The new year is upon us, and with it, the promise of all sorts of new tech gadgets, with everything from foldable phones to smarter electric cars for sale.
Connectivity is the glue that binds those two quite different concepts together, and indeed just about any other technology you’d care to name, because we absolutely live in an internet-connected world now. The big shift in connectivity in 2019 will come as telecommunication providers across the globe roll out the first 5G networks for consumers to jump onto.
5G follows 4G, and it’s a simple enough matter to explain in one sense, because it’s the fifth generation of mobile telecommunications technology. Where once it was concerned purely with the shifting of voice signals away from copper wires and towards an over-the-air delivery mechanism, 5G instead concentrates almost entirely on data throughput, and especially latency. The idea is that it’s not only meant to be fast, but also super-responsive for potentially thousands of devices on each 5G mobile cell.
So what’s the catch? Well, firstly, there’s the issue of exactly when 5G might roll out in your area. While the big global telcos are all jousting around who’s going to be “first” — a slightly meaningless derivation in real terms because some will use quite different rollout technology than others — there’s really nowhere on the planet that will automatically be bathed in fast 5G signal. Just as the switch from 3G to 4G took time, so too will we see a gradual rollout of 5G capabilities depending on the spectrum available to carriers, and their implementation of new networks.
Of course, a fast network isn’t much use without devices to run on it, and here too we’ll see the otherwise-fast 5G networks somewhat stymied by a lack of devices. As an example, in Australia, the two telcos currently pitching to be “first”, Telstra and Optus are both stating that they’ll launch with “fixed 5G” broadband services — or in other words, devices that will compete with fixed line broadband services that you might be getting over copper or fibre right now. The speed of 5G does have some appeal in these cases if you can’t otherwise get a fast fixed line service, although the costs involved with mobile data, as well as the highly variable nature of those services means that fixed line is still a (generally) more reliable and cost-effective way to get your broadband fix.
If you’re wondering why nobody’s releasing a 5G mobile phone yet, well… you won’t have to wait long, it seems. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in late February/Early March is tipped to be the launching point for a number of 5G-enabled handsets, with Samsung widely tipped to show off a 5G-enabled variant of its upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10 handset there. It’s an open question as to when such a device might go on sale, however, because it is something of a chicken-and-egg situation. The device makers don’t want to produce millions of handsets that can’t sell easily because there’s few networks that can run them, after all.
As a mobile technology, it’s not just mobile phones that may well see the 5G treatment. It won’t be long before we see tablets and laptops with embedded 5G modems in them as well, although again there’s not much in the way of announced products with those capabilities this early in the year.
So what does that mean in practical terms? You can expect lots of breathless hype from mobile providers around the capabilities of their nascent 5G networks in 2019, but for most folks, this year will be when 5G networks are bedded in, with the wider array of actual devices that can use the new networks really starting to land in 2020 and beyond.