Quicktake: are 5G smartphones reality or hype?

Samsung unveiled its 5G smartphone becoming the first major manufacturer of the next-generation device

Drew Blackard, senior director of product marketing & portfolio strategy for Samsung Electronics Co., speaks during the Samsung Unpacked launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. Samsung debuted its most extensive new lineup of smartphones, taking on Apple Inc. amid a slowing market with new low-end and premium models, 3-D cameras, an in-screen fingerprint scanner and faster 5G connectivity. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

After years of hype about ultra-high speeds, 5G is finally becoming a reality in 2019. With the launch of its flagship smartphone S10 5G in San Francisco Wednesday, Samsung became the first major manufacturer to introduce this next-generation device.

The National takes a look at why this is significant for the tech industry and society.

What is a 5G smartphone?

A 5G smartphone can support a network that will be ten times faster than the current network, known as 4G. Its speed will enable real time video streaming, powerful mobile hot-spotting, better gaming experiences and augmented reality services.

Where does 5G stand today?

Service providers such as Vodafone, Orange, Verizon and Etisalat plan to roll out 5G, which refers to fifth-generation wireless networks, in 2019. Samsung has partnered with different mobile network operators in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK, and plans to roll out Galaxy S10 5G phone across Europe this summer.

Who else is in the race?

After Samsung, some other big brands are also expected to announce 5G smartphones next week at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. South Korean company LG and Chinese firm Huawei have already announced that they will launch their first 5G phones in the first half of 2019. Other big brands like Lenovo, Motorola, HTC and OnePlus are also expected to announce big in the coming months. American telcos Verizon and AT&T have announced plans to build 5G phones with Samsung this year.

How is the UAE placed?

Etisalat, the UAE's biggest telecom operator, has already announced its readiness to provide 5G service to all of its customers in 2019. It plans to build 300 5G towers in the first half of 2019, providing the infrastructure and network to support all 5G devices launched by global mobile device manufacturers like Ericsson and Samsung. Another UAE telco Du has announced its plans to boost capital expenditure by up to 40 per cent this year as it accelerates investment in 5G networks.

Is 5G hype a short-lived bubble?

Industry experts say that hype around 5G smartphones is real.

"5G is poised to change the game in 2019," Sam Blatteis, chief executive of The Mena Catalysts, which advises technology companies on policy and government affairs in the region, told The National.

Only 5G devices with 5G-specific networks will be able to deliver theoretical download speeds 100 or even 1,000 times faster than current 4G LTE networks, added Mr Blatteis.