Who’s Ready for 5G? Probably No One

Major wireless service providers including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have all been in the process of upgrading their networks for years and are now finally ready to roll out 5G service to large portions of the U.S. this year.

Last week, AT&T announced adding two more cities (Chicago and Minneapolis) to its 2019 expansion along with Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. It already has launched its 5G network in a dozen other cities including the likes of New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta and San Antonio among others.

Verizon in October rolled out Verizon Home 5G, its pre-standard fixed 5G service, in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Sacramento. Sprint is targeting nine major cities – New York City, L.A. and D.C among them – this year while its pending $26 billion merger with T-Mobile awaits approval.

With the network infrastructure now in place, more or less, it’s time to talk about hardware. Long story short, it’s going to take some time for most people to really take advantage of this paradigm-shifting speed – at least from their hands.

Just as Apple lagged behind other smartphone manufacturers when 3G and 4G LTE connectivity came on the scene, expect 5G versions of the iPhone to arrive no sooner than 2020. Among the Android set, Samsung’s earliest 5G offerings are expected to debut sometime in the next few months while Google – which is using Verizon as the exclusive carrier partner for its Pixel phones – has yet to commit to any timeline so far but it’s a safe bet that its Pixel 4 model will be 5G-ready and hit shelves sometime in the fall. LG, Lenovo, Motorola and Huawei models will debut throughout the rest of this year and into 2020.

So, just how big of a game-changer will 5G be?

Chipmakers and telecom pundits say 5G service will transform just about every industry from gaming and healthcare to agriculture and, especially, any application or service hosted in the cloud. To put it into perspective, fourth generation service typically averages around 50 megabits per second. 5G will reach up to 5 gigabits per second, roughly 100 times faster than typical 4G LTE speeds and five times faster than most terrestrial fiber optic networks.

That opens the door for exponential growth for cloud-hosted services and all these IoT (Internet of Things) devices you’ve been hearing so much about. With so much data being generated, parsed, captured and shared – especially large video and VR files – 5G promises to reduce the data transmission bottleneck that’s kept the most promising and transformational IoT features on the sidelines.

The emergence of smart cities inundated with IoT sensors everywhere transmitting billions of pieces of data in real time to deliver information about traffic, weather, road conditions, emergencies and even available parking spots directly to your smartphone is just the tip of the iceberg. Eventually, this instantaneous information will be transmitted and received by driverless vehicles of all types.

Smart city technology spending will eclipse $135 billion by 2021, according to an IDC report, up from $80 billion in 2016. And McKinsey predicts the wider smart city industry as a whole will generate more than $400 billion in revenue by 2020. So, yeah, this is happening and it couldn’t happen without a 5G wireless infrastructure.

“The speed, latency and densification advantages of 5G will enable a wide range of innovative and transformative applications across nearly every industry eventually,” Jason Leigh, senior research analyst for mobility at IDC, said in the report. “But…network operators should focus on managing expectations and crafting a narrative that reconciles the hype and potential of 5G with the value and realities of the consumer experience today.”

It’s not just about the speed of the data transmission, either. The sheer volume and granularity of the data collected will accelerate and enhance the training data fueling artificial intelligence, improve predictive analytics and cement mobile data as the preeminent source of information for just about everything.

While that sounds impressive, it also raises a bunch of other questions. Issues of data security, privacy and availability abound. And it might not be until 2021 or 2022 before most high-end smartphones support 5G. For some parts of the world, it could take another three or four years after that before anyone gets to actualize this tantalizing technology. There will be winners and losers and unintended consequences for sure.

In September, California became the first state to ratify a sweeping security bill governing IoT devices. The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, requires any manufacturer of an internet-connected or smart device to incorporate “reasonable” security features that “protect the device and any information contained therein from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure.” Perhaps more important, it allows consumers to nix the collection and sale of personal data upon request.

By this time next year, 5G will be a reality for a significant portion of the world. Enjoy the streaming VR and 3D holographic video calls that will eventually follow. We’re all going to find out if there’s such a thing as too much data soon enough.

is president and senior analyst for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. As a market analyst and industry consultant, Ames has worked for prominent consulting firms including KPMG and has more than 15 years experience in the imaging industry covering technology and business sectors. Ames has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia and Europe and enjoys being a part of a global industry and community.