There’s no doubt that 5G is the future of wireless, just like 8K is for TVs or autonomous driving is for the car industry, bringing faster speeds, lower latency and new applications (high-speed fixed wireless services, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, smart cities, next-generation IoT…).
However, confusion was the order of the day at CES 2019 when discussing about the next-generation of the mobile wireless technology.
It all started when AT&T CEO John Donovan confirmed that the mobile carrier will switch the “LTE” indicator on some of the current Android LTE phones including Samsung S8/S9, LG V30/35 and Motorola Z2 Force to “5G E” (for Evolution) when users connect to the operator’s faster LTE network—which is currently available in over 400 markets nationwide—that was upgraded with new LTE Advanced technologies which nearly doubles the average real-world wireless speeds to around 40Mbps, according to AT&T, from 28Mbps as reported by testing company Ookla in the third quarter of last year.
However fast is AT&T 5G Evolution network, this is still not real 5G which can potentially reach speeds up to a gigabit, as Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg demonstrated during his keynote presentation at CES.
To make matters worse, AT&T is currently in the process of deploying two real 5G networks, branded “5G” and “5G+”, the latter being faster than 5G.
Confused? Wait, there’s more.
A little known regional wireless carrier, Redzone Wireless launched over a year ago “5Gx” (no, it’s not 5G, just branding like AT&T), a fixed wireless service in Maine.
And by the way, this isn’t the first time wireless operators have “incorrectly” branded their existing networks using the next-generation standard moniker: At CES 2011, both AT&T (again) and T-Mobile rebranded almost overnight their 3G networks to 4G when it really was just an enhanced version (3.5G) of their current service.
Aside from this confusing mess around 5G branding, I was surprised by the lack of demos of 5G smartphones at CES: The only prototypes at the show were behind protective glass cases at Qualcomm (Oppo Find X 5G, Vivo Nex 5G, and Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G) and Samsung booths.
Atherton Research’s Key Takeaways and Analysis
Despite the fact that 2019 is the year of 5G and that this next-generation wireless technology is critical for most of the products and services showcased at CES (mobility, smartphones, drones, artificial intelligence, virtual/augmented reality, IoT, cloud…), it’s unfortunate that the key takeaway for consumers of 5G at CES boils down to this marketing mess.
We’ll have to wait next month, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, to really experience the potential of 5G and finally see actual 5G mobile devices in action.