After years of hype, carriers like AT&T and Verizon are giving consumers clarity on what their next-generation cellular networks will realistically do.
LAS VEGAS — Like many consumers, Kathryn Schipper, an attorney in Seattle, doesn’t have a landline. She relies on her smartphone for calls and videoconferencing, but reception is spotty.
So she is excited about the arrival of 5G, the fifth-generation wireless network that has been the subject of breathless speculation over the last few years. The new cellular standard, carriers have said, will reduce network congestion and pump out data so fast that smartphone users could download all the “Avengers” movies in a few minutes. It might even eventually help cars drive themselves.
“5G seems like orders-of-magnitude improvement,” Ms. Schipper said. “I’ve also heard it’s much more reliable, so that matters to me.”
Yet the shift to 5G feels like a tech revolution happening in slow motion. In 2019, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest American carriers, lit up their 5G networks in a small number of cities. Handset makers released only a handful of phones compatible with the new standard. The overwhelming majority of us saw no meaningful improvement to our cellular networks.
At CES, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas this week, the carriers are insisting that 2020 will be a turning point for 5G. AT&T and Verizon say they expect their 5G networks to be accessible nationwide this year. In addition, the carriers say at least 15 smartphones will be 5G compatible this year, more than triple the number last year.
“2020 is pivotal because you’ve got a good foundation built, and the ecosystem starts to form,” said Kevin Petersen, a marketing executive for AT&T.
So what does that even mean? A major technology shift is underway, which may have an impact on your personal technology in the coming years. And unlike its predecessors, 5G is complex and more confusing.