At CES 2019, 5G Took a Break

LAS VEGAS–This may be the year of 5G, but you wouldn’t have known it at CES 2019. Wireless carriers and device makers alike declined to make any 5G news at the world’s largest technology trade show, and they refused to answer the questions consumers most want to know: how much will it cost and what are the data caps? At CES 2019, 5G Took a BreakPlenty of CES keynotes mentioned 5G, but none of them announced anything real.

We didn’t hear about a new chipset from Qualcomm or any rollout details from Verizon, even though both had big stages here. LG and Samsung slapped 5G on some slides, trotted out some demos we’ve seen before, and called it a day. A lot of this is just an accident of timing.

Qualcomm convinced the wireless carriers to make a bunch of 5G announcements at its Snapdragon Technology Summit in December, and both carriers and handset makers are preparing major announcements for Mobile World Congress in late February. CES falls awkwardly in the middle of these two major wireless events, so it’s just not a great venue for the wireless industry to make major statements. But as the carrier’s 2019 5G plans settle in, I’m hearing from our readers that carriers are doing a poor job of assuring consumers 5G will be something they’ll want, will be able to afford, and will change things for them personally.

Consumers Want Details

The wireless industry is preparing for 5G to change everything.

It’s going to enable new applications, new businesses, and entirely new industries, if you believe companies like Verizon, Intel, and Qualcomm. At CES 2019, 5G Took a BreakAt Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg’s keynote at CES, he brought out Disney, a drone company, and a doctor to explain how 5G will enable remote surgery, let movie studios speed up production and let fleets of drones survey disaster-damaged areas for more efficient recovery. That’s all huge, transformational, a year or two away, and things you won’t be able to personally buy.

Consumers are clamoring for simple, short-term details around the carriers’ 5G launches that are hard to come by: namely, whether they’ll screw up their consumer offerings through high prices and strict data caps. AT&T, for example, announced a 15GB data cap for its 5G hotspot plan, making consumers’ worst fears of restricted, unaffordable 5G services too real. Meanwhile, OnePlus and Samsung, at Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Technology Summit in December, primed us for the first 5G phones to cost £200-£300 more than their 4G cousins.

With the carriers talking about innovative industrial applications rather than greater capacity making service more affordable for all, it’s understandable that consumers assume that their connections will get more expensive in the 5G era.

We’re expecting to hear the next round of 5G announcements at MWC and I hope the carriers have some good news not just for businesses, but for consumers looking to enter the 5G world.

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