First at 5G? Why the race to supersonic wireless speeds did not matter


The 5G has been the favorite buzzword of the MWC Barcelona in recent years, but 2019 is the date on which it really arrived.

Now that's here, everyone can talk, these are foldable phones.

Next-generation network technology promises blazing speeds, smooth, stable connections and new possibilities for RV, autonomous cars and robotics. This is the big news in the mobile phone industry, and all players – from phone manufacturers and infrastructure providers to chip makers and mobile operators – are desperately trying to demonstrate how ready they are.

But at the Mobile World Congress, there was a lot more buzz about the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X only on the first 5G devices presented. The lack of attention given to all 5G phones makes one wonder if all the racing and heartbeats are really needed, and recalls that next-generation wireless technology is still at its doorstep. debut.

Part of the problem is that the 5G being "here" does not necessarily mean that it is there for you. With early coverage being relatively rare, industry experts agree that adoption will only be truly launched at the end of 2019 and next year.

"5G radios and phones will be better in 2020," said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester. "Consumers will continue to pay attention to basic fundamentals like price, screen size and cameras, and 5G will be studied after the fact until more affordable phones are available and free. expensive monthly package. "

5G Combat

Whenever a new generation of network technology comes along, the ranking of leading phone manufacturers is generally evolving. This represents an opportunity for new market players

Before the MWC, Samsung was the first company to unveil a 5G phone (the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G). But other companies, including Chinese phone makers such as Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi, who were unknown a few years ago in the United States and Europe, have been mocking the demonstrations on Twitter for several months. For them, being ahead with the 5G is a chance to stand out and go forward.

Although they are among the first companies to unveil 5G devices at the show, most 5G phones are currently top notch and more expensive, which means that their potential customers are currently relatively small.

It is likely that the majority of people will wait for 5G phones to be more affordable before diving. Waiting can also mean that the technology is better refined and able to work on multiple networks.

Businesses that did not bring a 5G phone to MWC this year also did not seem very concerned about the delay. They join Apple in the ranks of phone makers working in the future of 5G on a longer and more blurry timeline.

"We think this year is literally the first round of introduction, so we believe that the beginning of next year will probably be a good time for the mass deployment of 5G in key markets where we see an opportunity, like Western Europe and the United States, "said HMD. The general manager, Florian Seiche, said in an interview with CNET.

"The massive deployment to 5G customers will take place at the end of the year and in 2020," said Honorary CEO George Zhao. The company will release its first 5G phone later in 2019.

The collapsible eclipse

Mobile phone companies have also struggled at MWC trying to spark the excitement of 5G phones as it is difficult to see or even feel the difference the next generation networks will bring.

The spotlight was well stolen by visually impressive folding phones with their flexible wraparound screens. There is some crossover between the 5G and the foldable devices – the Mate X, for example – but it's the spectacle of the folding mechanism that has drawn the crowds to the show.


Phones like Huawei Mate X have captured people's attention.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

"The collapsible design has captured people's imagination, but it's a technology we've been following for years now, and it coincides with the launch of 5G," said Wayne Lam, an analyst at the company. IHS Markit. The foldable phones signal an evolution of mobile design that could change the future of phones and tablets as categories of devices, he added.

It is not surprising that after years of phones that look a lot alike, people are excited to see something new.

"These folding devices are coming at a crucial time for the smartphone industry, as phone makers struggle to differentiate their products and as consumers are indifferent to this" seamless sea of ​​smartphones, "said Ben Wood, analyst of CCS Insight, in a blog post.The smartphone of the last decade remained essentially "monoblock with black touch screen", he said.

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Huawei Mate X is a foldable phone with 5G


The 5G, despite all its promises, should not have such a profound impact on our daily experience of owning a phone. Certainly, the use of online applications and services will be faster and more stable, but industry experts believe that the most interesting and important uses of 5G will be the business, l 39; internet of things, smart cities and automobiles.

Carriers competing

In the run-up to 5G, many carriers overlapped first. The South Korean company KT announced in December to be the first, offering a mobile 5G network and a robot to its first customer.

Competition has been particularly fierce in the United States. Verizon launched its Verizon Home 5G service in October, but critics argued that it did not meet industry standards, so technically it did not matter. AT & T launched its mobile service in a dozen markets in December, but deployments are minimal.

"These are small pockets," said Tuesday AT & T Chief Technology Officer, Andre Fuetsch, during an interview at the MWC. The company did not publicly indicate where the networks were and noted that only small business customers were using them.

On Monday, Sprint President Michel Combes said his company would have the first 5G network, but changed the definition.

"We are the first in the real 5G mobile in the United States with real coverage, real devices, a real proposal," said Combes at a press conference at the show.

The company is committed to covering 1,000 combined square miles in nine cities by the middle of the year. No other carrier has specified what area it would cover.

Europe has caught up to a certain extent, but over the past 12 months, EE and Vodafone have redoubled their efforts to show their 5G prowess. Just ahead of the MWC, Vodafone claimed the first phone connection to a real 5G network. EE announced in December, at the Qualcomm Summit in Hawaii, that the 5G would be transmitted to 16 UK cities this year.

The only thing that we can say to the operators, is that they have helped to create momentum and guarantee the establishment of an appropriate infrastructure, which means that the 5G will deploy faster than originally planned and faster than 4G. This is something we will all benefit from, but it is unlikely that we will distinguish individual networks – especially since it is mainly national players who are fighting for fame on the international stage.

"There has been too much attention to this 5G deployment for there to be a clear and simple winner," Gillett said.

Qualcomm for the victory?

If anyone had looked to be the winner of the 5G at MWC this year, it was indeed the chip maker Qualcomm. The company had its technology in every 5G phone in the show and had partnerships with operators around the world. At a cocktail party on Tuesday, Qualcomm invited all handset manufacturers, carriers and infrastructure partners to enjoy a glass of champagne. It was a crowded scene.

"Qualcomm has an advantage for handset modems and embedded chips, which will keep it strong in the 5G era," said Gillett, the Forrester analyst. But, he added, Samsung and Huawei also have their own chips, and although it's hard to compete with Qualcomm, it will not be impossible.


Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon (center) celebrated the launch of 5G phones from different handset manufacturers. The leaders of these companies – Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Sony, Xiaomi, ZTE and Nubia – have joined the MWC 2019 in Barcelona.

Shara Tibken / CNET

For Qualcomm, this is not a favorite among its 5G partners. "The joy of the past 18 months has been the joy of all that everyone has announced," said Ben Timmons, Qualcomm's European director of business development, at a briefing preceding the MWC in London. Different dominant players will emerge during the transition from 4G to 5G, he added, but it will take time.

"It's not a question of whether you are launching a particular day in a given month, it's what you do to exploit the technology," he said. If there are winners in the 5G era, it will not be just companies that are going fast to go ahead, he added. These are the ones who will move "imaginatively" to make the most of technology.

"There will be changes," Timmons said. "But I have no idea what they will become."

Additional report provided by Roger Cheng.

Mobile World Congress 2019

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