There’s a very good chance the phone you own right now has a 5G modem inside, and a similarly good chance you connect to a 5G signal on a somewhat regular basis, depending on where you live. We’ve already been sold on the speed benefits that come with a 5G connection, but what is there to look forward to in 2022 when it comes to 5G?

We asked experts from Qualcomm, AT&T, Verizon, and others to give us predictions about how 5G will advance over the coming year, and what exciting new developments the technology will drive. If you were struggling to get excited over 5G, prepare to think a little differently from now on, as plans encompass everything from better connectivity and new devices to autonomous cars and the opening the metaverse.

The big picture

Before we drill down into specifics, Qualcomm’s Enrico Salvatori, senior vice president and president of Qualcomm Europe, succinctly sums up how the industry is approaching 5G in 2022, and gave us an overview of what to expect.

From left Ben Wood (CCS Insight), Enrico Salvatori (Qualcomm), David Christopher (AT&T), and Frank Boulben (Verizon).
From left: Ben Wood (CCS Insight), Enrico Salvatori (Qualcomm), David Christopher (AT&T), and Frank Boulben (Verizon).

“2022 is going to be an exciting year for 5G, with lots of progress in both 5G handsets and networks, which will further enhance the 5G experience for consumers,” Salvatori told Digital Trends in an email. “In 2021, we had over 170 commercial 5G networks launched by operators globally, with more than 75 of those in Europe. In 2022, 5G will become even more widespread, and we will start to see operators launching 5G stand-alone networks, delivering even more incredible speeds and quality of service to consumers. As demand for even more speed and unique use cases grows, we will see more 5G mmWave launches in Europe in 2022, expanding consumer and enterprise 5G use cases.”

David Christopher, executive vice president and general manager for Partnerships and 5G Ecosystem Development at AT&T, agrees that 2022 will be an exciting year for 5G, but adds that it’s also a short period of time in what he calls the “5G Decade.”

“The next 12 months is a short amount of time in the context of a ‘5G Decade’ that will be incredibly transformational and disruptive. Innovation is accelerating and will continue in 2022. Big trends that will take the decade or more to play out will continue their maturation and we’ll see interesting advancements in 2022.”

The scene has been set, and expectations are high, but what about specifics? Let’s look more closely at 5G in 2022.

Speed and technology

At the moment, most of us associate 5G with increased data speeds, so will these change and improve over the coming year? Not exactly, but don’t take this as a bad thing. AT&T’s Christopher told us. “We’ll see big increases in speed in the next few years, with multi-Gbps home connections and 200Mbps, or even 300Mbps, on devices nationwide,” He added that “5G’s super-low latency will become more the norm.”

Galaxy Fold 5G Speed test
Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Ben Wood, chief analyst and chief marketing officer at CCS Insight, agreed, telling Digital Trends that “2022 won’t be about 5G being faster, but actually more about it being smarter, more flexible, and therefore more powerful as a technology. One important milestone will be the transition from non-stand-alone 5G to stand-alone 5G, which will provide some performance improvements, for example, lower latency.”

So while 5G speed increases will come, don’t expect to see much difference over the next 12 months. But do look out for changes in where you use 5G, and also for latency to improve. Wood also spoke about how 5G’s underlying technology would change this year.

“The next big development from a specification perspective will be the arrival of Release 16 of the 5G standard. This will improve 5G connectivity in several ways, such as multiuser MIMO [multiple input, multiple output], much like Wi-Fi 6 offers, uplink aggregation to improve speeds, as well as improvements in latency for ultra-reliable applications.”

The U.K.’s EE network sees improvements on how 5G works indoors as being in the cards for the year, according to a spokesperson: “We’ll see the continued rol out of 700MHz 5G spectrum, which will strengthen indoor 5G performance and capacity in areas with existing 5G, as well as deliver new connectivity in other areas.”

Mass market, more phones

Talk of network latency, additional spectrum, and new standards doesn’t sound very exciting, but there’s considerable expectation that all this and more will mean 5G reaches more people, and therefore the mass market, this year. EE’s spokesperson told Digital Trends that “the mass-adoption and awareness of 5G is really going to start accelerating next year.”

Two of the best 5G phones, the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Two of the best 5G phones, the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

CCS Insight’s Wood agrees. “We believe that 2022 is poised to be the year when 5G becomes a mass-market offering, with strong adoption of 5G-capable smartphones and more comprehensive network coverage,” he said.

Should it do so, more 5G devices are inevitable. Qualcomm, perhaps unsurprisingly given its business, predicts that because of how 5G will change over the next year, we will have even more reasons to upgrade to a 5G device if we haven’t done so already. Salvatori told us: “On the handset side, we will see some exciting launches in 2022, especially in premium-tier Android smartphones.”

Wood adds that the increased awareness of 5G in 2022 won’t only impact smartphones. “We also believe there’ll be growing momentum with business users who will start to see the benefits 5G can offer, for example, with cellular-enabled laptops,” he said.

