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Now, the topic 5G is really picking up speed: At several technology tradeshows in spring, numerous hardware suppliers presented or at least announced the first 5G devices. It almost seems as though the competition between device providers and network providers is easing, helping to ensure that 5G will be available faster than experts expect.

For example, the Swiss provider Sunrise plans to go on air with 5G as early as mid-March and offer broadband coverage at home (fixed wireless access), advertised as "fiber optic through the air". After the first 5G test transmissions took place in Austria and the current 5G frequency auction concluded on 7 March, live operation could soon start as well.

The start of 5G in Germany would also be possible in the second half of the year – independent of the upcoming auction. Following the final switch from DVB-T to DVB-T2 on 23 May, the frequencies already allocated in 2015 in the 700 MHz band will be available in Germany. Deutsche Telekom has already applied for the early use of the frequency range for 5G and LTE and Claudia Nemat, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, announced the first commercial 5G applications for 2019.

Consumer area as driver: Smartphones for 5G

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, smartphones for the new 5G mobile communications standard were naturally the focus of visitor interest. The range extends from flagship to low-cost, entry-level models. In some cases, only prototypes and technology demonstrations were shown in Barcelona.

A brief overview of the highlights and initial findings: The Huawei Mate X with folding display is the absolute price leader. With the Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G, the Koreans also have a folding-display entry. Samsung has also announced the Galaxy S10 5G, a further development of the previous LTE model.

This shows the problem of the early 5G models: There are no integrated 5G SoCs yet, so an additional modem chip like the Snapdragon X50 has to be installed. In addition, the antenna modules are not optimized yet and need additional space. Larger batteries are also required. Not only are the external dimensions of the S10 5G larger, the SD card slot also had to be omitted. This model will also be released in the coming quarter.

The industry gets involved earlier than usual

In addition to smartphones, Barcelona has already seen numerous non-consumer applications and concept studies around 5G. Campus networks are particularly interesting for industry, i.e., a company's private network independent of the major mobile network providers, which are positioning themselves as service providers for such applications. For example, Deutsche Telekom already has its first pilot customer in Osram. The Munich production site, south of Augsburg, is currently still operated with LTE and will soon be converted to 5G.

In particular, network slicing – which will be possible with 5G – is the focus of the test operation, which includes the networking of sensors and production systems as well as the control of autonomous transport robots.

Augmented and Virtual Reality will benefit

The 5G pioneers also see applications that go beyond pure data transmission in the linking of mobile communications with edge computing, i.e., computer capacities in data centers - or even directly in the base station of the mobile cell. Applications for augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and game graphics could then be taken over by powerful computers; only the results are transmitted to the user almost without delay - thanks to the low latency of 5G.

The HTC 5G Hub was the first hardware demonstration at the MWC. A fast graphics computer, which can be placed on the 5G base station, provided the data for a VR application on a Vive Focus Plus headset via a hub. The integrated graphics of the headset are not sufficient for complex games. AR and VR applications in telemedicine or industry, for example for complex repairs or remote maintenance, could also be implemented according to the same principle.

ZTE also showed its industry orientation with its 5G demo. Here one could experience the coordination of several robots in the production process via edge computing, as well as the human-machine collaboration.