5G in 2019 underwhelmed. Here’s how 2020 should be different

5G in 2019 underwhelmed. Here’s how 2020 should be different

Last year, Qualcomm met with hundreds of reporters and analysts on the sunny beaches of Maui to talk about how 5G would change the world in 2019. The hype and excitement level was high. Then, reality hit. Network rollouts were met with hiccups and delays, you needed a map to find coverage and consumers ended up more confused than excited.

Then there was the whole mess with AT&T’s 5GE, which is definitely not 5G.

This year, at its third-annual Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii, Qualcomm gathered every major US carrier, several handset makers and various other partners to promise one thing: 2020 will be different. 

“2020 is the year 5G goes mainstream,” Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon proclaimed at the start of the conference. He expects more than 200 million 5G smartphones will ship in 2020.

5G promises to significantly boost the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can run 10 to 100 times faster than a typical cellular connection today, and it’ll also boost how fast a device will connect to the network with speeds as quick as a millisecond to start your download or upload. It’s the most significant advance in mobile network technology since the introduction of 4G a decade ago, and it could have major implications for how we live.

But for now, a lot of those promises remain unfulfilled.

That hasn’t deterred Amon’s enthusiasm for the technology.

“You could argue that 200 million could be conservative, especially looking at China,” Amon said in an interview with CNET on Tuesday.

That’s an ambitious declaration for a technology that’s really just getting started. Even in Hawaii, at the Snapdragon Tech Summit, there are some doubts.

“I don’t think it’s going to be mainstream,” said Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi. “But by the end of 2020, we will have a better feel for what living in a 5G world would look like.”

5G's fits and starts

The next-generation networks are finally live in the US and other countries around the globe, but they’re not perfect. The biggest drawbacks of 5G today are spotty coverage in relatively few cities and expensive, limited devices. If you bought one of the 5G phones available early in the year, it won’t be able to tap into the newer, broader 5G networks that AT&T and T-Mobile are just now launching. And 4G connections are getting close to some early 5G speeds.

While Verizon was the first to launch a commercially available 5G service, its fantastically high speeds were hampered by short range, a characteristic of the millimeter wave (or mmWave) spectrum it uses. The carrier is hoping to expand coverage and devices in 2020.

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