This week, we’ve been assaulted with a barrage of 5G “news” and announcements, but without a real good reason for why things are happening now. Companies like Samsung, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and others have been out talking big about making 5G capable phones, while wireless carriers—most notably AT&T and Verizon—have been out there promising cell networks with lighting fast downloads, low latency, and enough bandwidth to power pretty much anything you do on a phone or PC—all coming soon (TM) a city near you.
And while there’s a lot of bluster and hype going around, there are a number of reasons for all the commotion. So here’s a quick check in on the state of 5G to help cut down on the noise.
First and foremost, Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Tech Summit happened this week, and as one of the few companies that has a 5G modem ready for use on 5G networks, it’s not exactly a big surprise that Qualcomm is trying to spread that info as much as possible.
To fuel things even more, Qualcomm invited a ton of guests to its event, including representatives from most of the major carriers and devices makers such as Samsung senior vice president Justin Denison, OnePlus co-founder Pete Lau, Verizon chief network office Nicki Palmer, AT&T senior vice president Kevin Petersen and more. All of them got on stage at some point to talk about how invested each company is in our 5G future, as if that was something that was ever in doubt. The thing is all those announcements all sort of boiled down to the same thing: 5G is coming, it’s going to be cool, and X company is going to help make it possible. We’ve been saying the same thing for years. 5G is on the horizon, and it will eventually make your life better.
However, there was very little substance to be found. AT&T and Verizon both had official announcements essentially saying that each company was partnering with Samsung to create a 5G phone for their networks that would be available sometime in 2019, which is something almost anyone could have predicted. Samsung even showed off a 5G device with a funky front-facing camera hole, which was neat, but might not be what gets released next year.
Verizon and AT&T even flew in millions of dollars worth of 5G equipment just to set up a 5G network at a single hotel in Hawaii. Except as attendees quickly found out, actual speeds for the 5G demos weren’t all that impressive. Carriers claimed the demo was more to show that 5G works rather than as a way to show off 5G’s true capabilities, which is fine, but not really what people were hoping to see.
So basically, a bunch of companies spent mountains of cash so a handful of people could see a tiny 5G icon in the top corner of a phone that isn’t for sale. (To be fair, one of the demos used a Moto Z3, which is available now. However, the 5G Moto mod that actually let it connect to Verizon’s temporary 5G network is not.)
On top of that, there were other tidbits of info that came out that may have people balking, such as OnePlus co-founder Pete Lau saying that 5G phones could carry a $200 to $300 premium over phones with 4G LTE, which is a lot to ask for young tech that might not work that well yet.
If you look at the current availability of 5G right now, unless you are on a certain carrier and live in a select number of cities, 5G isn’t even an option. And even if you do, the only real way to get 5G currently is by using a 5G hotspot, because as I’ve mentioned already, there are no consumer 5G phones on the market right now.
My point is, if you’ve seen a bunch of 5G coverage and somehow have been worked up into a frenzy, don’t worry, chill out. Yes, 5G is still coming, and it absolutely will have an impact on the way people stay connected. But the mainstream rollout of both 5G networks and 5G devices isn’t scheduled to ramp up until mid-2019.
Hell, T-Mobile is so nonchalant about 5G that just recently, that instead of attending Qualcomm’s tech summit, T-Mobile CEO John Legere just released a cookbook for slower cooker recipes. So enjoy the holidays, take a break, and check back next year for when 5G shit starts to heat up for real.