5G, virtual reality, IoT poised to dominate CES 2017

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show is shaping up as a sort of coming-out party for 5G, but it remains to be seen whether the technology will live up to the increasingly noisy level of hype.

The annual CES show kicks off this week in Las Vegas, and it typically attracts technology companies from one end of the industry to the other. Events at the show generally stretch from one end of the Vegas strip to the other, show topics range from high-definition TVs to cutting-edge wireless technologies, and more than 100,000 attendees from all over the world make CES the tech industry’s main, massive, exhausting trade show.

This year, a wide range of companies are poised to put 5G network technology front and center. Qualcomm’s CEO Steve Mollenkopf will make 5G a centerpiece of his keynote address on Friday, while executives from Verizon, Ericsson, Sprint, 20th Century Fox Film Corp., SK Telecom and others will also discuss the move to the next-generation technology in a number of different CES panels and sessions.

Further, Intel and Ericsson have promised to show off a 5G virtual reality sports demonstration using Intel’s Voke 360 camera and Ericsson’s pre-standard 5G technology network.

And both AT&T and, potentially, T-Mobile have set themselves up to outline their own 5G efforts. AT&T is holding its annual developer’s conference on Wednesday, where it has said it will in part highlight its progress on the 5G front. And T-Mobile has scheduled an "uncarrier" news event for Thursday where it, too, could offer insights into its view on the next-generation technology. (Though, to be clear, neither company is providing details on what it may announce.)

It’s also worth noting that the Citi 2017 Internet, Media & Telecommunications investor conference will also be taking place in Las Vegas this week, and executives speaking at that event will likely generate some headlines.

Not surprisingly, FierceWireless is getting into the 5G action as well. I’ll be hosting an event on Friday morning at the show called “The top use cases for 5G: Drones, autonomous driving, VR and more.” Confirmed speakers include:

  • Neville Ray, Chief Technology Officer, T-Mobile USA
  • Günther Ottendorfer, Chief Operating Officer, Technology, Sprint
  • Henry Bzeih, Managing Director, KIA Connected & Mobility Division
  • Arun Bansal, Senior Vice President and Head of Business Unit Network Products, Ericsson
  • Durga Malladi, Senior Vice President, Engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Breakfast will be served at 7:00 a.m. at Caesars Palace, and the panel discussion will start at 7:30 a.m. We will definitely be accepting questions from the audience. Click here to register.

All of the noise around 5G at CES however will be tempered by the fact that standards for the technology remain undefined, and commercial launches of mobile 5G services are still likely years away. Further, I still don’t think there is a clear, sizable use case for the super-fast connections that 5G will support. T-Mobile’s Neville Ray recently wrote that “the truth is that 5G is about all the as-yet-unimagined possibilities of mobile technology. We see 5G completely transforming the mobile Internet and delivering brilliant breakthroughs. We see a 5G future where every major tech trend that sparks our imaginations—mobile VR, AR, AI and more—will all be made better and available on-the-go because of 5G.”

It’s exactly that “as-yet-unimagined” ambiguity that clouds the massive financial investment it will take to get 5G off the ground.

Of course, 5G won’t be the only hot topic at this year’s CES show. An incredibly wide range of companies—including uSens, LyfieEye, Naughty America, Intel and Pico Tech—have promised to show off virtual reality technologies with the goal of ensuring VR hits the mainstream. Already, this past holiday shopping season was the first to offer several major commercial VR offerings, including Facebook’s Oculus and Sony’s PlayStation VR, as well as Samsung’s Gear VR and HTC’s Vive. However, it’s unclear whether sales of such devices during the holiday matched expectations.

Apart from VR, another major topic at this year’s CES will likely be IoT applications, specifically smart home offerings. Google Assistant, Amazon Echo and similar digital assistance products could well move the smart home market further into the mainstream—though again, holiday sales of those products remain somewhat unclear. Nonetheless, companies playing in the smart home and IoT arena span the gamut at this year’s CES, from BullGuard to Wipro to August Home to Whirlpool.

As usual, Fierce will be onsite at this year’s CES covering all the major events. I’ll be joined by FierceCable Editor Daniel Frankel in Las Vegas. – Mike | @mikeddano