At CES, where was 5G?

Over the last several years, when not eclipsed by covid revivals, CES has served in part as a massive 5G cheer rally. The focus of this year’s expo was on automobiles, smart home standards, and a plethora of displays, leaving 5G in the background.

In both his 2019 and 2021 keynote addresses, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg touted the many possibilities that 5G will usher in, from remote surgery and autonomous vehicles to augmented reality and virtual worlds. Before omicron intervened, T-Mike Mobile’s Sievert was set to give the 2022 keynote address. However, 5G was hardly mentioned at all in the list of presenters in 2023.

Why? Not everything that was predicted to happen with 5G has materialised. I don’t think I rode in a driverless car to the robot-assisted operation. What we have presently is, at most, a marginal improvement above 4G speeds. But then, what ended the pep rally?

To begin, we’re tired of talking about it. Furthermore, CES has a peculiar knack for embracing a technology one year and writing it off the following. I was wondering how your 3D home theatre was holding up. Exactly.) Additionally, 5G’s novelty was always certain to fade; if it becomes the standard wireless technology, it won’t be “5G the new thing” anymore, but rather “the internet you use when you’re not on Wi-Fi.”

It’s no longer a cutting-edge alternative; it’s the norm

More than any of these factors, wireless CEOs now feel pressure to market 5G to consumers (and, of course, their shareholders). It’s no longer a cutting-edge alternative; rather, it’s the standard (in the US at least). Mid-band 5G is already available on all major carriers in significant swaths of the United States, and almost every new phone sold on their shelves is 5G capable. You’ll have a hard time leaving a wireless shop without a 5G gadget and plan the next time you go in to purchase a new phone or sign up for a new subscription, regardless of whether or not you wanted them.

Now that 5G phones are out and 5G networks are being rolled out, it seems like… not much has changed. A little increase in page load times is hardly a reason to consider using a robot for surgery. The question is, “Why?” The problem is that deploying 5G is a lengthy process that will continue for some time. All the wonderful stuff was (and is) still a very long way off, despite what the rumours said.

For the first time, 5G research and development is shifting its attention away from mobile broadband improvements (all that talk of lightning-fast wireless data you’ve been hearing about ad nauseam) and toward laying the groundwork for emerging technologies like autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT) in smart cities and industry. Things we were told 5G will improve upon. Moving network services closer to the end user will play a significant part in unlocking these new possibilities, according to a handful of network professionals I spoke with towards the end of 2022.

The senior vice president of network services at AT&T, Igal Elbaz, has said, “There is a natural sequence of events when a new wireless network arises. Constructing the network is a priority. You can’t proceed without a sufficient number of 5G-equipped users. And the complexity with 5G is that there’s also the idea of edge if you truly want to take use of all the possibilities. He claims that with 5G’s reduced latency and edge computing, which places processing power closer to endpoints rather than in the cloud, more immersive experiences will become a reality. That’s what the upcoming 5G stage is all about.

However, it takes time to develop a supporting ecosystem before the full potential of a network can be realised. “In the realm of automotive there’s a lot of discussion about 5G being able to enable automobiles to connect with each other, allow cars and pedestrians to cohabit in a particular environment,” says Verizon’s senior vice president of technology and product development, Srini Kalapala. But it takes many cars and many customers to make the system function. You need everyone’s buy-in for this to work.

Even while your phone may now display a 5G symbol, the technology behind 5G’s purportedly game-changing features is still in the works. That’s not an easy point to make in a keynote speech, particularly when everyone in the audience already possesses the necessary equipment.

Because of this, 5G wasn’t front and centre at CES 2023, but it wasn’t completely out of the picture either. The prototype driverless car revealed by Honda and Sony is packed with sensors that would need 5G connectivity. TCL is developing virtual reality and augmented reality headsets powered by Qualcomm’s XR2 5G technology in preparation for the eventual widespread adoption of these technologies. It’s true that 5G was still active; it was simply playing second fiddle this time. That’s wonderful news for me, since I’ve had enough of hearing the sales pitch.