5G’s next big launch could deliver on its promises of improved speed

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This story is part The year to come, CNET’s look at how the world will continue to evolve from 2022 and beyond.

5G has seen a lot of hype over the past few years, but for many it may not have been warranted. Early discussions brought ideas about how next-generation wireless networks would help usher in an era of self-driving cars, home internet alternatives, and could even help new concepts such as the metaverse and glasses, helmets and augmented reality applications.

Robert Rodriguez

In 2022, some – but not all – of these promises could materialize.

This comes after a more mixed experience in recent years. T-Mobile was the most aggressive carrier in the early days of 5G, with its faster “Ultra Capacity” network now covering more than 210 million people and offering a noticeable improvement over 4G LTE. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, struggled against 5G networks that aren’t significantly faster or responsive compared to 4G or offer significant improvements but only in limited areas.

In 2022, that could finally soon change. After some delays, on January 19, the two carriers will finally be able to roll out a new band of wireless spectrum that should not only dramatically increase speeds, but also work across the country — not just a few blocks from some major cities. Just as importantly, it could lay the groundwork for some of those promised additional services, even if they’re still over a year away.

“Unless you’ve been on T-Mobile’s midband 5G network for the past six months or so, 5G in the United States has been a mess,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst for the company. Techsponential research. “The wireless industry has hugely overpromised 5G, but that doesn’t mean 5G won’t get there eventually.”

The C band upgrade

underground web

Samsung Galaxy S21 5G hooked up to Verizon’s C-band test network two stories underground in a parking lot.

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So far, both carriers have largely relied on a combination of high-frequency millimeter wave spectrum and low-band spectrum to build their 5G networks. While MMW 5G can deliver faster multi-gigabit speeds than many home internet connections, its coverage is very limited. Unless you live on specific streets or are in certain sections of a stadium or airport, you probably don’t get it.

Low-band 5G networks, on the other hand, can provide great coverage, but they usually have the same 4G LTE speeds you already have. It may even be worse.

The sweet spot for 5G appears to be a happy medium between the two known as the midband. It’s significantly faster than the low-band and 4G LTE networks most people use today, and it’s able to travel much farther with better coverage. T-Mobile built its 5G lead largely on a robust amount of midstream spectrum through its 2020 purchase of Sprint.

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

It’s also why carriers, especially Verizon and AT&T, bid so high at a recent Federal Communications Commission auction for the midrange spectrum known as C-band.

Verizon plans to cover 100 million people with that C-band signal this month and talked about peak download speeds of 1 gigabit per second. AT&T aims to reach between 70 and 75 million people by the end of the year with C-band, growing to more than 100 million by “early” 2023.

T-Mobile’s existing midband 5G network, which operates on different frequency bands, now reaches more than 210 million people. 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 is aiming for average download speeds of over 400 megabits per second on this service and plans to add C-band to its network late next year.

Beware of cable companies?


T-Mobile’s Home Internet Gateway doubles as a modem and router, though you can also plug into an existing router or mesh network.

Rick Broida/CNET

In fact, just look at T-Mobile to see the impact mid-band networks can make. Last year the carrier got bigger its home internet offer to 30 million people with “expected” average download speeds of 100 Mbps for $50 per month with no data caps.

With the new C-band launch, Verizon plans to expand its competing 5G internet offering to cover 20 million people. Like T-Mobile, Verizon’s service starts at $50 per month with no data cap.

Verizon previously offered 5G home internet on its high-frequency millimeter-wave network in parts of select cities. Although download speeds are higher with this technology, its footprint is smaller than C-band or T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G network.

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

Greengart warns that “fixed wireless broadband will still not be available everywhere”, noting that it will always depend on operators’ capabilities in particular areas and “the profitability of their deployment” in markets nationwide.

Verizon, for example, said it won’t roll out its 5G Home solution to homes that can already benefit from its Fios fiber service.

New experiences… but maybe not this year


Qualcomm will enable phone-connected smart glasses in 2022, using a software platform called Snapdragon Spaces.


Whenever 5G pops up, companies are quick to mention buzzwords like “smart cities,” “self-driving cars,” and the “metaverse.” 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, believes that 5G could 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 make them accessible to healthcare professionals ‘whether they’re physically there or not,'” he said during an interview. an interview last year, noting that the carrier has been working with the Ellison Institute at the University of Southern California to roll out 5G around the facility.

The carrier has also worked with Vitas Healthcare, a palliative care provider, to use virtual reality headsets to help care for its patients.

“5G is going to underpin important megatrends in our society,” Christopher said.

“As happened on (4G) LTE, we’re going to see a lot of innovation coming into the space because people now have a very, very capable network, kind of a multi-lane highway” with networks 5G faster, 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 don’t know if it’s going to completely break in 22… we’re seeing huge innovation coming in, you know, the channels we’re structuring,” adding that he’s interested to see how it “ripens” through 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 his The Project Cambria VR headset will arrive this year while Apple has been widely rumored to release its first headset in 2022.


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


Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, thinks 5G will help enable augmented and extended reality (XR) headsets, but doesn’t necessarily think fully wearable, untethered devices will take hold this year.

“In 2022 we will see continued expansion of XR and 5G; however, I would also say that we probably won’t see a lot of headsets with 5G built in yet,” Sag said.

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

While 5G-enabled smart glasses may not become a mainstream product this year, if there’s one bright spot you can expect in 2022, it’s ever-faster speeds, regardless of the device. device you are using.

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

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