5G 2021: What Can We Expect From 5G This Year?

This article is reprinted with permission from the SureCall blog.

What can we expect from 5G in 2021? Coverage will expand. The price of compatible devices will go down. Real-world applications will begin.

Before COVID-19 and worldwide lockdowns took center stage earlier this year, 5G was one of the media’s hottest topics. It seemed every national and local media outlet was reporting regularly on 5G-related topics. Also, in the first few months of 2020, 5G buzz created a big increase in new foldable phone sales. But when the coronavirus stole the worldwide spotlight, phone sales stopped.

But around the beginning of summer, phone sales began to increase again rapidly. Asia was the first continent to see real relief from the virus. When much of Asia opened back up, 5G phones suddenly flew off the shelves in the millions. This proved interest was still as strong as ever. Companies manufacturing 5G devices began holding virtual events announcing new phones. And despite the lockdowns, most major carriers worldwide continued taking steps to roll out their networks.

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Many telecom authorities expected that the pandemic would lay waste to 2020 5G phone sales.

It didn’t.

5G phone sales in 2020 ended up almost reaching the projected pre-pandemic numbers. Apple releasing the various iPhone 12 models in October should receive a good chunk of the credit.

5G Technology Made Progress In 2020

Coverage definitely increased. 2020 found the Big 3 in America – T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T – all offering 5G service nationwide. And connections got much faster. By Dec, some areas were experiencing 5G speeds twice as fast as peak 4G LTE with T-Mobile. And many phones became much more affordable. For example, the Galaxy S10 in 2019 was $900. The TCL 10 5G UW in 2020 was only $400. And until the iPhone 12 release in Oct 2020, you could only get an Android 5G phone.

So let’s certainly give credit where it’s due. However, despite many things to be proud of…

5G In 2020 Was Laying the Groundwork

Most experts and consumers will agree that the wave of 5G anticipation going into 2020 far outweighed what actually happened. Some thought the lightning-fast speeds of 5G would be one of the most memorable things about 2020. That didn’t really end up being the case. Speeds were underwhelming. 5G didn’t come close to becoming mainstream as many thought it might.

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The good news is that 2021 is guaranteed to far-exceed the 5G reach of the preceding year. All signs point to a VERY big year for the new cellular technology. A few things are guaranteed to happen:

  • Coverage will get even better
  • Speeds will get even faster
  • Phones will get even cheaper

It’s safe to say that 2021 will finally be the year where consumers at large will prioritize getting a 5G phone. Three things will cause this: FOMOtangible benefits, and cheaper prices. As the technology rapidly increases this year and 5G promises truly start to be fulfilled, people will begin clamoring for a 5G device.

The Success Of 5G Is More Important Than Ever

The lockdowns initiated by governments around the world gave way to a world that truly needs 5G. We now spend more time indoors than ever before. Broadband internet services are being relied on more than ever. 5G will amp this up. Under peak conditions, 5G can be up to 100 times faster than 4G. The COVID-life applications of this are enormous. Video conferencing. Telemedicine. Gaming. Virtual and augmented reality. 5G will enhance all of these and more. And soon.

Worldwide, 5G subscribers surpassed 215 million at the end of 2020 despite the pandemic. By 2022, that number is expected to triple. By 2026, 5G is still expected to cover 60% of the world’s population.

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Affordable 5G Devices

When 5G smartphones first became available, they weren’t cheap. If you wanted the Galaxy S10 5G when it came out on March 4, 2019, you had to give up $1300. Not only that, but there was also an additional monthly charge just for 5G access. But prices on all 5G phones have dropped since then and will certainly continue to do so through 2021. Two main reasons why they’ve dropped is (1) 5G reach is always expanding and (2) COVID-19 dampened consumer spending.

Apple even saw fit to keep the price of the 5G-compatible iPhone 12 Pro the same as the Phone 11 when it first came out. As 5G continues to grow, we should in turn continue to see prices of compatible devices go down.

Verizon has already announced that, in 2021, they’ll make available mmWave 5G phones that cost around $300. They’ve also confirmed other options coming later will likely be even less than that. In addition, the monthly charge for 5G access will likely not stay the same, Verizon reported.

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Even prepaid phones will be 5G-enabled eventually. The beginning stages of this endeavor is already scheduled for 2021.

By mid-2022, it’s expected that 5G phones will make up close to half of all mobile phones in use. In comparison, 4G LTE phones took a year longer to reach that number. By the end of 2023, Strategy Analytics expects 600 million 5G smartphones to be in use.

Better 5G Coverage

Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all took enormous strides in 2020 building their 5G networks. But in 2021, new processors will be introduced to high-end smartphones compatible with 5G which will result in better speeds all around.

