5G’s next big launch may make its promises of improved speed a reality

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Sarah Tew / CNET

This story is a part of The year ahead, CNET’s view of how the world will continue to evolve from 2022 onwards.

5G has had a lot of hype over the last few years, but for many, it may not have been justified. The early talk brought ideas on how the next generation of wireless networks would help usher in a time of self-driving cars, alternatives to home internet and could even help create new concepts like metaverse and augmented reality glasses, headsets and applications.

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Robert Rodriguez

By 2022, some – but not all – of these promises may come true.

This comes after a more mixed experience over the last few years. T-Mobile has been the most aggressive of the operators in the early stages of 5G, with its faster “Ultra Capacity” network now covering over 210 million people and offering a noticeable boost compared to 4G LTE. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, have struggled compared to 5G networks, which are either not much faster or responsive compared to 4G or offer significant improvements, but only in limited areas.

In 2022, that may finally change soon. After a few delaysOn January 19, the two carriers will finally be able to implement a new range of wireless spectrum that will not only dramatically increase speeds, but will actually work across the country – not just a few blocks from certain major cities. Equally important, it may lay the foundation for some of the additional promised services, even though they are still more than a year away.

“Unless you’ve been on T-Mobile’s mid-range 5G network for the past six months or so, 5G in the U.S. has been a mess,” says Avi Greengart, an analyst at analytics firm Techsponential. “The wireless industry fiercely promised 5G, but that does not mean 5G will not get there in the end.”

The C-band upgrade

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Samsung Galaxy S21 5G connected to Verizon’s C-band test network, two floors underground in a parking structure.

David Lumb / CNET

Until now, both carriers have largely relied on a combination of higher frequency millimeter wave spectrum and low band spectrum to create their 5G network. While MMW 5G can offer multi-gigabit speeds that are faster than many home internet connections, it has severe coverage limitations. Unless you live on certain streets or are in certain parts of a sports stadium or an airport, you probably will not get it.

Conversely, low-band 5G networks can offer excellent coverage, but they usually have the same 4G LTE speeds that you already have. It can be even worse.

The sweet spot for 5G seems to be a middle ground between the two known as midband. It’s significantly faster than the low-band and 4G LTE networks most people use now, and it’s able to travel much longer and provide better coverage. T-Mobile has built up its early 5G lead in large part due to having a robust amount of mid-range spectrum thanks to the acquisition of Sprint in 2020.

Read more: Our first look at Verizon’s C-band 5G network

This is also the reason why airlines, in particular Verizon and AT&T, bid so strongly in a recent Federal Communications Commission auction of the mid-band spectrum known as the C-band.

Verizon plans to cover 100 million people with this C-band signal this month and has talked about maximum download speeds of 1 gigabit per second. second. AT&T aims to reach between 70 and 75 million people by the end of the year with C-band expanding to over 100 million in “early” 2023.

T-Mobile’s existing 5G mid-range network, which operates on various frequency bands, reaches over 210 million people today. The company previously announced plans to expand to 250 million people by the end of 2022 and aims to cover 90% of Americans by the end of 2023.

T-Mobile has aimed for average download speeds of over 400 megabits per second. second on this service and it plans to add C-band to its network by the end of next year.

Beware of cable companies?

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The T-Mobile Home Internet gateway acts as a modem and router, though you can also connect to an existing router or mesh network.

Rick Broida / CNET

In fact, one only needs to look at T-Mobile to see the effect that mid-range networking can bring. Last year, the carrier expanded its internet services for the home to 30 million people with “expected” average download speeds of 100 Mbps for $ 50 per second. month without data ceilings.

With the new C-band launch, Verizon plans to expand its rival 5G Internet offering to cover 20 million people. Like T-Mobile, Verizon’s service starts at $ 50 each. month without data ceilings.

Verizon previously offered 5G home Internet over its high-frequency millimeter-wave network in select parts of certain cities. While download speeds are higher compared to this technology, its footprint is more limited than C-band or T-Mobile mid-range 5G network.

Home broadband will be a “bigger battleground” in 2022, Greengart said. The addition of 5G will give consumers “more choice in some areas and the first real broadband in some suburbs and rural areas.”

Greengart warns that “fixed wireless broadband will still not be offered everywhere” and notes that it will still depend on what options operators have in certain areas and “how economical it is to implement them” in markets around the country .

Verizon, for example, has said it will not implement its 5G Home solution for homes that can already get its Fios fiber service.

New experiences … but maybe not this year

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Qualcomms enables phone-connected smart glasses in 2022 using a software platform called Snapdragon Spaces.

Qualcomm

Every time 5G pops up, companies are quick to mention buzzwords like “smart cities,” “self-driving cars,” and “meta-verses.” In 2022, we may see more substance to go along with that hype.

David Christopher, executive vice president and general manager of partnerships and 5G ecosystem development at AT&T, sees the potential for 5G to have a more immediate impact in areas such as healthcare.

“In a healthcare environment, you want to be able to move files quickly, securely and have them available to healthcare professionals,” whether or not they are physically on site, “he said in an interview last year, noting that the carrier has worked with University of Southern California’s Ellison Institute to implement 5G around the facility.

The airline has also worked with Vitas Healthcare, a hospice provider, to use virtual reality headsets to help take care of its patients.

“5G is going to support significant megatrends in our society,” Christopher said.

“As it happened on (4G) LTE, we’ll see a lot of innovation coming into space because people now have a very, very capable network, a multi-lane highway” with faster 5G network, T-Mobile’s Neville Ray, the company’s president of technology, said in an interview late last year.

Ray sees 2022 as a particularly important year for wearables. “It’s a big, big space. I do not know if it will break full in ’22 … we see a huge innovation come through, you know, the channels that we structure” and adds that he is interested in seeing how it “matures” throughout the year.

A number of companies are rumored to be working on augmented and virtual reality headsets, including Apple, Meta, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Google. Meta has already teased that it is Project Cambria VR headset coming this year while Apple has been strongly rumored to release its first headset in 2022.

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Project Cambria, a headset coming this year, will add face tracking, color cameras and enhanced lenses.

Facebook

Anshel Sag, a lead analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, believes 5G will help activate augmented and augmented reality (XR) headsets, but does not necessarily believe that fully portable, unbound devices will take hold this year.

“In 2022, we will see a continued expansion of the XR and 5G; however, I would also say that we probably will not see many headsets with integrated 5G yet,” Sag said.

“That said, I think we’ll see 5G phones paired with AR and VR wearables this year via a cable or Wi-Fi 6E connection,” he adds. “Expect the smartphone to hang around for a while as an accompanying device for VR and AR headsets.”

While 5G-enabled smart glasses may not become a common product this year, if there is one positive you can expect in 2022, it’s still faster speeds, no matter what device you use.

“The biggest benefits you’ll notice right away are average speeds well above the threshold for stable high-definition video streaming, video conferencing and gaming, along with much faster file downloads for apps and security updates on the go,” Greengart said. . “The extra speed can make working remotely over a mobile connection much more civilized.”

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