Qualcomm invited Samsung, Verizon and AT & T to a Snapdragon Technology summit this week in Maui, Hawaii, where the company has partnered with 2019 to discuss its plans for 5G. Verizon and AT & T set up mini-5G networks to run some demos, and Samsung put an early but working prototype of a 5G phone in a dock to run a demo at its own booth. The 350 journalists present had no opportunity to try the devices, but we got the opportunity to see them.
5G "will lay the foundation for smartphones, later cars and virtually any electronic device that is to be connected," said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon in a keynote address. "This first step (smartphones) will reach us in the first half of 2019."
5G, the next generation of mobile technology, is expected to significantly increase the speed, range and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can run 10 to 100 times faster than a traditional mobile connection, and even faster than anything you can achieve with a fiber optic cable in your home. In addition, a device is connected to the network faster, and the download or upload can be accelerated in the millisecond range.
Due to the general speed increase, phones will be able to perform complex computational tasks in a fraction of the time you are currently taking. This could allow for advanced photography skills, artificial intelligence and augmented reality apps that would take too long to process on today's phones. With the 5G technology, driverless cars and buses can talk to each other. You can also communicate with smart street lamps and other vehicles on the road.
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5G technology, while offering more powerful devices, also gives equipment manufacturers and operators the opportunity to profit. 5G requires special hardware so it does not "work" in any city or with your current phone. Service providers with the largest 5G networks and mobile phone manufacturers with the best-equipped 5G phones hope to win their customers as competitors and brands barely catch up. 5G service plans and 5G enabled phones could also sell a premium in addition to "regular" LTE plans and devices.
On Monday, Samsung and Verizon announced their first 5G phone, a proof-of-concept device that became known before the summit. Samsung plans to launch a 5G phone for bothand in early 2019. Earlier this year, Motorola and Verizon were working on a 5G-enabled module snapping onto a 5G-capable $ 400 module, the Moto Z3. Nor will it work until Verizon officially lights up its first US 5G networks, but if it does, those phones will wait.
Although 5G technology will replace today's 4G LTE networks, the transition will be gradual. The carriers will introduce their first 5G networks city by city while accelerating existing 4G LTE networks. Expect larger cities to receive first 5G and rural markets earliest support.
The rocky road to 5G in the middle until the end of 2019
The transition to a 5G network will bring with it its own challenges. First, operators need to prepare their networks for 5G. This fifth generation data pipeline uses a different part of the wireless spectrum than 4G. It relies on high frequency millimeter waves (mmWave) to deliver high speeds in the near range and below 6GHz to deliver data wider and in-building.
As with 4G and 3G, carriers buy rights to spectrum usage at auctions conducted by the FCC. This could mean that some network operators have a wider range than the others and this can affect the overall speed of the network in different parts of the country.
Second, device manufacturers need to make sure their phones work seamlessly with 5G. Phones must use a special modem and dedicated processor chip that supports 5G. Brands like Samsung, Apple and LG are already testing every single device with every major carrier they sell. 5G certification is another lengthy and costly process.
However, Amon and wireless partners such as Verizon said they were confident they would launch phones in early 2019.
"We're up to speed with the 5G mobile service," said Nicki Palmer, Verizon's chief network engineering officer and head of the wireless network, on Tuesday at the Qualcomm event. Verizon plans to set up 5G incubators in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Washington, DC, to target the fast-moving networks.
And Amon noted that it is not just US carriers or certain mobile phone companies that are other countries that will bring 5G to market next year. Instead, all the world's major markets are seeking to introduce 5G as soon as possible.
"5G is so important that the whole industry moves at the same pace in 2019," said Amon. "The fact that we have a mature mobile environment [means] … the development system will move faster than ever."
Updated on December 5 at 3:00. PT: Adds more detail.
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