USA TODAY US Edition
If you are going 5G ... Look first to PCs, not phones
FOSTER CITY, Calif. – Ask anyone who knows the least bit about tech, and they’ll probably tell you that 5G is all about smartphones. Well, eventually, sure, but don’t be surprised if the first device you buy with support for the next-generation wireless network built-in is in fact a notebook PC.
In case you haven’t heard, PCs are on a roll. Big tech market research firms IDC and Gartner announced recently that worldwide PC shipments increased in 2019 – it’s the first time that has happened since 2011. On top of that, some of the most interesting announcements from this year’s CES show were related to PCs.
Looking for foldable displays, accelerated AI functions, sustainable manufacturing techniques and, oh yeah, support for 5G? The latest-generation PCs that deliver on those fronts – along with greatly accelerated performance driven by a wider range of powerful chips than we’ve ever seen from companies such as Intel, AMD and Qualcomm.
The first announced device to support the complete 5G standard – that is both the millimeter wave (mmWave) and sub-6 GHz variations isn’t a smartphone, it’s Lenovo’s Yoga 5G. This new laptop PC, first announced at CES, features an ARM-powered chip from Qualcomm called the 8cx as well as a Qualcomm 5G modem.
Yes, we’ll see smartphones that support the full 5G standard soon (and some of them may ship before the Lenovo Yoga 5G does). However, the fact that the first “fully 5G” device is a PC says a lot about the state of innovation that’s been occurring in the PC industry over the past few years.
At the same time, what’s particularly interesting about 5G in PCs is that they don’t need support for the full 5G standard to benefit from the fast, new wireless connections that fifth-generation networks enable.
Most PCs are used indoors, which means they’re best suited to working with the “sub-6” variant of 5G, which can easily penetrate building walls and windows, just as 4G LTE signals currently do.
Smartphones, on the other hand, are used all over the place – indoors and outdoors – and can potentially benefit from both sub-6 and mmWave 5G signals, which primarily are available in outdoor environments.
For this reason, most of the 5G-enabled PCs announced at CES – including models from HP and Dell, as well as other models from Lenovo – support only sub-6 5G, in part because of the complexity of making mmWave work inside a PC but also because of the potential battery drain from the technology.
Unlike with smartphones, this limitation is actually OK with PCs because it’s the only technology that PC users will need in most situations.
Plus, it’s a much better match to the availability of 5G services in the USA. Sub-6 5G signals are the ones that carriers such as T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint use to make 5G service available to a wider range of customers because the technology enables significantly broader coverage of 5G than mmWave does (albeit, at much lower speeds).
Even the speed limitations aren’t that big of a deal for PC users because most have had no experience with a cellular-connected PC – remember that 4G and 5G cellular service is very different from Wi
That the first “fully 5G” device is a PC says a lot about the state of innovation in the PC industry.