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5G hype may dominate CES 2020 even if big news remains scarce

While you won't see flashy 5G phones in Las Vegas, you'll likely see applications such as the internet of things and smart cities.

Eli Blumenthal Senior Editor
Eli Blumenthal is a senior editor at CNET with a particular focus on covering the latest in the ever-changing worlds of telecom, streaming and sports. He previously worked as a technology reporter at USA Today.
Expertise 5G, mobile networks, wireless carriers, phones, tablets, streaming devices, streaming platforms, mobile and console gaming,
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Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently oversees the CNET breaking news desk for the West Coast. Corinne covers everything from phones, social media and security to movies, politics, 5G and pop culture. In her spare time, she watches soccer games, F1 races and Disney movies.
Expertise News
Eli Blumenthal
Corinne Reichert
4 min read

CES 2020 will showcase wild gadgets, but not much 5G news is expected.

Angela Lang/CNET

If you believed the hype, 2019 was supposed to be the "year of 5G." Lofty promises of new networks and supersonic phones were meant to usher in a radically new age. But it turns out radical change takes time.

Instead of being a transformational year, 2019 proved to be more foundational. The first 5G networks from Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint worked for some regular consumers, but they also all had significant drawbacks. Devices carried hefty price tags and didn't actually future-proof you from later improvements, and networks suffered from a combination of limited deployment, coverage issues or speeds that were largely similar to 4G. 

AT&T , which boasted it launched the first mobile 5G service a year ago, didn't even turn on its consumer option until December.

There are reasons, however, that 2020 will be different. While most of the big phone and network news will likely come in February when Samsung's rumored Galaxy S11 reveal is expected and the Mobile World Congress trade show takes place in Barcelona, the first peek into our high-speed mobile future could start to show up at CES 2020

OnePlus has teased an announcement of a new concept phone and major phone players Samsung, Huawei , LG and Lenovo are all expected to be at the trade show. LG says while it won't be making any 5G announcements, it will be showing off the 5G-enabled LG V50S phone, which is currently only available in South Korea. TCL, which has spoken about how it wants to expand into the phone market beyond its budget Alcatel brand and has shown off cool concepts, will also be there. Huawei says it has no 5G-related announcements to make at CES 2020.

And a number of carriers, not only in the US but globally, have already confirmed they won't be bringing anything 5G-related to CES 2020.

"To consumers, 5G in 2020 will feel like 3G in 2004 or 4G in 2010," says Forrester's vice president and principal analyst Thomas Husson, adding that it "won't enable new business or marketing use cases" next year since most people still will be on 4G.

5G for more than just phones


5G will be in more than just phones. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Beyond phones and networks, there is the side that's known as the internet of things. Whether it's used for vehicle-to-vehicle communication and autonomous driving, or smart appliances and smart cities, 5G is expected to usher in a host of connected devices and applications to take traffic lights, power grids and more into the modern age.

Samsung, which has more 5G phones on the market today than any other company, probably won't introduce any new phones with the technology at CES. But its co-CEO, H.S. Kim, likely will talk about 5G during a keynote Monday at CES. The technology will play a big role in Samsung's strategy for 2020 and beyond.

In a blog post ahead of the show, Kim noted that through 5G, paired with artificial intelligence and the internet of things, Samsung's "vision for a truly connected world becomes a reality."

That's because 5G was designed not only to be faster but also to connect far more devices than older networks. It's also smart enough to prioritize traffic, meaning it'll give preference to the voice call on your 5G phone over the connected ATM down the street. 

Tech giant IBM is banking on 5G at CES 2020, but it's all about how edge computing on the new networks will help push the internet of things. 5G edge computing processes the data produced by smart devices closer to where it is being created, rather than sending it to the cloud and back -- allowing them to run faster and more effectively. It will also help create opportunities for those smart cities and autonomous driving projects by reducing the time it takes to gain data and make decisions, something called latency.

It is likely early days for this, too.

But one thing you can count on at CES is companies showing off wacky, ambitious concepts and visions for the future. Many will never see the light of day in their demoed form, but the ideas behind them often find ways to appear in other products later on. 

"There are going to be a lot of concepts and ideas at CES," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential.

He added that he expects to see some 5G concepts in the automotive section of the show, but that more phone and IoT 5G ideas will appear at Mobile World Congress next month, where carriers and chip makers take a more active role in showcasing ways to use the technology. "Whereas at CES we see a lot of companies who are realizing trends that are already in the market." 

Despite the absence of huge 5G news at CES 2020, as all four US carriers now offer services for consumers, rollouts are expected to only ramp up -- and do so quickly -- in 2020. Not only will coverage be added to more cities, but it will be expanded across the launch cities, too.

As with years past, you can expect the 5G hype to remain strong at CES, keeping the excitement alive until more concrete headlines appear just a month later. 

From Apple to Samsung: 5G phones available right now

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CNET's Shara Tibken contributed to this report.