Samsung, Qualcomm 5G phone prototypes tease our mobile future

5G phones and mobile networks are real — Samsung and Qualcomm showed us two prototype designs for future 5G phones.

Qualcomm is hosting its Snapdragon Technology Summit this week in Maui, Hawaii, where the company has gathered partners to talk up their plans for 5G in 2019. Among the companies the mobile chip giant invited: Samsung, Verizon and AT&T.

Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon on Tuesday showed off a 5G prototype device that can access “live” 5G networks running at the Grand Wailea Hotel, the location of conference. It’s powered by Verizon and AT&T. The 350 journalists in attendance weren’t given an opportunity to try out the devices, but we did get a chance to see them. Curated demos showed off the network’s capabilities.

5G “will lay the foundation for smartphones, later cars and virtually every electronic device that will be connected,” Amon said during a keynote. “That first step (smartphones) is getting to us in the first half of 2019.”

5G, the next generation of cellular technology, is expected to significantly boost the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can run between 10 and 100 times faster than your typical cellular connection today, and even quicker than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house. It will also speed up how fast a device will connect to the network with speeds as quick as a millisecond to start your download or upload.

The overall speed gains mean that phones will be better equipped to handle complex computing tasks in a fraction of the time they currently take. This could make advanced photography skills, artificial intelligence actions and augmented reality apps possible; today’s handsets would take far too long to process those tasks. 5G technology will also allow driverless cars and buses to talk to each other, and to communicate with smart street lights and other vehicles on the road.

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Samsung’s 5G prototype design never left its dock.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

While 5G technology will put more capable devices in your hands, it also presents an opportunity for device makers and carriers to profit. 5G requires specialized hardware, so it won’t just “work” in any city, or with your current phone. The service providers with the largest 5G networks, and handset makers with the most feature-packed 5G phones, hope to snatch customers as rival carriers and brands struggle to catch up. 5G service plans and 5G-ready phones could also sell for a premium alongside “regular” LTE plans and devices.

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