The tech world kicks off the New Year a few weeks late, at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Rather than a ball drop, the anticipation centers around new product releases. This year, the buzz both before and during CES focused on 5G — the super-fast wireless that is now rapidly moving from concept to reality and on which so many of those new products will depend.
Why now? AT&T kicked off the year with an announcement that the company would deploy mobile 5G in a dozen markets late this year. Verizon had earlier said that it would deploy fixed wireless 5G in late 2018; AT&T’s announcement ups the game with the more advanced and complex technology of truly mobile 5G. Not to be outdone, T-Mobile’s Chairman John Legere says that his company will “leapfrog” AT&T and Verizon to deploy a full mobile 5G network nationwide by 2020.
So there’s buzz, movement, and — lest it be forgotten, as this example shows — competition. 5G truly deserves the buzz. The fifth generation of wireless broadband technology will offer far better and faster service than the current 4G standard, offering broadband speeds that can compete with wireline providers, with lower latency (i.e., less time between a request for data being sent and the data delivered).
This technology will require a whole series of new industry standards. Fortunately, that work is going faster than expected, with great progress having already been made. Standardization has already started, and the first official standards will soon be approved. This, in turn, enables faster development of new applications based on the technology. There’s been a lot of talk about connected coffee makers and the like, but the real advances will come in areas such as driverless cars, virtual reality, public safety, health and medicine, and in many other applications that have not even been invented yet.
5G will be a big deal for business as well, as many old products will be redesigned to accommodate connections to the Internet of Things and as businesses will explore new uses for 5G, such as immersive reality, in their own marketing efforts.
So don’t let the clothes-folding robots and talking toilets from CES get all the attention. There are serious developments happening in wireless right now, and they will be coming to your (new) smartphone sooner than you may imagine. It’s another example of the constant innovation that characterizes the broadband marketplace and the huge levels of investment that support fast broadband. A good number of those new appliances that wow CES attendees and grab attention will rely on mobile 5G technology to connect, as the Internet of Things becomes a daily reality — enough things that you may need a shopping-cart robot to take them all home.
Networks and tech entrepreneurs are doing their job in bringing 5G to market as quickly as possible. Standards bodies are similarly working hard to develop the rules that will support both the physical infrastructure of 5G and the products that connect to it. Now the government, too, can do its part by helping to remove barriers to quick deployment of 5G. Earlier wireless technology was symbolized by the cell tower. A longer public permitting process for these larger facilities was at least understandable, if regrettable for those frustrated by dropped calls.
But with 5G, the equipment will have to be much closer to the user. The good news is that the equipment will also be many times smaller, hardly noticeable in many cases. So it will be important to remove barriers to getting the network equipment installed quickly so that consumers can start taking advantage of all 5G has to offer. By next year’s CES, at least some Americans will be able to go to CES and talk about their own experiences with 5G rather than just listening to a presentation. The future of wireless is arriving this year.