After all the a
nticipation, when 5G finally had its big moment — something brighter and shinier stole the show.
The next-generation network technology promises blazing speeds, smooth and stable connections and new possibilities for VR, self-driving cars and robotics. This being the big new thing for the mobile industry, all the players — from phone makers and infrastructure vendors to chipmakers and wireless carriers — have been desperate to demonstrate how ready they are.
But at Mobile World Congress, there was far more buzz about the and than about the early 5G devices being shown off. The lack of attention paid to all the 5G phones makes you wonder whether all the racing and chest-beating was truly necessary, and serves as a reminder that the next-generation wireless technology is still in its early days.
Part of the problem is that 5G being “here” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s here for you. With early coverage being quite sparse, industry experts agree that adoption won’t really kick off until late 2019 and into 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 the basics of price, screen size and cameras, with 5G an afterthought until it comes on more affordable phones and without a pricey monthly plan.”
Whenever a new generation of network technology comes along, there’s usually a shakeup in the ranking of top phone makers. This presents an opportunity for newer players in the market
Ahead of MWC, Samsung was the first company to actually unveil a 5G phone (the ). But other companies, particularly Chinese phone makers such as Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, which a few years ago were mostly unheard of in the US and Europe, have been teasing demos on Twitter for several months now. For them, being early with 5G is a chance to differentiate and get ahead.
In spite of their being among the first companies to unveil 5G devices at the show, most 5G phones are currently top-tier and at the more expensive end of the spectrum, meaning the potential customer base for them right now is proportionally quite small.
The likelihood is that the majority of people will wait until 5G phones are more affordable before diving in. Waiting may also mean that the technology is better-refined and able to work across more networks.
The companies that didn’t bring a 5G phone to MWC this year didn’t seem much concerned about lagging behind, either. They join Apple in the ranks of phone makers working toward 5G futures on a longer and fuzzier timeline.
“We believe that this year is literally the first introduction round, so we think probably early next year is a good time for a mass-market 5G rollout in the key markets where we see an opportunity, like Western Europe and the US,” HMD Chief Executive Florian Seiche said in an interview with CNET.