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5G at CES 2020: Here’s what you can expect to see at this year’s show

5G will no doubt loom large at CES 2020. We’re now at the point where the technology has real-world applications, and the nation’s carriers are building out their 5G networks as we speak. While the main 5G show won’t happen for another few weeks until Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February, a fair amount of 5G devices and technologies will make their debut in Vegas this week.

To help guide you on what to expect, we’ve come up with a few central themes that we think you should keep your eyes out for during the show. While there might be some surprise revolutionary announcements, a good deal of what we’ll see will be evolutionary and build upon the work of component manufacturers and carriers to prepare for 5G’s long-awaited, broader 2020 rollout.

We’ll update this continuously as we get word of announcements throughout the week, so keep checking back.

5G phones and devices

Qualcomm 5G at CES 2019
Robyn Beck/Getty Images

With MWC — the mobile industry’s premier event — looming, don’t expect to see a wide variety of devices, especially from the bigger manufacturers like Samsung, LG, and others. They’ll likely wait for February to make their 5G announcements.

CES has been known to host device launches from smaller competitors, however. Typically these devices have some standout differentiating features, like foldable screens, specialized sensors, and so forth. On the subject of foldable displays, don’t be shocked to see quite a few of those. Samsung has proven that there is a market for these devices, and others will want to cash in.

TCL gave us a preview of its highly anticipated sub-$500 5G phone, as well as its future plans for 5G here in the U.S. (it’s also working on dozens of foldable phone concepts) — and we should expect many more announcements.

One thing we do expect from just about any mobile phone announced at CES 2020 is 5G support. Where 5G was a novelty feature in 2019, relegated to the most expensive top-tier models, a majority of midrange — and possibly even a few budget phones — will ship with 5G during 2020.

Expect to see devices in all shapes and sizes: New tablets and laptops with 5G built-in (the Lenovo Flex 5G was the first to announce so far), potentially the first 5G Internet of Things (IoT) devices that have long been promised, and 5G in some things that we aren’t even thinking of yet. CES rarely disappoints when it comes to the “wow” factor, and it’s likely some announcements will have a 5G twist.

5G demos, but likely only from T-Mobile

T-Mobile 5G test
T-Mobile’s 5G antenna on top of a building. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We know that at least three of the carriers — T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint — plan to be at the show this year (AT&T is also there, but it appears to be the company’s health care arm). It’s likely that Sprint’s presence there is more in support of T-Mobile, potentially to talk up the 5G benefits of the merger.

Of the two that remain, only T-Mobile has an active 5G network in the city. AT&T recently launched its 5G network, but as we said, it doesn’t appear that its mobile division will be in attendance. We’d expect T-Mobile to give demos of its 5G network in action at the show, and possibly live demonstrations of the gigabit speeds it says it will be able to deliver — which so far generally have been limited to the lab.

There’s an outside chance that Verizon might also show off its 5G offerings — but with its 5G network not commercially available in Las Vegas yet, that seems unlikely. Any 5G demos at CES are likely to come from T-Mobile alone or one of its infrastructure partners.

Then again, T-Mobile’s mmWave deployment in Las Vegas is extremely small, contained to a few casinos on the strip, and limited portions of the downtown (at least that’s what their initial coverage maps showed; the rest is 5G via its 600MHz spectrum, which is slower). We’ll have to wait and see here.

Autonomous cars

Image used with permission by copyright holder

CES has become a lot more automobile-centric, so much that the Detroit Auto Show moved to June because automakers wanted to exhibit at CES instead. Don’t expect too many vehicle-specific announcements, as any that are made will likely have to do with partnerships with technology and component suppliers.

5G should make its way into these announcements in some way. After all, much of the hype surrounding autonomous vehicles focuses on the connectivity between vehicles and centralized networks, which help to make these cars “smarter.”

To this end, we fully expect Daimler chairman Ola Källenius to show off a connected, autonomous car during his Monday evening keynote. The teaser for his keynote promises a vehicle that envisions “a completely new form of interaction between humans, technology, and nature,” so it sounds like something special. It seems likely that this vehicle will use 5G in some form.

A few surprises

Of course, there are likely to be quite a few devices and technologies on the floor using 5G that we might not expect. Given how new 5G still is, don’t expect them to be too groundbreaking — there isn’t enough 5G infrastructure out there to make those kinds of applications possible.

Right now, where we expect most of the surprises would likely be in the IoT space. Building 5G into IoT has long been an aim of 5G proponents, and while 5G networks are in their infancy, we typically see a few concept devices at CES a year or two before they become available broadly

But there could be more. We’ll keep watching our inboxes. The flood of pitches from companies at CES 2020 has only just begun.

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Ed Oswald
For fifteen years, Ed has written about the latest and greatest in gadgets and technology trends. At Digital Trends, he's…
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