5G will start to live up to its hype in 2021 — for real this time

5G will start to live up to its hype in 2021 — for real this time

The rise of 5G and foldable phones invigorated the mobile industry, setting the stage for a big 2020. Then the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. The world, and phone sales, screeched to a halt.

But the funny thing is, in the midst of a global crisis, phone sales bounced back.


As the virus was contained, and Asia opened back up, millions of customers in places like China scooped up new 5G phones. Handset makers held virtual events and introduced a wave of 5G phones, and carriers rolled out their networks. 5G sales in 2020 ended up being nearly as strong as expected before the pandemic even began, partly thanks to Apple and the introduction of a full lineup of 5G iPhone 12 m

This was supposed to be the year 5G went mainstream, of consumers seeking out the technology. But early speeds were a little underwhelming, so it could be 2021 is when 5G will actually be noticeably different. Coverage will get better. Speeds will get faster. Phones will get cheaper. It’ll be the year when consumers will actually start clamoring for 5G, rather than it being an extra throw-in on the latest device. And 5G will expand to even more products beyond phones as we start to see the promise of 5G fulfilled.

“The activity is … really incredible,” Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said in an interview in mid-December. “In the middle of the pandemic, the device ecosystem really flipped the switch and flipped to 5G.”

The continued advance of 5G is more critical than ever with COVID-19 radically changing our world. People are stuck at home and maintaining their distance from each other, forcing them to rely on home broadband service — something 5G could amp up. The next-generation cellular technology, which boasts anywhere from 10 to 100 times the speed of 4G and rapid responsiveness, could improve everything from simple video conferencing to telemedicine and advanced augmented and virtual reality. Gaming is another area that’s expected to benefit from 5G’s responsiveness and fast speeds.

Instead of slowing down 5G, the pandemic in some ways made it easier for carriers to expand their networks faster. In China, the government made 5G’s rollout a priority, and Apple’s entry into the 5G market with the iPhone 12 has boosted the number of 5G phone users.

The super-fast technology reached more customers this year than expected and will cover about 60% of the global population by 2026, according to a report last month from Ericsson. That makes 5G the fastest-deployed mobile network ever, the Swedish networking giant said. By the end of 2020, there will be about 218 million 5G subscriptions around the world, surpassing forecasts, and the number should nearly triple next year.

But that doesn’t mean the 5G that users have experienced so far has been exactly life-changing. While carriers expanded their networks in 2020, coverage still was spotty in many areas, with the fastest flavor, known as millimeter wave, nearly impossible to find.

As 2020 progressed, things gradually started to change. Coverage got better, with the three biggest US carriers offering nationwide service. 5G connections got faster — about double that of 4G LTE, at least on T-Mobile’s low-band network, said the company’s president of technology. Phones got a lot cheaper, like the $400 TCL 10 5G UW for Verizon’s network, which is a whopping $900 less than one of the first 5G phones, 2019’s Samsung’s Galaxy S10. And 5G expanded to iPhones, not just Android devices.

2021 will be about keeping that momentum and then supercharging it.

“This is actually quite amazing progress we’ve seen in the industry,” Patrick Cerwall, head of strategic marketing insights at Ericsson, said in an interview in late November…Read more>>