There’s no doubting that if 5G lives up to its hype and promises, it will be a game-changer. It simple will be and in more ways than most of us actually realize. That goes for the OEMs and those behind the 5G scenes as the potential is somewhat limitless.
So if 5G delivers, then we are all in for a treat. What’s more, with 5G edging closer each day and with 2019 expected to be the year it properly lands, we should all be even more excited about it then we were last year.
But that does not seem to be the case so far. If anything, 5G is feeling less exciting than it did before.
Take Qualcomm for example. The company responsible for the chips in most of our smartphones (and soon to be in even more devices once we enter a 5G world), made a number of announcements this week detailing the 5G advances and improvements it has made over the last year.
On the surface, this should be really exciting news. Some might argue, and Qualcomm certainly would, that the announcements are exciting. But they are not and that seems to sum up 5G in 2019 in general.
Yes, we are closer to proper 5G and even true 5G seems like it is just starting to peek over the horizon. But in spite of 5G having yet landed on a phone near you, its appeal is already starting to wane.
Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for this is the 5G headlines are now starting to lose their allure.
For example, back in 2017 we were introduced to the Snapdragon X50 aka the “world’s first 5G modem for smartphones” and that sounds exciting.
Fast forward to today and we got the second-generation 5G modem. A headline that just does not have the same ring to it.
Yes, it’s better, faster, smaller, thinner, yadda yadda yadda. But who cares? And yes it is the “first” to do this and the “first” to feature that. But again, who really cares? It’s just an updated modem.
What makes this all the worse is these announcements are so far ahead of user engagement that it’s hard to genuinely get too excited about them. This in turn means it is hard to get excited about 5G.
Again, take the Snapdragon X50. In spite of being announced eighteen months ago do you have a phone that currently uses that modem? Probably not.
That will likely change this year though as Qualcomm had already suggested that at least 30 new devices will arrive in 2019 powered by the company's latest SoC platform, the Snapdragon 855. This also means those devices might come with the Snapdragon X50 modem.
Might is important here as the X50 on the 855 platform is optional. Which means it will be up to the OEMS as to whether they give you the 5G modem or opt to include the X24 modem instead.
Either way, even if we side on the assumption that you buy a phone in 2019 and it runs on the 855 and comes loaded with the X50, it is still only the X50 - the 5G modem that was announced in October 2017. Not the shiny new one announced today that’s supposedly better, faster, smaller, thinner, yadda yadda yadda.
Therein lies the problem with 5G and the ability for consumers to get excited as it all feels too far away, all the time, and even when we are on the eve of 5G availability.
Smartphones in general prove to be a good comparison point here. As over the next few weeks a number of high-profile names, including Samsung and LG, will announce their first major 2019 smartphone releases. But the announcement in these cases is only a short-term thing as within weeks of being announced you will be able to buy them. The return on your excitement is paid out quickly.
In some cases, you’ll be able to pre-order the just-announced device the day after it is announced. Maybe even on the same day. Now that’s exciting. Before you even have the opportunity to fully digest what is being sold to you, you are already being given the opportunity to throw your money at it.
5G is not like that. It’s much more of a slow burn and as time goes on the burn seems to get that little bit slower. Last year we were told at the end of 2018 5G will be here. Then we were told early 2019. Now, with MWC 2019 just around the corner we’ll most likely get the next incremental update with many companies touting how close we are and that all these devices will arrive in the coming months.
Not now. Not today. Not pre-orders are now open.
Again, even when the networks do properly go live and the 2019 devices are here in our hands and ready to connect to the networks, there still might be the issue of “now what?” As content that 5G is designed to really offer won’t be here. Some improved experiences might be on offer in the early stages, and yes you’ll probably be able to make use of faster Netflix streaming, but that’s not really 5G.
The real 5G is supposed to offer us experiences that are well beyond what we already do today with smartphones. Ones that are simply in a different league and ones which at the moment are only starting to be demoed in concept from - another of the Qualcomm announcements this week.
So even when the device and network stars have finally aligned, the feeling of 5G might not be all that impressive as we’ll still have to wait.
Soon enough 2020 will be here and by then maybe we will all have a firmer idea of 5G and how it will change the game. Although by that time Qualcomm will be announcing its third-generation 5G modem that’s even more better, faster, smaller, thinner, yadda yadda yadda.
Of course, you’ll then have to wait another eighteen months or so before you can buy a device using that modem which means it is once again back to the waiting game. That's unless you decide to stick with the then-dated first generation 5G modem that’s no longer so fast, small, or thin.
This is not to say this is a Qualcomm issue specifically, but with the company being one of those on the knife’s edge of the industry, and making the real 5G announcements so far ahead of time, it is a company that best exemplifies the issue with 5G.
The issue that we are always just waiting for 5G.