5G is coming in 2019. With the promise of super-speed data and better coverage, mid-to-late 2019 will usher in next-generation networks in the UK and US.
We'll also be seeing a lot of 5G phones launching, with the first devices already announced and soon to go on sale.
So come with us while we explain the key players in 5G, why it'll probably be coming to your next phone (definitely the one after that) and how it can revolutionise home broadband, too.
What is 5G?
5G is the next evolution in mobile phone networks. In the last two decades we've had the launch of 3G, then 4G, and now 2019 will see the launch of 5G which will roll-out significantly faster than 4G.
With a new network comes new capabilities, from broadband-like speeds on your phone, improved downloading and uploading speeds, and for IoT (Internet of Things) the ability for companies to control devices remotely in a much more efficient and faster way than currently possible.
By 2024 there will be over 1.5 billion of us connected to 5G, according to Ericsson, a company that makes some of the infrastructure that will make all this possible. That journey kicks off soon with the first 5G networks expected to go live over the summer, and most operators having a commercially available service by the end of 2019.
What are the benefits of 5G?
The biggest noticeable benefits will be speed. 5G is expected to deliver somewhere between 80-100Mbps meaning you'll get home broadband-like speed wherever you are. That's going to make a huge difference when it comes to downloading movies, large files, or playing games and for many will mean they could theoretically ditch their home broadband altogether. Think of movie streaming as seamlessly as music streaming currently is.
Another huge benefit is about how quickly you'll be able to push data back up to the network. 4G has always been about getting data - streaming movies or music for example - but with 5G the network will be able to handle all this data much more efficiently. That improved "latency" opens up plenty of possibilities.
That could be new augmented reality experiences, PC-quality gaming on your mobile with "zero lag", or having multi-way video calling without any issues.
Things should also get better on the train and in large populated areas as the 5G network will be better at coping with your movement and when lots of people are connecting to the network at a football game for example.
Beyond general consumer needs, a 5G network will also allow the communication between autonomous cars remotely, a connected traffic infrastructure, and remote factories working without local intervention.
What 5G devices will there be?
5G phones are coming this year. Samsung announced first handset - the Samsung S10 5G, but there are many others including LG V50 ThinQ and Xiaomi's Mi Mix 3 5G while some - like OnePlus - are yet to show their hand.
As for other 5G devices, AT&T is already selling the Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot ($499) in the US with a monthly subscription of $70 for 15GB of 5G data a month. We're going to see more of these devices such as the HTC 5G Hub with Alexa.
There are lots of 5G phones coming, so we're keeping track of all the 5G phones that are coming in 2019 in a separate feature.
What carriers will offer 5G in the US?
Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all confirmed to launch 5G in the US and some are already offering 5G services in a handful of areas.
Sprint has confirmed that it will have a 5G service live in May and it will be focusing on initial roll-out in nine major US cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, Washington, DC.
Sprint has also confirmed that Google Fi users will be able to take advantage of its 5G network, although there is no indication of when.
T-Mobile has deployed out 5G services in roughly 30 cities including Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Las Vegas.
AT&T has 12 cities ready for 5G wireless: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco. It will soon deploy mobile 5G in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.
Verizon says it is targeting 30 US cities for 5G "by the end of 2019". However, it has now confirmed a date for the first two of these - Chicago and Minneapolis on 11 April. And there is even a price - current subscribers will need to pay $10 extra a month.
Initially, there will only be one handset supported - the Moto Z3 with 5G Moto mod. But the Galaxy S10 5G has been confirmed as coming to Verizon later in the year, as has the LG V50 ThinQ.
Verizon says it will not throttle 5G data but that throttling will continue when the network drops down to 4G.
Verizon is already offering a 5G home broadband replacement service instead. Verizon 5G Home users have speeds up to 1Gbps - "cut everything you hate about cable" says the corporation in its marketing. It costs from $70 per month with the first 3 months free (it's cheaper for existing customers) and you also get a free Apple TV 4K or Google Chromecast Ultra, too. Verizon's 5G Home service is available in Los Angeles and Sacramento in California, as well as Houston, Texas and Indianapolis. Other areas are coming soon.
What networks will offer 5G in UK?
In the UK, Vodafone, EE, and Three have confirmed they are launching commercially available 5G services in 2019 with all three currently conducting various trials around the country. O2 has said that it won't launch a 5G service until 2020.
