2019 Tech Predictions: The 5G Rollout Kicks Off With a Whimper, Not a Bang

The super-fast connection is almost here.

The next generation of mobile connectivity is almost here. “5G,” the successor to 4G LTE cellular networks, is moving out of the testing stages. It promises dependable connections for autonomous cars, a better connected Internet of Things-powered world, and an even more reduced need to hop on Wi-fi at any available opportunity. Inverse predicts that 2019 will be the year that it moves from hypothetical dream to real-world network, paving the way to hit flagship consumer devices in 2020.

Qualcomm has already announced a Snapdragon 855 chip, packed with a 5G modem ready to ship with smartphones next year. The firm demonstrated the speeds of 5G with a test back in February, where it found a jump from 71 Mbps on regular 4G to a staggering 1.4 Gbps, with latency reduced from 115 milliseconds to 4.9 milliseconds. Qualcomm claims it’s enough to enable 8K video streaming at 120 frames per second, assuming you have the screen to actually watch something like that.

We’re reporting on 19 predictions for 2019. This is #15.

“We undertook this comprehensive study to help the ecosystem prepare for the foray into 5G, so that application developers, for example, can begin planning new experiences and services for users with 5G devices,” Alex Holcman, senior vice president of engineering, said in a statement at the time.

The industry is laying the groundwork to make it happen. AT&T announced that, as of December 21, it will be the first American firm to offer a 5G device that works over a commercial standards-based network, with its initial hotspot. That’s a lot of qualifiers, and it’s probably because Verizon released a 5G broadband modem in October that works on a network that doesn’t quite fit with industry standards. In short, there’s a big race underway to roll out first, and there may be some spotty coverage to start.

5G Gets the Green Light

Whether you’re going to actually notice next year’s rollout is another thing. Cellular technologies require phones with the internals that can take advantage, and it’s unlikely that smartphone makers are going to jump straight in the 5G pool just yet. OnePLus plans to use the 855 chip in a future model, though rumors are already swirling that Samsung’s next Galaxy will support the technology:

“We expect 5G to enter a handful of developed markets in 2019 (USA, Western Europe, Korea, Japan, etc), but overall impact in terms of volume will be low,” Ryan Reith, vice president for IDC, tells Inverse. “We expect 5G to account for only one percent of smartphone volumes in 2019, ramping up to 20 percent in 2022.”

That doesn’t mean 5G is going to come quietly. As marketing hype ramps up around the new technology, consumers are likely to take notice.

“2019 will certainly be very noisy and confusing to consumers around 5G marketing,” Reith says. “We don’t believe it will drive big sales given the likely limited coverage and device availability, but it could put off consumer buying a bit until they are ready to a 5G device as opposed to going with another 4G smartphone.”

5G iPhone: Apple Sits 2019 5G Out

While it’s almost certain that 5G will replace existing 4G networks as the primary cellular standard for new devices, 2019 could also prove a rather quiet year for the technology in part due to slower adoption from Apple.

“We expect 2019 not to be a big year for 5G phones yet, any launches will be quite expensive to start, and Apple usually is slower to adopt so we don’t expect it to launch in 2019 either,” Melissa Chau, associate research director for IDC, tells Inverse.

Apple’s 5G iPhone is expected to launch in 2020, according to recent rumors that claim the firm will use Intel’s 10-nanometer 8161 chip. New job listings suggest the company is hiring for 5G talent in San Diego. However, Apple sitting out the revolution next year could make consumers think twice about whether 5G is a must-have, particularly if it means giving up iOS.

19 Predictions for 2019: What Inverse Thinks

It’s almost to be expected that Apple won’t release a 5G phone next year, as the company only released a 3G iPhone in 2008 and a 4G iPhone in 2012. Apple’s reluctance to jump in at the deep end doesn’t mean the technology is not worth getting excited about, and support from other brands like AT&T’s hotspot show the industry is keen to lay the groundwork. Inverse expects more marketing about the new networks in 2019, before it becomes the hot new feature of 2020’s flagship phones.

Related video: Verizon Shows How It’s Building 5G Infrastructure