The X60 modem (found in Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processors) will be put in 5G smartphones released in the first quarter of 2021 and beyond. With it, upload speeds will stay at 3 Gbps but download speeds will go up to 7.5 Gbps. But the average speeds overall will be faster. The X60 boosts performance by giving the phone the ability to combine mmWave spectrum with low-frequency bands.

This new modem will work in tandem with DSS technology already utilized by 5G phones. DSS (dynamic spectrum sharing) allows both 4G and 5G to use the same spectrum band. Without DSS, 4G and 5G “drive on their own roads”, separate from each other. But with it, they share a single highway with their own lanes. It utilizes the best of both worlds simultaneously. Carriers boasting a nationwide 5G network are already using DSS. The others who aren’t most definitely will in 2021.

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Carrier Aggregation

Providing a similar service as DSS, carrier aggregation combines multiple wireless signals into one. When this happens, speeds increase. It’s often explained as a high speed limit freeway with multiple lanes as opposed to a one-lane road that limits speed. Carrier aggregation has been in effect for years. But the good news is that this technology is constantly advancing and is playing an important role in the advancement of 5G.

T-Mobile, in particular, will likely see the most benefits from carrier aggregation in the immediate future. Compared to other US carriers, they have acquired a larger network of both mid-band airwaves and low-band spectrum, resulting in extra range and speed. This will also allow them to extend the coverage from their cell towers, meaning their towers will get more coverage per square mile.

In addition, T-Mobile is engaging in focused efforts to increase its midband network. All of this assures that their speeds and range will increase a lot in 2021.

In time, AT&T and Verizon will have midband networks that rival T-Mobile. Once they obtain more spectrum, they’ll all be comparable to one another. Especially with the implementation of the new chips previously mentioned that will lower latency, increase capacity, and boost speeds across the board.

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There are similarities in each carrier’s approach to building out its 5G network. But in many ways, each company is taking its own path. AT&T, for instance, has put an emphasis on latency. As a result, despite lacking in other areas compared to their competitors, they have the lowest 5G latency of any carrier in the US in some areas. And as 2021 progresses, it will only get better.

5G Real-World Applications In 2021

Phones and tablets aren’t the only things that 5G will start transforming in 2021. Sooner or later, every industry is bound to be affected. Retail, health and medical, auto, and robotics, to name a few. 5G’s ultra-low latency and super-fast speeds will connect devices together like never before. We’ll likely begin seeing streetlights and other common electronic devices finally connected to the internet. 5G technological advances this year should lead to new strides for emergency responders, farmers, and more. With real-time communication made possible with 5G, the application of sensors will allow all sorts of breakthroughs. We’re bound to see some of this in action in the next 12 months.

Even companies outside the telecom industry are getting in the game. John Deere has purchased their own spectrum and are building their own 5G infrastructures in some of their large factories. The agriculture equipment giant plans to roll out their new internal network in 2022, turning their factories into smart facilities.

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VolkswagenBosch, and many other companies have also announced plans to implement their own 5G systems this year. Processes will become faster and more responsive than ever.

Manufacturing facilities like these are especially excited about 5G this year. These companies use large amounts of automated systems and robots that require an internet connection. The speeds of 4G and traditional WiFi limit what’s possible. But the low latency of 5G will allow machines to communicate with each other unimaginably fast. Reliability and efficiency will skyrocket. So many of these machines are wired. 5G will allow this commercial equipment to operate unplugged, making them mobile in addition to all the other benefits.

Gaming and Video in 2021 with 5G

5G is expected to elevate the gaming and live-streaming industries to astonishing levels. In 2021, we’re going to see some of these advances come to fruition. We’ll likely see the advent of watching sports with customized viewing angles via cloud-based AR (augmented reality) glasses. Fully-immersive, hyper-realistic VR gaming will begin its ascent. And automobiles communicating in real-time with everything around them will truly start to gain momentum.

5G will also eventually replace the broadband internet in our homes. Whether that happens in 2021 remains to be seen. Major telecom networks are already developing mobile hotspots and home routers more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen. Hotspots that can handle 25+ devices at the same time. Some of these products may see the light of day this year.

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5G 2021: What Can We Expect From 5G This Year? – Conclusion

In 2019, despite the technology being in its infancy, 5G phones became a reality and the new technology finally became real. We started truly talking about it and what it’s capable of. In 2020, 5G infrastructures went up, some fully completed. Better 5G phones were released and we began to breathe some life into the real-world applications of 5G. Now, in 2021, the calling cards of 5G – unbelievable speed and performance – will finally make themselves known. It will still be some years before 5G reaches its full potential. But in 2021, the world will finally get tangible examples of this exciting technology and how it will transform life for all of us.