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5G – The Future is Now

After years of development and planning, we’re finally hearing about the first deployments of 5G technology in the U.S., but 2019 is when 5G initiatives really heat up. Therefore, CES 2019 will be a key focal point in the ongoing narrative of 5G deployment worldwide.

The defining characteristics of 5G include faster speed, greater capacity and lower latency compared to existing 4G LTE technology. 5G is a key requirement to fully enabling emerging technologies like self-driving cars and smart cities. It also has the potential to revolutionize residential broadband and close the digital divide.

Residential broadband today involves buried cables and in some cases fiber to the home, but that may soon change. Verizon recently announced Indianapolis as the fourth U.S. city (in addition to Houston, Los Angeles and Sacramento) to receive its 5G home internet service using “fixed wireless” technology (which promises speeds up to one gigabit per second) before year end. Fixed wireless broadband uses radio waves (instead of cable, copper phone lines or fiber) to deliver an internet connection to households that receive the signal via a “fixed” antenna.

What about Mobile Broadband?

Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint have announced intentions to form full-on 5G networks ASAP. AT&T has been very vocal about the debut of its 5G wireless network in 12 U.S. cities representing a mix of larger (Atlanta) and smaller (Waco, TX) urban areas. What’s significant is AT&T’s move represents the first commercial implementation of a 3GPPstandards- based 5G NR (New Radio) network in the U.S. The initial devices to run on AT&T’s new 5G network won’t be 5G smartphones, they will be 5G “pucks” that work like hotspots.

That said, 5G smartphones are coming. We’re getting a view of the first crop of 5G handsets through product announcements like the Motorola Moto Z3 that can become a 5G phone with a special mod. And Sprint is working with LG to deliver the first 5G handset to the U.S. market in the first half of 2019. In July 2018, CTA predicted that 2.1 million 5G handsets will ship in 2019, growing to more than 20 million in 2020. It will be several years (2022 at the earliest) before 5G handsets represent the lion’s share of the smartphone market. CES 2019 will give us a better view of 5G handsets and when they will be available.

This leads us to an important point relative to the buzz around 5G — that advancements to the existing 4G LTE network will take place in tandem with 5G deployments. In fact, these upgrades are an important stepping stone on the path to full 5G network connectivity.

An example of what this looks like is AT&T’s 5G Evolution initiative happening across many markets, which involves upgrading its 4G LTE network with LTE Advanced features as a “runway” for full-on 5G wireless networks. LTE Advanced uses additional antennas and wider channels to deliver faster speeds to more users. AT&T is also rolling out LTE-LAA, hich uses unlicensed spectrum to offer “gigabit-range” speeds. Note: other carriers are working on similar initiatives as precursors to standing up their inaugural 5G networks (likely in 2019) in different U.S. markets. 

Consumers can expect faster, better wireless service even before 5G becomes available in their locality. It will take several years before 5G becomes ubiquitous, but it will fuel the American economy to shine ever brighter.

At CES 2019, join us for CTA’s Research Summit to learn the latest trends and technologies shaping the industry.

Steve Koenig