The deployment of superfast 5G networks is supposed to usher in a new era for so much more than the smartphone—everything from enhanced virtual-reality video games to remote heart surgery. That vision has been slow to come into focus, but the first wave of 5G-enabled gadgets is emerging.
Among the first uses of 5G to hit the consumer market is the delivery of home broadband internet service for the ultimate cord-cutters: those looking to not just shed their cable-TV bills but abandon Internet access via wires altogether. Samsung Electronics Co., for instance, has teamed up with Verizon Communications Inc. to offer wireless 5G routers that promise to deliver at-home broadband access. The router picks up 5G signals just like a smartphone would.
Other consumer devices that have started to come on the market include 5G-compatible laptops from several makers, all of which are faster than other laptops and offer higher-quality video viewing, when connected to a 5G network. (Laptops need to have a 5G chip to make that connection.)
Among the latest: Lenovo Group Ltd. in August teamed up with AT&T Inc. to release a 5G laptop, the ThinkPad X13 5G. The device, which began shipping last month, comes with a 13.3-inch screen and retails for around $1,500. Samsung in June also introduced a new laptop offering 5G connectivity. The Galaxy Book Go 5G has a 14-inch screen, and sells for about $800.
OK, but what if you want a 5G connection on your yacht, miles offshore? You’re in luck. Meridian 5G, a Monaco-based provider of internet services for superyachts—the really big ones—advertises what it calls a 5G Dome Router, a combination of antennas and modems that allows yachts sailing within about 60 miles of the coast to access 5G connectivity. The hardware costs upward of about $17,000 for an average-size superyacht.
Of course, all of these gadgets are only useful where 5G networks are available, which still doesn’t include a lot of places, onshore or off. That’s also true for new drone technology unveiled in August by Qualcomm Inc. with 5G and artificial-intelligence capabilities. The technology, called the Qualcomm Flight RB5 5G Platform, enables higher-quality photo and video collection, the company says.
Drones equipped with the 5G technology can be used across a range of industries, among them movie-making, mapping, and emergency services like firefighting, Qualcomm notes. For instance, because of the new camera technology enabled by 5G, the drones can be used for mapping of large areas of land and rapidly transferring the data for analysis and processing.
Proponents of 5G technology have long said it would remake much of day-to-day life, advancing the so-called Internet of Things to a point where just about any device you can name—home and office appliances, industrial equipment, hospital equipment, vehicles, etc.—would be connected to the internet and exchanging data with the cloud at speeds that would allow new capabilities.
"The goal of 5G, when we have a mature 5G network globally, is going to be to ensure that everything is connected to the cloud 100% of the time," Qualcomm Chief Executive Officer Cristiano Amon said at a conference last month in Germany.
But the widespread emergence of 5G devices will take years, analysts say, as network coverage expands and markets develop for all those advanced new products.