2019 Preview: 5G to ripen, at least a little bit

5G remains a hot topic. (Monica Alleven/FierceWireless)

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2019 Preview feature, which looks at the big topics facing the industry next year. Click here for the 2019 preview in the wireless industry, click here for the 2019 preview in the video industry, and click here for the 2019 preview in the wireline industry.

If 2018 was the appetizer for 5G, 2019 will certainly deliver a main course (though it may be one of several).

During 2018 the wireless industry got its first real signals from 5G. First, at the end of 2017, the 3GPP ratified the Non-Standalone (NSA) 5G New Radio (NR) specification for commercial 5G products. That action allowed vendors like Ericsson and Qualcomm to begin building the hardware elements for 5G, products that could be deployed in the market and then, later, updated to 5G via software.

And the second major development in the 5G market in 2018 was the launch of Verizon’s 5G Home service. Although the offering uses Verizon’s 5GTF standard and not the official 3GPP standard, Verizon has explained that the two standards are mostly identical. Verizon is using its 5G Home service in 28 GHz spectrum to beam internet connections into homes and offices—a way for the operator to challenge wired providers like Comcast and Charter with a fully wireless service.

Verizon boasts the service supports speeds of 300 Mbps up to 1 Gbps.

But 2019 will be the year that 5G gets real. Following AT&T’s launch of mobile 5G, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have all promised commercial mobile 5G launches in 2019. The exact extent of these operators’ 2019 5G rollout plans remains somewhat unclear, but by the end of 2019 the market will likely have a clear view of the initial capabilities of mobile 5G as well as a range of phones and other devices that connect to the technology.

Perhaps most importantly, the market will also be able to see exactly how each major wireless network operator plans to price and market 5G. That’s a key consideration as it will point to how operators expect to earn back their 5G investments. If history is any guide, operators will likely price 5G at a premium, as Sprint did with its $10-per-month bill increase for WiMAX.

However, the 5G story won’t be finished in 2019. Although initial commercial deployments will likely happen in 2019, operators have made it clear that 5G can be applied to a wide range of enterprise verticals, not just the consumer market. “We’re seeing a lot of demand from enterprise customers for blurring the line between what has historically been a wide area network, mobile, with a local area network, which has traditionally been wired,” AT&T’s John Donovan said recently. "We are looking at use cases in verticals like retail, healthcare, financial, education, public safety. … So we're going to take advantage of what we're doing in the enterprise space and all of the verticals and have all of that solutioning carried over into 5G."