Next-generation 5G wireless connectivity is coming — in fact, it's available now in some small pockets in major U.S. cities right now. According to Qualcomm (QCOM) President Cristiano Amon, the successor to our current 4G LTE wireless networks will be up and running in all metropolitan areas by next year.
"We are at the very beginning of a new technology transition, and like with every technology transition, networks have to be built, you have to have coverage," Amon told Yahoo Finance's On The Move on Wednesday. "However, what is great about this time is that we accelerated 5G by a year, and the device ecosystem is ready."
But it will take time before 5G reaches the ubiquity of today's 4G LTE connections.
The phones are coming
Qualcomm has a massive amount of skin in the 5G game. The firm, which produces modems and chips for smartphones, has been hurt as users hold on to their handsets longer. But 5G, which will require everyone to retire their 4G phones for ones with 5G capabilities, is all but certain to be a boon for Qualcomm's bottom line.
During its investor day in New York, the company said there will be 450 million 5G smartphones to be sold in 2021, and as many as 750 million in 2022. According to Gartner, Inc., 1.6 billion smartphones were sold worldwide in 2018.
Currently, there is just a small number of 5G-capable smartphones on the market. Samsung's Galaxy S10, Galaxy Note10, and Galaxy Fold are all available in 5G variants, but they're also pricier than their 4G contemporaries. The Galaxy S10 with 5G costs $1,299, while the standard S10 starts at $899.
Samsung gives the S10 5G a larger display and additional cameras to help make up for the price difference, but it's the only option you have in the company's flagship line that is capable of connecting to a 5G network.
The Note10+, meanwhile, starts at $1,099 versus the Galaxy Note10+ 5G, which starts at $1,299.
All of that is to say, you're going to have to pay a significant premium on 5G smartphones for the foreseeable future.
It will take time to get nationwide 5G
Each of The Big Four wireless carriers, which will be The Big 3, once T-Mobile (TMUS) and Sprint (S) complete their merger, are working to roll out 5G as fast as possible to snag the title of carrier with the largest 5G network. But that process will take some time.
(Verizon (VZ) is the parent company of Yahoo Finance.)
Right now, 5G connectivity is limited to small areas of large cities. In the case of super high-speed 5G running on millimeter wave technology, that range can be incredibly limited, meaning carriers have to blanket entire cities with a massive number of millimeter wave nodes.
Mid-band and low-band 5G will enable connectivity at further distances, but won't be as fast as millimeter wave connections. That's not to say they won't blow away our current 4G LTE speeds — they certainly will — but they won't touch those insanely high advertised speeds promised in 5G ads.
Either way, getting 5G towers and nodes set up around the country is going to take some time. The original rollout for 4G LTE took several years until it reached what we have today, and there are still some areas that can't get high-speed connections.
However, according to Amon, 5G's rollout could be faster than what we saw out of the carriers as they built their 4G networks.
"We just launched, the coverage areas are being built," Amon said. "But I will say the transition is faster than what we saw with 4G."
There's no doubt that 5G is coming. More cities and areas are getting the technology each month. Still, full ubiquity is still a way off.
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