5G was the hot topic at the World Mobile COnference in Barcelona, with telecom to gearing up for the next generation wireless technology, but despite the optimistic plans, most consumers will wait years to experience the benefits.
The advantages of 5G have been widely outlined - the standard offers faster, more stable connections for cars, homes, factories and offices. Wireless carriers have spent billions of dollars acquiring spectrum and beginning to develop and test 5G networks, which are expected to be at least 100 times faster than 4G networks and cut latency to less than one thousandth of a second from one hundredth of a second in 4G. As well offering new applications, extra speed makes it easier to store data in the cloud instead of on a device.
In the U.S., lawmakers have reached agreement to allow for the sale of spectrum to speed up the introduction of 5G wireless networks, with the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on the measure on Tuesday. Federal Communications Commission plans new auctions of high-band spectrum starting later this year for 5G networks.
The first commercial 5G projects will launch in the United States in 2018. In the meantime, many users in emerging markets are still awaiting 4G.
The first commercial 5G projects launch in the United States this year and will be followed by Japan and South Korea in 2019. China is expected to join the fray in 2020.
Verizon Communications Inc has announced it will begin its first 5G commercial rollout in Sacramento, California, this year. AT&T Inc said its first 5G commercial launches in Atlanta, Dallas and Waco, Texas, later this year.
Europe tries to catch up with the United States and China in rolling out internet-connected products. 5G eployments will start slowly in 2020 with widescale moves not likely until 2025, while many emerging markets are still struggling to catch up on fixed broadband and 3G data services.
EU countries and lawmakers have struck a deal to free up radio frequencies for next-generation 5G services that will be valid for 20 years. Under the agreement, 5G will be available throughout the bloc by 2020, with spectrum guaranteed for a minimum of 20 years.
Norway's Telenor expects to deploy 5G commercially before 2020, but expects 5G to complement existing networks.
Network equipment makers, such as Ericsson and Nokia, are struggling with declining sales for 4G gear, so the 5G rollout cannot come soon enough. Expanding 5G could mean capital expenditure rising to 16 to 17 percent of revenues generated by the mobile industry from 2020, up from 15 percent now, according to GSMA. To find the extra cash for the 5G rollout, operators are looking to shut down 2G and 3G networks to reduce the costs of running multiple networks and to free up spectrum for 5G. GSMA forecast 4G would still account for more than half of mobile subscriptions in 2025, while 5G would only be at 14 percent.
During last month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 5G was used for a few weeks to enable the use of driverless shuttle buses and to allow ultra-high resolution 360-degree video to be beamed wirelessly around Olympic venues.
Regarding smartphones, Qualcomm showed off early 5G phone chipsets in commercial prototype handsets in Barcelona. But most of those prototypes were actually concept devices with no actual 5G hardware inside.
5G networks depend on millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequency bands, which are notorious for high propagation loss, directivity, and sensitivity to blockage. And since the 5G mmWave radio signals are sensitive to blockage, a human hand, head, or nose could inadvertently prevent signals from coming through.
This has forced vendors to develop multi-pronged antennas for the 5G devices, in order to deal with the signal's highly directional nature and its much higher losses compared to 4G RF signals. So expect to see placements of antenna arrays inside upcoming 5G handsets. Chip designers, long before design-ins, must perform over-the-air (OTA) testing.
Analysts don't expect 5G compatible smartphones to be become widely available until the second half of 2019.