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CES 2019’s mediocre 5G demos set the stage for a confusing year

CES 2019's mediocre 5G demos set the stage for a confusing year

Throughout a 5G-focused Cellular Innovation occasion eventually year’s CES, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon stated he hoped to seem at 2019’s present with a working 5G telephone on a reside community. Since there have been precisely zero 5G telephones or networks in existence at that time, his plan sounded formidable, however his quiet confidence made the consequence appear each inevitable and price ready for.

5G turned out to be considered one of the largest subjects at CES 2019, however as a journalist masking that matter, what I’ll keep in mind most about this year’s present was that there was no convincing “5G is actually here” second like that — from anybody, Amon or in any other case. As an alternative, there have been loads of media occasions and cubicles the place 5G was talked about, however most of the stay 5G demos have been underwhelming when they need to have been jaw-dropping.

I coated Qualcomm’s and Intel’s 5G demos — plus Huawei’s lack thereof — final week, and provided a separate information to Samsung’s 5G choices in one other article. To wrap up the collection, right here’s a take a look at the different 5G demos I noticed at CES, plus some further, post-show ideas on the greater 5G image for 2019.


One of the best commerce present cubicles make even boring services appear fascinating by putting them in thrilling contexts: a waterproof telephone case may survive a shark assault in an aquarium, or a new service could possibly be proven saving a individual’s life. On the different hand, weak cubicles could make even thrilling new choices appear uninteresting, or increase questions that observers didn’t have earlier than.

In contrast to Verizon and AT&T, third-place U.S. service T-Cellular has not truly launched a 5G community but, so its CES sales space was a chance to inform its 5G story, profitable over each journalists and clients. Rivals have constructed 5G networks utilizing high-speed millimeter wave hardware, however T-Cellular is as an alternative specializing in a lower-speed 600MHz community that it suggests will cowl extra individuals.

T-Cellular demonstrated its future community by sending reside 4K video over a 600MHz base station from its sales space to Intel’s sales space. Oddly — and solely disclosed should you requested — Intel was sending video from its sales space again to T-Cellular over a 28GHz millimeter wave base station, not a reciprocal 600MHz connection. As one may collect from the pictures, the demo had zero in the means of pleasure: It was simply a bland video feed of a sales space.

T-Cellular staffers identified stay pattern 5G base stations mounted above eye degree in case you needed to see them. These base stations turned out to be the most vital 5G hardware discovered anyplace at the firm’s sales space; there have been no prototype or ultimate 5G smartphones, tablets, or computer systems on show, nor conspicuous hotspots.

T-Cellular additionally had 5G hardware mounted on a pretend rooftop, and sitting on the flooring in a magenta-accented field that appeared like an previous Xerox copying machine. I’m unsure who these shows have been meant to impress, however they didn’t look nice.

Fairly than displaying extra of what its personal community will do, one other demo at T-Cellular’s sales space was designed to undermine the worth of rivals’ millimeter wave 5G hardware. An engineer confirmed me how a 39GHz millimeter wave sign might be killed immediately simply by closing the door of a simulated residence, or blocking the receiving antenna with a hand. The message was that you could’t depend on millimeter wave for indoor 5G protection, a level Verizon addressed on day certainly one of its 5G community launch by putting in millimeter wave sign boosters inside houses and workplaces.

Probably the most constructive “5G” demo at T-Cellular’s sales space used two individuals holding smartphones to play a recreation of digital volleyball with an augmented actuality ball — apparently to point out off 5G’s excessive responsiveness and low latency. Sadly, the telephones have been 4G telephones related to hidden 5G hotspots, and their latency wasn’t something particular: round 50-60 milliseconds, I used to be advised. By comparability, millimeter wave 5G is meant to ship underneath 10ms latency.

From the place I stand, the single largest problem with T-Cellular’s sales space is that the firm had a probably compelling 5G story to inform, however its demos didn’t inform it nicely. In some instances, I felt like I used to be pulling tooth once I requested sales space employees to offer concrete community efficiency numbers, and I walked away with the sense that the usually aggressive firm was being considerably defensive.

As an knowledgeable observer, I’d summarize T-Cellular’s story as this: T-Cellular goes to start out by blanketing the United States with 400-500Mbps 5G service that may vary in latency from 10 to 60 milliseconds, and choose areas with millimeter wave will supply two to 3 occasions the velocity and superior latency. Whereas these numbers aren’t loopy quick, they’ll be three to 10 occasions higher in additional locations than most individuals see in the present day, and can solely enhance over time.

However that’s my abstract. It’s as much as T-Cellular to persuade those that it’s actually occurring, and after visiting the sales space, I’m not but fairly satisfied myself.

Verizon and AT&T

If any firm tried to select up the place Qualcomm CEO Amon left off final year, it was Verizon, which hosted the flashiest 5G-themed keynote of CES. New Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg took the stage for a principally enterprise-focused occasion that was mild on demos and heavy on company partnerships — ones that common shoppers gained’t care about.

