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2019: The Year of 5G?

2019 - The Year of 5G

The Year 2019 may as well be the year of 5G, or won’t it?  Though no carrier or phone manufacturer has yet been able to launch an actual 5G device that has the promised performance of the network: 100 times the speed of 4G, seamless interoperation with Internet of Things (IOT), tight security, low latency between device and network, smart home, media consumption, augmented reality, self-driving cars, telemedicine, etc. – the publicity and the race to deploy are certainly on. As noted in a recent article in this column, if half of the hype about 5G is realized, the difference between this network and its predecessor would be like that between night and day. So you can understand why the major telecom and phone manufacturing companies are in a race.

A few companies that claimed to have developed 5G capability really haven’t in the true sense of the technology, though they seem to be working very arduously realize this, and consumers in the US and elsewhere can expect to start seeing 5G networks come alive in 2019. All four U.S. major providers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint – have promised to make 5G a reality in the New Year. Moreover, ahead of the networks, smartphones from Samsung, LG, and other 5G-capable devices have already been announced.

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Korea may be ahead somewhat. The Korean times of 28 December 2018 reports on the application of 5G network technology by KT, a Korean phone carrier, to a barista robot at an unmanned cafe near Gangnam Station in southern Seoul. At the cafe, a robot barista takes orders and serves customers drinks and coffee. With the application of 5G wireless networks to the shop, the robot cafe, which had been operated by wired internet, can reportedly now offer faster services. The phone carrier installed a 5G mobile hotspot in the coffee shop so that the robot couldeceive 5G signals from base stations.

The 5G network in the cafe is reportedly used to send the status of the robot and high-quality CCTV to the control tower 24 hours a day. The CCTV enables the robot to recognize visitors to the coffee shop and send video footage of the inside of the shop to the manager. “The 5G barista cafe is the world’s first 5G robot cafe to offer real 5G service,” according to Park Hyun-Jin, head of KT’s 5G business division. This certainly looks like an IOT deployment.

The same newspaper also reports on a 5G deployment by another Korean carrier – SK Telecom, who unveiled its smart factory systems incorporated with 5G networks, artificial intelligence (AI), and cloud computing technology last week Thursday. During a media event, the Korean top mobile carrier showcased various high-tech systems, including autonomous mobile robots, augmented reality (AR) smart glasses and the 5G-AI machine vision, aimed at increasing productivity through collaboration with humans.

As stated above, no company has yet manufactured a 5G phone device, so it is not clear whether or not the phones will cost more than what you presently pay for 4G phones. However, OnePlus, a Chinese company that has built a reputation for offering premium phones without premium prices to match, is hinting that their 5G phones might cost $200 to $300 more. This price point is certainly high.

The Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE are certainly not favored in the West for 5G services. As recently as 27 December 2018, the US is considering an explicit, executive trade ban on Chinese telecom equipment, according to a Reuters report. The order would ban American wireless carriers from buying equipment from Chinese companies. Such an order would primarily affect Huawei and ZTE. These are two of the largest manufacturers of telecom equipment, who are expected to play a significant role in the rollout of 5G network infrastructure, if they are allowed to. The executive order would block purchases of Chinese telecom equipment on national security grounds. The order is expected to focus on purchases made by American carriers, meaning that it would primarily impact cell towers rather than phones purchased by individuals.

European countries seem to be following the US lead in questioning whether using Huawei for vital infrastructure for mobile networks would not leave them exposed to snooping by the Chinese government.  Germany’s Deutsche Telekom said last week it “takes the global discussion about the security of network elements from Chinese manufacturers very seriously.”  The statements came shortly after Alex Younger, the director of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, reportedly said that Britain needs “to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies.” Furthermore, at about the same time, mobile provider British Telecom said it was removing Huawei equipment from key parts of its current 3G and 4G networks as part of an internal policy not to use it for core infrastructure, which will also apply to 5G networks. Belgium’s cybersecurity agency is reportedly considering a ban on Huawei, while the Czech Republic’s prime minister recently ordered his government office to stop using Huawei mobile phones, after the national cybersecurity agency warned that products by Huawei and another Chinese telecom company, ZTE, pose “a security threat.”

The Year 2019 may be hot on 5G, but the main players could be relatively more geographically compact.

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