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HTC jumps into 5G at MWC 2019 -- but with a hotspot, not a phone

The hotspot will run on Sprint in the US and is capable of connecting 20 devices to the super-fast network

HTC
htc-5g-hotspot
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

At MWC, it seems like everyone's jumping into 5G phones. Except for HTC, that is. 

The Taiwanese electronics company on Monday instead unveiled a 5G hotspot, called the HTC 5G Hub. It will run on Sprint's network in the US and will let 20 people access the ultra-fast connectivity at the same time. 

Along with 5G (and 4G) speeds, the device is also a media hub thanks to its 5-inch display, speakers and full Android Pie software. Users can make video calls over Skype or check their Gmail. And it also can serve as a backup battery to charge up dying smartphones. 

htc-5g-hotspot-2

HTC's 5G Hub is a hotspot and runs full Android. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

"We've reinvented the hub and given it a greater amount of functionality," Nigel Newby-House, HTC associate vice president of product planning and go-to-market, said in an interview. "This makes it a better companion than the dumb hotspot."

HTC is showing off the hub this week at MWC in Barcelona. Its booth will have a simulated 5G network (it's really connected through a physical high-speed cable), but the Nokia booth will display the device running on a live 5G network.

5G promises to significantly boost the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can run between 10 and 100 times faster than your typical cellular connection today, and even quicker than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house. It'll also boost how fast a device will connect to the network with speeds as quick as a millisecond to start your download or upload.

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Experts expect 5G to change the way we live and even create new industries, much like how 4G LTE enabled the rise of apps like Uber, Instagram and AirBNB.

5G's early days

Most carriers are just starting to turn on their 5G networks, and smartphones companies are still prepping their first 5G devices. Samsung unveiled its first 5G phone last week during its Unpacked event in San Francisco, and many other major Android vendors -- including Huawei, LG and Oppo -- have announced their 5G phones at MWC. 

By the holidays this year, every flagship handset running Google's Android software and using Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor will tap into 5G, Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon told CNET in December.

Investing in 5G makes sense considering HTC's focus on virtual reality and other areas, Newby-House said, but the company "questioned whether it was right to do it on a phone." For now, at least, HTC doesn't think phones are the way to go. 

Instead, it's focusing on its 5G Hub.

"The beauty of the hub concept is it doesn't matter what device you've got," Newby-House said. "Whether it's VR, notebook, tablet, this is your gateway that could be shared across devices. We're trying to spare you the cost of having 5G in your phone, tablet, etc."

If you have a 4G phone, though, you'll only get faster speeds if the phone has 802.11ad, which enables WiGig Wi-Fi speeds. If your phone is older and only runs 802.11ac Wi-Fi, you'll end up with a bottleneck where the hub is trying to deliver data faster than your phone can handle. 

And if you don't have a strong Sprint signal near your home, you won't want this product. The early 5G devices are built specifically for each carrier's network. You can't buy this and take it to work on the Verizon network, for instance.

The 5G Hub is 5 inches long, 3 inches deep and 1.5 inches wide on its base and weighs 0.75 pounds. It stands upright, with its back at a 90-degree angle to the table. The front leans back at a slight angle to make it easier to view the screen. 

"As opposed to hub that's a flat puck sitting on table, this stands upright and presents the display to you," Newby-House said. 

HTC and Sprint haven't yet said when the hub will launch or what it will cost. Outside the US, China Mobile and Australia's Telstra will offer the hub.

All the specs

  • Display: 5 inch HD touch screen (720 x 1280 pixels)
  • Size (length x width x edge thickness): 129 x 100 x 43 mm
  • Weight: 340 grams (0.75 pounds)
  • Software: Android 9.0 Pie
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Octa-core, with Snapdragon X50v2 5G Modem
  • Connection ports: USB-C 3.1 with DisplayPort support; Connections expandable through Gigabit Ethernet
  • Memory: RAM: 4GB / ROM: 32GB; Extended memory: microSD to add up to 2TB of memory
  • Audio: Dual speakers on the back
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ad; Up to 20 Wi-Fi connections
  • Battery: Capacity: 7,660 mAh (about equal to the size of two phone batteries)
  • Charging: DC Charging (12V/2.5A); USB-C (QC 3.0 & PD 9V/2A)
  • Audio supported formats: Playback: .3gp, .mp4, .m4a, .aac, .ts, .flac, .mp3, .mid, .ogg,  .mkv, .wav, .amr
  • Video supported formats: Playback: .3gp, .mp4, .ts, .webm, .mkv