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CES 2021: The Dial's Not Moving on 5G

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"The future of streaming is the current reality of entertainment," said Verizon chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg during a CES2021 keynote. "This shift is happening as the most powerful world changing tech is becoming available in more and places. 5G is an innovation platform that makes other innovations possible."

Despite the focus on 5G throughout much of CES, few companies could demonstrate actual game changing 5G applications.

Verizon is busy equipping NFL stadiums with 5G networks, including at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla, which will host Super Bowl LV. Vestberg said fans with a Verizon 5G device will be able use the "SuperStadium in the NFL" app to check out different camera angles of the game and use AR features for player stats. Vestberg said Verizon is also working with the other sports leagues as well.

With spectators currently locked out of stadiums, however, no one will experience "how AR can transform the way we enjoy sports," said Vestberg, "or the way we visit museums and interact with the world around us."

Similarly, Verizon's pact with Live Nation to outfit 15 venues including the Fillmore in Miami, and the Masonic Theater in San Francisco with 5G for the consumption of music fans will be temporarily blunted.

With everyone stuck at home, it will be next-gen Wi-Fi 6 that will arguably have more impact in terms of connectivity than 5G, which is largely for applications getting to and within city centers which of course very few are doing just now.

Verizon is also deploying mobile edge compute (MEC) in private MECs with Microsoft and public MECs with AWS in 10 U.S. locations including Miami and Denver.

"We are taking processing out of expensive hardware and putting it exactly where and when it is needed," said Vestberg. "[Also] 5G network slicing allows all kinds of different traffic including movie streaming optimised for that specific use." 

An IHS Markit 2020 5G Economy Study commissioned by Qualcomm forecasts that there will be 22.8 million 5G-related jobs and $13.1 trillion in global sales enablement by 2035. 

"5G is going to go into and power everything we're doing this decade," said CTA VP Steve Koenig. "5G is going to underpin the entire economy. It's going to create a lot of jobs that will be directly attributable to it."

Samsung America's VP of mobile product management Drew Blackard insisted 5G and edge computing will bring to life a variety of new use cases behind the scenes, especially in the IoT and connected devices space for businesses and in the home.  

"The 4G network of today can't handle this need for computing at the edge," he told a CES panel. "Partnerships are essential in powering meaningful 5G use cases. 5G is not a 'single-player' concept because it requires infrastructure, devices, and content and services." 

With Mobile World Congress delayed, Samsung hijacked the last day of CES to unload its "Unpacked" event and officially launch the Galaxy S21 Android phones.

"It is becoming increasingly harder for smartphone manufacturers to differentiate devices," says analyst Paolo Pescatore of PPaolo Pescatore of PP Foresight. "Hence, we are now seeing a huge focus on significantly improving existing features, improving user experiences, and making devices future proof with new formats." 

Among these is the ability for the S21 to record 8K video. The screen's refresh rate adjusts from 10Hz to 120Hz depending on content. Four cameras on the rear include a 108MP sensor, and the ability to shoot in 4K at 60fps. At CES the vendor also unveiled new flagship TVs branded Neo QLED in 8K and 4K.

"Samsung is seeking to own the 8K space with both the larger screen in the living room and on mobile devices," added Pescatore.

The addition of Wi-Fi 6e support also helps future proof the device. However, says Pescatore, it is early days for this network technology and will need broader support including compatible routers. 

"Wi-Fi 6e comes at an important time as more people are stuck at home working remotely while having to keeping all entertained," he says. "It will be as important as 5G in delivering robust, reliable, and faster connections to users. All of this points to the growing importance of fiber and gigabit connectivity to help power people's insatiable appetite for data and serve new uses." 

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