to achieve “speeds 25 to 50 percent better than LTE.” Fast Company reports that it’s the second, higher frequency 5G that “will enable services “well beyond phones.” The so-called millimeter wave frequencies offer challenges; “they can’t travel as far as Wi-Fi signals and can be blocked by obstacles as small as tree leaves.”

“The core foundation of 5G is, you build a system that can evolve and adapt to various requirements and new market opportunities through the lifetime of the system,” said Qualcomm engineer/senior vice president Serge Willenegger, who helped develop the 5G standard.

To get a jump on things, companies like Audi are testing out private 5G networks to replace wireless, says Engadget, which adds that, “BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen also seem interested in 5G, as are utilities and shipping ports, along with manufacturing, oil, gas and chemical companies.”