By: JEREMY HORWITZ
Despite what some cynics have said, 2019 was a pretty good first year for 5G, the next-generation cellular standard. Carriers successfully launched early 5G networks a year ahead of the original schedule, multiple devices became available for purchase — without any HTC ThunderBolt-style debacles — and consumers signed up for 5G data plans faster than they did for early 4G. South Korea and China already have millions of 5G subscribers, though U.S., Australian, and European numbers aren’t as clear.
That ambiguity is the product of two issues. First, carriers in many countries — including the U.S. — haven’t set up separate 5G plans for users, instead offering 5G free to customers on existing “unlimited” 4G plans. Second, the vast majority of customers have held off on purchasing 5G hardware while governments, carriers, and phone makers sort out early performance questions and hiccups.