EE has been trialling its 5G network in London across nine sites and aims to be first to launch commercially in "Summer" of 2019. The initial rollout will start with each UK country capital; London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, alongside Birmingham and Manchester.
Ten more cities will get 5G coverage during 2019; Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol. EE tells Pocket-lint that although the roll-out will be slower than its 4G efforts, the network still plans to upgrade 1,500 sites over the coming year - EE says these locations will carry 25% of all the data across its entire network – but only cover 15% of the UK population.
EE has confirmed it will be selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, the LG V50 ThinQ, and the Huawei Mate X 5G in the UK. It will also be offering HTC's 5G Mobile Smart Hub. Since late last year we've also known that EE will range the first OnePlus 5G smartphone which is set to launch in the Spring, as a network exclusive.
Three says it is investing over £2 billion into its 5G rollout and has bought the most 5G spectrum in the UK. It is already running trials in London. "The first commercial quantities of 5G smartphone and home broadband devices are expected to be available by H2 2019," the company has confirmed to Pocket-lint.
We believe the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G will be coming to Three in the UK.
"We plan to have 1,000 5G sites live by 2020," Vodafone has told Pocket-lint, but also confirmed, like EE and Three, that the 5G roll-out will take "place over a period of years, rather than months."
It will start its 5G services in major cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool and London before the end of 2019. To show that's it not just about big sprawling urban metropolises, it also plans to launch 5G in the Scottish Highlands, Cornwall and the Lake District.
In order to get 5G deployed as quickly as possible, Vodafone has teamed up with O2 to build a joint 5G network. This will mostly be outside of the larger cities where the networks say they will still work autonomously. The pair already do some network-sharing and also run a joint venture that manages network sites (but not the equipment itself).
In a 5G test at Manchester Airport, Vodafone's trial network was shown to yield download speeds around four times that of 4G - not amazing, but a start. A 656MB episode of Tin Star downloaded in 45 seconds, while the whole series took around six minutes. On 4G, the series took 26 minutes.
Vodafone has confirmed it will be offering HTC's 5G Mobile Smart Hub.
O2 emerged from the Ofcom spectrum auction with a good deal of 5G spectrum, but has said that it's not going to have a widespread 5G offering until 2020 "to coincide with the wider availability of 5G handsets".
However, it will roll out some 5G services in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London during 2019.
What is 5G E?
Trying to get ahead of the competition, AT&T in the US has started marketing a service it calls 5G E. Standing for 5G Evolution, the service is nothing more than a slightly faster version of 4G with some branding sparkle. AT&T argue that the service is as fast as 5G services when they official launch, but the difference here, is that it isn't actually 5G.
What hardware will 5G phones use?
Many of these new handsets will run Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 platform and the X50 5G-capable modem which was first previewed back in 2016. The X50 modem has some limitations: it doesn't cover all types of 5G network and it's a separate modem, so doesn't cover 2G-4G (that needs separate hardware).
Qualcomm has subsequently announced the Snapdragon X55 modem, and this is a more comprehensive offering that the X50 being a truely global 5G modem, covering all network types - as well as covering 2G-4G as well. The modem will support download speeds of up to 7Gbps and uploads of 3Gbps.
Currently, the modem is an add-on chip to the 855 platform, meaning that phone makers can choose to make 4G 855 devices. That's set to change with the next-generation that'll be announced in late 2019 - it'll integrate 5G on the Snapdragon 655 platform itself (yes, logic dictates it'll be called 655) - and that should find its way into more affordable devices.
Qualcomm says there are 20+ device manufacturers lined up to produce hardware including 5G Hotspots, routers, and of course smartphones in 2019 alone, with that number expected to grow as more companies embrace 5G.
As you might expect, Samsung and Huawei are also developing their own 5G modems. Huawei's Balong 5000 will work alongside the Kirin 980 platform and will debut in Huawei's first 5G phones to be announced at Mobile World Congress 2019, while Samsung's Exynos Modem 5100 will likely find there way into Samsung's S10 5G offering and other important flagship devices from the company going forward.
MediaTek makes chipsets for many budget phones and it too has recently announced the Helio M70 5G platform that will come to devices in 2020.
Beyond phones, you can expect to see 5G in cars, laptops, VR and AR headsets, and a host of other devices creating a much more "connected world".