January 12, 2018 7:24 am JST

Tech and media giants poised to scramble for the 5G future

Faster wireless networks could usher in remote-controlled cars, instant access to content

TOYOKI NAKANISHI, Nikkei staff writer

5G networks could be the star of next year's CES.

LAS VEGAS, U.S. -- With super-fast 5G wireless data service on the horizon for everything from cell phones to networked cars and devices, service providers and equipment makers alike are angling for their piece of a vast market.

Once the next-generation transmission standards make their debut, consumption of video content will jump even more with the proliferation of mobile devices, John Martin, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, told an audience at the CES technology trade expo here Wednesday.

The premium television unit of American entertainment conglomerate Time Warner has seen a sizable number of its customers defect to online streaming services such as Netflix in recent years. But the dawn of 5G service, the company believes, could help it regain control of the content market.

Cell service provider AT&T is angling to acquire Time Warner, bringing together media production and transmission under the same banner. The 5G network, which AT&T plans to roll out in at least 10 U.S. markets by the latter half of 2018, will make Time Warner's content far more accessible to mobile users: A two-hour film that takes six minutes to download over 4G will take just 3.6 seconds over 5G. This speed will even enable users to obtain huge virtual reality video files on the go.

Rival carrier Verizon Wireless is also working to bring 5G service to market.

Everything online

The advantages of 5G speed go well beyond fast downloads. Once the service arrives, "everything is going to be wireless," said Cristiano Amon, president of U.S. telecommunications equipment maker Qualcomm. Faster networks will play a critical role in self-driving cars, for example, letting vehicles upload running data to the cloud on the fly.

Qualcomm has enjoyed rapid growth in the past thanks to a strong presence in smartphone chips. But the pace of growth is slackening as the smartphone market matures and upstarts such as Nvidia, specializing in artificial intelligence chips, jump into the fray. Putting its 5G technologies in devices other than smartphones could help Qualcomm recoup, the company believes.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics, meanwhile, has announced it is working with American subsidiary Harman on connected automotive devices relying on 5G transmission. Israel's Phantom Auto has demonstrated a remote-controlled car on public roads in anticipation of the technology.

A fast mobile data link could also be used to pilot robots into places inhospitable to humans, such as the site of a nuclear accident. Sweden's Ericsson is testing remote-control manufacturing robots in partnership with two Italian robotics outfits.

Innovations in artificial intelligence and automation drew the most attention at this year's CES. But 5G technology could well dominate future shows. Experts presenting on the new standards say they will come into practical use in 2019 or 2020, propelling further development in a host of other high-tech fields.

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