At-home 5G

T-Mobile 5G home internet.
T-Mobile

Mobile devices, whether they are phones or laptops, aren’t the only things likely to get a 5G makeover in 2022. If carriers have their way, your home will be equipped with 5G this year, too. Frank Boulben, Verizon’s chief revenue 0fficer, lays out how its Ultra Wideband network, the name given to its mmWave 5G service, has the potential to change at-home broadband for the better this year.

“With the expansion of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, we are on the cusp of a digital revolution that will change the way we use technology in our everyday lives,” he enthused in a lengthy email to Digital Trends. “We’re talking more than just faster phone speeds — this is about major growth in nationwide broadband capabilities, allowing for more home internet options so you can experience game-changing connectivity and speeds for work, play and everything in-between.  By the end of January, Verizon’s 5G UltraWide network will be accessible to 100 million people in 1,700 cities, giving so many more people the opportunity to enjoy the power and benefits of 5G in their homes.”

We’re talking more than just faster phone speeds — this is about major growth in nationwide broadband capabilities …

Boulben says Verizon’s Ultra Wideband service will provide data speeds 10x faster than a 4G LTE connection, a greater level of security, low enough latency for seamless 5G cloud gaming, and a setup that’s easier and faster than other home internet systems.

Wilson Electronics, which produces cellular repeaters, says investment in midband spectrum will help boost at-home 5G.

“Cell phones have historically operated on low-band signal, but as 5G proliferates, 2022 will see a huge rollout of midband signal,” Wilson Electronics CEO Bruce Lancaster told Digital Trends. “Carriers have been making major investments in midband technology for one particular use case: Fixed wireless replacement. The ability to access the internet at your home and/or business through only a wireless connection will be made possible with midband technology, and will benefit customers with faster speeds at low costs as carriers scramble to compete on price.”

Automotive

A 5G Connected Car demonstration.
NurPhoto/Getty Images

In 2022, you could leave your 5G home with your 5G phone and laptop, and step into your 5G connected car. At least, that’s the vision of the near future from Qualcomm and AT&T. Qualcomm’s Salvatori says that along with the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G will have a big impact on automotive tech both this year and further into the future.

“In 2022, we will see the first cars coming to market with 5G capabilities enabled by Snapdragon,” he revealed, before giving us a glimpse into the future. “Looking ahead, we see massive screens throughout the car’s cockpit, augmented reality and premium audio systems, along with smart mirrors and [A.I.]-driven experiences. High-speed cloud connectivity will deliver immersive content, services, and advanced navigation, all updated over the air to keep the experience fresh and engaging for consumers. Passengers may stream 4K videos, live television and sports, or enjoy multiplayer gaming experiences that rival desktop PCs and consoles.”

In 2022, we will see the first cars coming to market with 5G capabilities enabled by Snapdragon.

Staying with cars, Christopher says AT&T is looking at how 5G will push autonomous cars forward in 2022 and over the next few years.

“While we’ll still be driving cars in 2022, not have them drive us, autonomous vehicles may become more common,” Christopher said. “Delivery vehicles and trucks on freeways could start to emerge and be connected to each other and the road by 5G. Your pizza might arrive autonomously — in fact, this is already being tested in Houston and we could see this extend in 2022. Your package could be delivered without a human. If it can move slow on the road, it might move fast in development,” he said.

Gaming, augmented reality, and the metaverse

CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduces Meta.
Meta

Christopher is also excited about the potential for 5G to bring about advancements in two technologies we’re only just starting to understand: augmented reality (AR) and the metaverse.

“We’ll see the first version of AR glasses in the next year or so that are available to consumers and look normal,” he predicts. This is key to adoption, as most smart glasses today are cumbersome and unattractive. As AR and virtual reality (VR) become more mainstream, Christopher expects that “games will become more immersive … and low-latency, high speed 5G networks [will allow] devices to be tether-free. Console-free gaming will also be a trend that continues to evolve in 2022.”

Looking further into the future, and linking back to what he called the 5G Decade, Christopher also talked about how 5G will help the metaverse come to life.

“Fully immersed gaming will emerge inside the metaverse,” he said. “Whether in a virtual world, at home, or gaming in the real world with virtual objects all around you, games will not be constrained by your phone or a console, but instead played in the real world. Low latency, glitch-free networks will power thousands of connected devices all around the world.”

Looking forward to 5G in 2022

Qualcomm 5G logo.

While 5G has taken a little while to get started, these predictions show it will likely have a greater influence on our lives in 2022 — whether it’s on our phones or in our homes, or if we’re using a 5G connection to play games or run a business. New 5G phones, more 5G laptops, the first truly wearable everyday AR smart glasses, advancements in connected cars, better cloud gaming, and kickstarting the metaverse are all possible this year, according to those in the know — and it’s hard not to be excited by the prospect.

AT&T’s Christopher said “2022 will be a pivotal year for the development of 5G,” and added that he “couldn’t be more excited about where [AT&T is] taking consumer experiences this year.”

We’ll let Qualcomm’s Salvatori have the last word. He concluded that “5G is truly revolutionary, but it is the further evolution of the technology that is even more exciting, and we can expect to see much of that coming to life in 2022.”

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