2018: The Year in Cellular

What a year it has been. The world of cellular communication has changed a lot since our 2017 wrapup. This year it hasn’t been about the consumer equipment as much as the systems behind them.

Handsets: Same as it ever was

It seems like 2018 was another year of Apple vs. Samsung. Sure, there are other phones out there and they’re good, but if you were really looking for the top contenders this year there were only two brands to watch.

The notch

Apple really led the year in a lot of ways. Their 2017 reveal of the iPhone X defined two trends that took over in 2018. The first, “the notch” proved that consumers are perfectly willing to tolerate a not-quite-square screen if there’s a good reason. Not only has “the notch” been accepted, it’s actually been embraced, judging by all the copycat phones that have notches.

The cost

The less desirable trend has been the crossing of the $1,000 mark. Ten years ago, it was very rare to see a phone costing more than $200 or so. That’s due mostly to the carriers themselves, who tied customers to contracts and enticed them with subsidized phones.

The cost of a top end phone has skyrocketed in the last the months, with some of them testing the $1,500 mark. At the same time, these phones are going back into the secondary market quickly and often the total cost of ownership is still low, sometimes under $200.

Cameras get smart

With multiple cameras on board, phones have become better and better at simulating high-end DSLRs. There is practically no reason to carry anything but your phone camera unless you need ridiculous amounts of zoom.

Samsung did great as well

I tend to talk about Apple because they often set style trends, but while Apple was napping throughout most of the last five years, Samsung has turned out a number of excellent phones. They’ve led the charge toward better looking screens, bigger handsets, and more power.

Boosters: A growth year

While we didn’t see a lot of new products in the pipeline this year, what we did see was a revision of the existing product line. weBoost tweaked its mobile booster line to better match the way people use their boosters. SureCall came up with product improvements across the board that improve power and range.

Solid Signal also started carrying WilsonPRO, the industrial quality boosters from weBoost’s parent company. These boosters really bring the goods to large spaces. Solid Signal can design the perfect solution for you and even get you professional installation.

Carrier news

The big news this year is that AT&T is really leapfrogging the competition in three ways.

5G

We’ll have to wait a while for 5G phones, but AT&T has been working all year toward getting 5G service lit up in several cities. Initially if you want it, you’ll use a cellular hotspot, combined with Wi-Fi on your phone. Even this is sort of a “first stab” at 5G, which will continue to evolve over the next few years. I predict that it 2020 or 2021 will be the year that 5G really takes over.

“5G Evolution”

AT&T is aggressively upgrading towers to add advanced features to the LTE phones and towers that are already on the market. I can attest that while I used to get 45Mbps downloads on my phone around my home, I now get close to 90 on the same phone. This is due purely to hardware improvements on the towers.

AT&T is calling this “5G Evolution” but it’s not. Really it’s the last gasp of 4G. But I don’t care, because it’s flippin’ incredible how fast it is.

FirstNet

AT&T is the exclusive provider of FirstNet, a network which can be instantly limited to first responders in the case of an emergency. Throughout the year AT&T has been putting FirstNet hardware in place and several phones already support it.

Oh and the other guys

I almost hate to mention that there’s this long-standing rumor that Sprint and T-Mobile will merge. There are a lot of headwinds around this deal, not the least of which is Sprint’s inferior and incompatible technology. It could be 5 or more years before either company sees any benefit from a merger other than numbers on a balance sheet. That’s a long time in a marketplace where people change phones every other year.

What will 2019 bring?

Blazing fast internet. Sexy phones. Better and more innovative plans. No question about it. Of course the best place to get all of it… SolidSignal.com.