Vestberg stated that 5G had eight currencies — principally, totally different promoting factors — that made it superior to 4G, and sure to rework the world over the subsequent decade. However he didn’t exhibit a working 5G telephone, and used considerably forgettable video streams from different cities to show a 5G broadband velocity check, a distant drone launch, and a VR-assisted basketball recreation. None was actually thrilling; the drone demo was simply Vestberg urgent a “launch” button on a pill.

The subsequent day, AT&T had its shot at one thing massive, however went small with its keynote speech. Provided that it’s the first service in the United States (if not the world) with a business cellular 5G community, it might have been pure for AT&T to supply some thrilling 5G demos at CES, reminiscent of displaying off an early 5G smartphone.

Above: AT&T’s John Donovan, left, speaks about 5G at the 2019 CES.

Picture Credit score: CTA

As an alternative, AT&T spent most of CES coping with blowback from rivals and journalists over its determination to rebrand LTE-Superior 4G service as “5G Evolution,” together with the addition of “5G E” logos to some 4G smartphones. Probably the most noteworthy second in its media occasion was when AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan wrote off the controversial branding, saying that, “If I’ve occupied beachfront properties in my competitor’s head, that makes me smile. I’m proud that we broke our industry’s narrative two days ago.”

Dismissing considerations over probably misleading advertising as psychological warfare wasn’t a good look for the firm. Fortunately, AT&T had rather more to say on 5G throughout our interview and a press launch issued earlier than Donovan’s keynote.

Samsung, revisited

Though I spent a truthful chunk of time at Samsung’s 5G exhibit a day or two earlier, I went again to Samsung’s sales space earlier than the present ended to ask representatives about the 5G Prototype Smartphone it had mounted inside a clear field on the wall. “Is the unnamed device an actual 5G phone intended for U.S. networks?” I requested. “Is it working on a live network in your booth?”

Brief solutions: no and no. As anticipated, the skinny telephone wasn’t making any reside connection to a community, and was merely operating a video saved in its personal reminiscence. It additionally seems to have been developed for use on sub-6GHz quite than millimeter wave networks, so it’s not packing the bigger millimeter wave antennas that may be wanted to work absolutely with Verizon’s and AT&T’s 5G networks right here.

Samsung is a large firm, and as its wall of “end-to-end” 5G community hardware demonstrates, it has a lot of 5G merchandise in the works. Anticipate to see the shopper merchandise begin to roll out at Galaxy Unpacked subsequent month, then proceed at Cellular World Congress in March, with extra all through the year. If Samsung performs 2019 proper, this might be its largest year for main new product bulletins in reminiscence, corresponding to Apple at its peak.

SK Telecom, sales space two

Talked about briefly in my prior 5G at CES article, SK Telecom was the largest of three carriers to launch business 5G providers in South Korea final year, and it’s been making loads of noise via press releases and information articles about its 5G ambitions. I used to be genuinely excited to see what SK Telecom would convey to CES, as a result of its relationship with Samsung advised that it may need some fascinating new hardware or service to point out off for the first time.

It’s value underscoring that SK Telecom had despatched out an e mail saying “that it will participate in CES 2019 to showcase media and mobility technologies in the 5G era. The company has set up joint innovation booths under the theme of ‘5G X Next Entertainment’ and ‘Innovative Mobility by SK’.” So I took the time to go to each cubicles to see what it was doing with 5G.

After my second spherical of strolling, the reply once more was “nothing.” Simply as was the case with the “5G X Next Entertainment” sales space I beforehand described, the “Innovative Mobility by SK” sales space had no apparent 5G applied sciences on show, and no employees available to elucidate why the service was telling individuals to go to the sales space for 5G info. At most, one might assume that a few of the 3D avatars at the Leisure sales space or next-gen mapping applied sciences at the Mobility sales space will profit from 5G connections, however that’s simply me making an attempt to attach the dots SK Telecom and its companions left round.

Throughout the present, one U.S. service’s spokesperson portrayed the South Korean 5G launches as grandstanding based mostly largely on prototype 5G hardware — a declare I had hoped to see SK Telecom decisively rebuff. However what I noticed at its cubicles didn’t give me a lot of confidence about its plans.


Of all the footage I snapped at CES, this picture from Intel’s sales space was the greatest abstract of the present’s 5G expertise: The sales space’s precise 5G demo station was actually not nice, and simpler to overlook than a gigantic adjoining display speaking about #objectives for the future. If I had seen this at some no-name firm’s sales space, that may have been fantastic, however Intel was alleged to be one in every of the largest 5G gamers at the present, and its solely actual 5G announcement was a Snow Ridge chip for base stations. At this level, who is aware of what it’ll truly ship in 2019?

This year might wind up being both the watershed second or the starting of a debacle for 5G. Because of AT&T, T-Cellular, and Verizon, the very which means of the time period “5G” is now open to debate, as every service seems set to launch a totally different sort of community underneath the 5G identify. It now appears extremely unlikely that early 5G telephones will supply 5G service throughout all three U.S. networks, say nothing of worldwide 5G networks.

From my standpoint, this all factors to the alternative for loads of confusion in 2019. I’m hoping that post-CES occasions, notably this year’s Cellular World Congress in Barcelona, present some much-needed readability for the complete mobile business — and the billions of shoppers who now depend on it.