2019 is going to be the year for 5G, and tech companies positioning themselves as leaders in this space were eager to tease some of their upcoming 5G products at the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Samsung's booth showed a 5G prototype phone that was hands-off to attendees, and the company demonstrated how 5G could work with artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things in a connected car, reported CNN. The Korean tech behemoth is set to launch a 5G-capable version of its upcoming flagship Galaxy S10+ phone at a dedicated event on Feb. 20, and that device most likely will be a Verizon exclusive, at least for the first few months, according to BGR.
Verizon – which introduced 5G services in select U.S. cities last year – presented how 5G could enable surgeons to use augmented reality to perform more precise operations, and how it can enhance immersive virtual reality (VR) gaming experiences.
"5G is a promise of so much more than we've ever seen of any wireless technology," CEO Hans Vestberg told attendees, according to CNN.
Meanwhile, Intel, showcased how 5G technology would enable better video game graphics on next-generation laptops running under a new set of specifications, called Project Athena, and powered by its new Ice Lake family of processors. Intel said the first 5G-enabled Project Athena laptop will go on sale in the second half of 2019. The company also revealed a Snow Ridge networking SoC hardware for wireless base stations, its initial foray into this product segment.
“If you look at 5G, from the client to the access to the edge, or to the cloud, in every single part of that continuum, you're using Intel technology,” Sandra Riviera, Intel's senior VP of the network platforms group, told Tech Radar. “We're pretty confident that when you look at 5G... it's clear it does run on Intel.”
Qualcomm, on the other hand, showcased how 5G technology could be used on smartphones and VR headsets.
"We see 5G as being the biggest step yet," Qualcomm's VP of Marketing Pete Lancia told CNN. "3G brought the internet to your phone, and 4G enabled mobile-only companies like Uber and SnapChat to thrive. To say 5G will have a more profound impact than that is huge."
Like the suppliers, the carriers are in white-hot competition (and mudslinging) over who gets to deliver 5G to subscribers first. AT&T took a lot of flack from its rivals recently when it updated some Samsung and LG smartphones with a "5G E" (5G Evolution) icon, which indicated 5G speeds, even though AT&T's 5G service is supposedly an enhanced version of 4G LTE.
“They [AT&T] call it 5G, but we believe it’s not 5G,” Sprint President of Business Jan Geldmacher told Yahoo Finance during an interview at CES 2019. “We roll out the real 5G. It’s based on our 2.5 gigahertz spectrum. It’s based on our massive mine of technology, and it’s compliant with the 5G [rules], which we have agreed to.”
T-Mobile jokingly tweeted a video showing its updating its phones with a "9G" sticker sign.
AT&T's "5G E" has theoretical peak speeds for capable devices of up to 400 megabits per second and average speeds in the 40 Mbps range, which is significantly faster than 4G LTE, but not true 5G. According to Seeking Alpha: either speed would potentially delay the need and desire for consumers to pay up for lavish 5G devices while providing AT&T a network lead over competitors.
5G rollouts in the U.S. could stall, though, because of an extended U.S. government shutdown that has dragged beyond 25 days [editor’s note: at the time of publication]. The shutdown has frozen key functions of federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
“[The government shutdown] comes at a vital moment when the U.S. is competing to stay ahead of the world in the race to 5G, and when new products and services are being rolled out in real time,” the Telecommunications Industry Association said in a statement, via Fortune. “Unfortunately, the FCC ran out of funding on Jan. 3 and closed down its vital device approval process as a result. The unavailability of this process will have a serious and negative impact on the approval of new connected devices that are designed to enable both 5G deployment and the full ecosystem of next generation technologies that 5G will support.”
Elsewhere, 5G rollouts are on schedule, with several milestones achieved this week.
In Sweden, Ericsson and Qualcomm completed an Interoperability Development Testing (IoDT) 5G data call on on 2.6 GHz, according to 3GPP Release 15 September specifications, reported Telecom Paper. The companies have previously made similar IoDTs on 28 GHz and 39 GHz millimeter wave bands, as well as on 3.5GHz band. The tests are in preparation for commercial launches for partner telcos expected to roll out 5G networks in the first half of 2019.
In Australia, Nokia and Optus completed the country's first 5G data call using 3.5 GHz spectrum and 60 megahertz of channel bandwidth, on an Optus live network, and using a 5G device, reported RCR Wireless. The call was made also according to 3GPP Release 15 September specifications. Optus plans to launch commercial 5G services sometime during the first half of this year, with 5G coverage in all major Australian cities by March next year.
In Japan, NEC and NTT DoCoMo successfully used 5G to stream 8K footage in a display inside a moving train, as well as 4K content on the train passenger handsets, from base stations supporting 4.5 GHz and 28 GHz bands.
"8K ultra-high-definition live video featuring a steam locomotive train was transmitted from a 5G base station installed along a railroad to a 5G mobile station located inside a running SL train and put on an 8K display," stated NEC, according to ZDNet.
The demonstration is part of a Japanese government project to test 5G infrastructure that handles average data speeds of 4 Gbps to 8 Gbps.
In other news, a report from the South China Morning Post suggests that Huawei remains an attractive supplier of 5G mobile network equipment for developing nations, despite bans from multiple developed nations -- led by the United States, which accuses the Chinese company of espionage. Huawei is known to manufacture reliable yet affordable equipment that tends to price out competitors in emerging markets.
“Countries will be keen to slash costs [when buying 5G gear] wherever possible, and one way to do so is to opt for cheaper but proven Chinese equipment,” said Kenny Liew, a Singapore-based TMT analyst at Fitch Solutions, in the report. “The US may find that they lack the requisite leverage to successfully push for a ban on Chinese equipment in these countries.”
Continued pressure from the U.S. and allies, and even last week's arrest of a Huawei employee by Polish authorities on spying allegations, may not be enough to sway poorer nations from buying and utilizing Huawei gear.
“Huawei’s prospects in [central and eastern] Europe are still positive following the arrest,” Kenny Liew, a Singapore-based TMT analyst at Fitch Solutions, told the South China Morning Post. “While European governments are becoming increasingly conscious about Huawei’s equipment amid increasing – but as yet unfounded – allegations of espionage, they definitely acknowledge Huawei’s reliability and cost-effectiveness.”