News Feature | February 26, 2019

The Week In 5G: 2/26/2019 – Sprint Rolls Out 5G In May, Device Makers Strut 5G Tech At MWC

By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq


Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019, the world's biggest mobile trade show, kicked off in Barcelona with 5G technology taking the limelight, as expected.

Sprint announced at the event that its 5G network will go live this May for customers in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City. The carrier's subscribers in the cities of Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington also will get 5G by mid-2019.

Initially, the launch in Dallas will include "approximately 230 square miles spanning the greater Dallas Fort Worth area," while the launch in New York will cover "nearly 30 square miles covering Midtown and lower Manhattan," according to USA Today.

Sprint also unveiled its first 5G phone, the LG V50 ThinQ 5G, which features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, Qualcomm X50 modem, and a 4,000mAh battery — which LG claims can more than handle the additional 20 percent hit to battery life when using 5G, reported PC World. The carrier also introduced the HTC 5G Hub, a mobile hotspot that links up to 20 devices connected to Sprint's upcoming 5G network; it is being marketed as an alternative to traditional home broadband. Sprint did not announce specific release dates for either the LG phone or the HTC device.

Also, Sprint will carry Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G later in the year. Samsung let MWC attendees handle some units, which feature a 6.7-inch screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip inside, and four rear cameras, including a 3D depth-sensing lens for Live Focus Video that lets you adjust background blur. CNET was able to stream a baseball game over Samsung's 5G network at the show, and the phone made it possible to pinch and zoom in on a player, as well as change the view around the player — in real time, without buffering or freezing. On the other hand, Samsung's foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold with 5G connectivity, was displayed in a thick glass-enclosed case at MWC, one week after its unveiling at an event in San Francisco.

Huawei won't be left behind in the foldable phone craze, though. The Chinese company unveiled a thinner (11mm, versus 17mm), bigger (8 inches across, compared to 6.7 inches), and — arguably — "flatter" foldable phone than Samsung's device. Huawei's Mate X is marketed as an exclusively 5G device that is more like an enterprise tool, featuring high-speed downloads, fast charging speeds, and superior encryption for more privacy and security, reported ZDNet. Huawei also showcased a 5G mobile hotspot, along with a few Internet of Things (IoT) and connected home devices.

ZTE announced its own 5G phone, as well. The Axon 10 Pro is equipped with a Snapdragon 855 processor, an on-screen fingerprint scanner, and three cameras enhanced with artificial intelligence. According to CNET, the Axon 10 Pro 5G will be available in the first half of this year in Europe and China, and ZTE is working with eight international carriers in 5G trials.

Oppo also announced its first 5G phone, which will be powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 processor and X50 modem, as well. To differentiate from the competition, Oppo included a 48-megapixel camera with 10x lossless zoom, a feature that will make photo details crisper even when shot from long distance. The unnamed phone will be available in Q2 2019 to four carriers: Swisscom, Australia's Telstra and Optus, and Singtel in Singapore, according to CNET. China Mobile will carry the device this summer.

China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone carrier by number of subscribers, is partnering with TCL to launch a 5G USB data terminal in the second quarter of 2019, reported Venture Beat. Earlier, TCL debuted a 5G software implementation for European and Asian markets based on open-source project OpenAirInterface, as well as its own flexible smartphone.

OnePlus showed a prototype connected to a local 5G base station with a mmWave connection, reported The Verge. The Chinese phone maker displayed the device in a thick plastic case and provided little information, other than stating the device could hit a maximum speed of 500 Mbps. The company did let guests play a game of Ace Combat 7 using the 5G connection at the booth. OnePlus plans to launch the device first on United Kingdom carrier EE and Finnish carrier Elisa during the second quarter of the year, although it won't be available in the United States at that time.

Also at MWC, Qualcomm confirmed it is pairing its second-generation 5G modem, the X55, with its 8cx processor for always-connected PCs, reported CNET. Lenovo, Qualcomm's first partner for the 8cx platform, said it will be first to have a Snapdragon-enabled 5G PC on the market early in 2020.

In other news, tech startup Common Networks plans to take on established internet providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, through the use of open-source and millimeter wave technology. According to a Wired article, Common Networks uses devices based on Terragraph — a hardware design Facebook open-sourced as part of its Telecom Infrastructure Project — to transmit 5G signals to nearby Terragraph devices installed on buildings’ roofs. By using open-source hardware and software, and tapping into less-used spectrum, the startup said it can slash infrastructure costs significantly and compete with the big guns in internet connectivity.

By 2025, 15 percent of the global mobile industry will run on 5G technology, and 5G will contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years, reports The Mobile Economy 2019, per Forbes. With massive growth come serious threats, though. Security researchers have discovered vulnerabilities in 4G and 5G systems that could be used to intercept phone calls and track someone's location, according to Engadget. One potential attack, dubbed "Torpedo," allows one to track a device's location without alerting the user. Another attack, called "Piercer," reveals the unique IMSI number attached to a user, which lets hackers snoop on calls and track one's location.

TechCrunch reported that Mariya Gabriel, European commissioner for digital economy and society, said during her scheduled keynote at MWC that cybersecurity needs to be prioritized as 5G starts to connect practically everything and society becomes more reliant on the technology. She said the EU is prepared to take the lead in tackling 5G cybersecurity matters.

She reportedly told attendees, “when 5G services become mission critical, 5G networks need to be secure.” Alluding to the ongoing tension between China and the U.S., Gabriel said she is well aware of the "unrest among all of you key actors in the telecoms sectors caused by the ongoing discussions around the cybersecurity of 5G… Let me reassure you: The Commission takes your view very seriously. Because you need to run these systems everyday."