5G to Convey Laptops, Home WIFI, Autonomous Car Communications and Watch Support—But When?
October 07, 2019
There are so many promises about how faster 5G data will transform our lives; it sometimes feels mythical. Though fast download speeds are slowly coming to more carriers and phones, the prospects of self-driving cars talking to each other, remote surgery and 5G replacing your home Wi-Fi feel like the stuff of a still-distant future.
Qualcomm, which makes the 5G chips and modems that every 5G phone in the US will rely on, shared a road map that spells out when 5G improvements beyond just fast download speeds will arrive. Qualcomm isn't the only major 5G player, of course -- Huawei, Nokia and Ericssonalso provide 5G technology but Qualcomm's has a strong hand in getting the next wave of 5G benefits off the ground. So, its timeline is a good place to start.
Here are five next-gen milestones that could actually affect you.
Figure 1: Sprint's HTC 5G Home Network Hub
- Every high-end phone could be 5G in 2020 -- Qualcomm has said it before: all premium phones will support 5G next year. It's a confident statement that both predicts and reflects the trend we're seeing with phones such as the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G, LG V50, OnePlus 7 Pro 5G and others. But there's a little nuance here, too. The pattern so far points to a pricier 5G version of every mainstream phone, for example, the Galaxy S10 Plus (which is 4G) and Galaxy S10 5G. 4G-only options are still valuable during the 5G transition because they come with a lower price tag. And phone-makers like Samsung want to flood the market with options at every price point, to capture a wide swath of buyers. While 5G phones will go mainstream next year, it's more probable that there will be a 5G option for every major lineup. By 2021, when the networks are fully developed and prices start to come down, then it is likely every premium phone model will support 5G from the get-go, without a 4G variant to provide a cheaper option.
- 5G laptops will appear in 2020 -- Lenovo has already announced its intentions to make a 5G connected PC in early 2020, and several other 5G-capable laptops could surface at January's CES show. Those laptops may not be released for a while, but some laptop-makers will lunge at the chance to be one of the first to bring 5G to computing. The mobile-chip leader already powers always-connected 4G PCs such as the Asus NovaGo. Always-connected 5G PCs are simply the next step.
- Fixed 5G will replace the Wi-Fi router -- 5G hubs that work like Wi-Fi for the home are already here. One example of fixed 5G is the HTC 5G Hub with Sprint, a device that plugs into a router to deliver home broadband in the form of the mmWave flavor of 5G, which has higher peak speeds than sub-6, a different part of the wireless spectrum that carriers use to deliver 5G. Fixed 5G uses a different part of the network than mobile phones (it isn't the same as hot spotting a phone to power a device), but it's designed to deliver the same high speeds, say between 500 megabits per second (Mbps) to over 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), with perhaps faster speeds down the road. While subscribing to home 5G depends on living in the right location, it's still extremely rare. The devices and coverage areas are few and far between. Data plans are expensive, and exceeding the data cap causes a drop down to much slower data speeds -- about 3Mbps if for Verizon's 5G hotspot and 2G speeds with Sprint's HTC 5G Hub.
Figure 1: Sprint's HTC 5G Home Network Hub
Source: Sarah Tew/CNET
- Autonomous cars communicating with each other -- The 5G-connected car is one of the most compelling future scenarios. In one demo Qualcomm likes to show, a self-driving car outfitted with 5G sensors runs the same route as a car without 5G. The 5G-powered sensors take in data from other connected vehicles, understanding when a car door is opening at the curb, if there's an obstruction in the road and when pedestrians are finished crossing the street. At the end of the demo, the 5G-connected car is better informed of obstructions and arrives at the destination much faster. But in reality this capability, which Qualcomm calls 5G NR Cellular V2X) has a target of 2021 for its first commercial use, could be decades away. Before 5G in autonomous cars can become common, the self-driving vehicles have to flood the streets as well. The first cars that can drive themselves without any driver input or oversight could emerge in the early 2020s, but they'll be rare and highly regulated. There will likely be only a few of these vehicles approved to work in tightly constrained areas for really specific purposes, say within a 10-square-mile geofence. The safety of self-driving cars is a touchy subject, and the industry will likely proceed with caution.
Self-driving vehicles need the green light before being steered by 5G.
Figure 2: Autonomous Vehicle – Circa 2019
- Cheaper, lower-powered 5G to a smartwatch -- 5G connectivity is expensive, from the chips that help a device ping the network to the carrier that provides the service. For wearables like your smartwatch, fitness tracker and smart glasses, the full 5G treatment might be overkill, and expensive enough to keep it off wearables even when 5G phones become more ubiquitous. But lower-powered 5G could reduce prices while keeping wearables connected. Right now, this variation on 5G, referred to in the image below as NR-Light, is on the table for future discussion -- but it is just being designed as we reported previously. Look for the first of its kind no earlier than 2023, when Qualcomm predicts that batch of 5G enhancements will start becoming commercialized. From: CNET
Figure 3: Qualcomm's 5G Development Plans I
Figure 4: Qualcomm's 5G Development Plans II