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5 Things to Watch at CES 2020

CES 2019
CES crowds are set to converge on Las Vegas once again. (Image credit: JohnStaleyPhoto.com)

The network of the future was decidedly the theme of CES 2019 in Las Vegas. Wireless companies, including Verizon Communications and AT&T, packed auditoriums to show off the potential of 5G, which the former hyperbolically billed as “the fourth industrial revolution.”

Cable responded by showing off new technologies like WiFi 6, while unveiling the new marketing slogan, 10G, that would serve as an umbrella to Extended Spectrum DOCSIS and other emerging network tech that will compete with 5G in the future.

While CES 2019 was heavy on theoretical applications, this year’s event (Jan. 7-10) will feature more rubber meeting the road, with tech companies this year showing off actual devices that will actualize these next-generation connected technologies.

5G Phones Are Here

While Verizon and AT&T entered CES 2019 claiming to have 5G network access already deployed, it was really just vaporware at that point. Verizon said it had full millimeter wave 5G fixed wireless available in Los Angeles, Houston and a handful of other cities, but nobody could find an actual connection.

AT&T was roundly criticized for marketing — mislabeling? — an enhanced version of 4G LTE as “5G Evolution.”

This year, Verizon and AT&T (and T-Mobile) are in the market with tangible 5G network deployments. Chipmakers, including Qualcomm, will be showing off new 5G platform tech, while device vendors will be demoing actual 5G phones, such as the Samsung Note 10 5G.

Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of more theoretical demonstrations of future applications enabled by 5G’s speed and ultra-low latency. For example, autonomous vehicle demos will once again be ubiquitous at this year’s show. In fact, Daimler chairman Ola Källenius will be among the keynoters.

WiFi 6 Is Here as Well

Compared to 5G, the buzz was pretty mellow last year for the new WiFi 6 standard, or the sixth iteration of 802.11 WiFi.

Billed as the first major redesign of WiFi in 20 years, WiFi 6 aims to better serve the multi-device, multi-gigabit home, fundamentally rendering the way routers and gateways interact with their electronic “clients” to be faster and more efficient.

Actual WiFi 6 routers and gateways will be on display in Las Vegas this time around, including the xFi Advanced Gateway from Comcast.

“The xFi Advanced Gateway is truly the best internet product we’ve ever built, and we’re thrilled to be bringing our customers into the future with Wi-Fi 6,” Kunle Ekundare, director of product and hardware management for Comcast, said.

Streaming Warriors

While Apple TV+ and Disney+ have already been hoisted into the market, three other major services still pending the suddenly crowded theater of streaming video warfare will be using CES as a launch platform.

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, respectively the founder and CEO of mobile video service Quibi, set to launch in April, will deliver a Wednesday morning keynote at the Park Theater at the Park MGM Hotel. Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and partnerships for NBCUniversal, will appear on the same stage at 4 p.m., presumably to talk about Peacock, the NBCU SVOD service also to launch in April.

Meanwhile, ahead of HBO Max’s May launch, WarnerMedia is hosting a two-hour CES “kickoff” event Tuesday night at the Aria Hotel Wedding Chapel, a shindig that will also include executives from AT&T and Xandr. WarnerMedia’s HBO unit is also hosting mysterious Westworld-themed dinners at the Nomad Restaurant Tuesday and Wednesday. HBO is billing these as “groundbreaking” events that will take invited guests to the “threshold of humanity’s next great stride.”

Screen Gems

As it always does, CES will feature ample next-generation TV display tech.

CES 2020 will show off more smart TVs with 8K display capabilities, even though U.S. supply — and demand — for 4K content remains in the relatively nascent stages. Indeed, NPD Group doesn’t expect the subset of still pricey 8K TVs to reach 1% market share until 2022. But more brands will join Samsung, Sony and LG, which were the first to introduce 8K sets last year.

OLED (organic light-emitting diode) sets — another pricey new display technology, which produces premium picture quality — are coming into vogue as well, with Vizio expected to enter the OLED market alongside LG and Sony.

Despite the ongoing specter of the trade war with China, OLED will be challenged at the show by Shenzhen-based manufacturer TCL. The Chinese CE brand will be showing off a less-expensive rival technology called Mini-LED, which uses smaller light-emitting diodes that don’t give off as much pixel-by-pixel brightness as OLED, but do allow for more efficient use of backlighting.

TVs enabled with ATSC 3.0 and HDMI 2.1 will also be, er, on display.

All the Rest

Like TVs, CES has become a mecca for advancements in areas like artificial intelligence and internet-of-things, categories which continue to expand in both product availability and influence at the show.

Virtual reality, a buzz topic for the last several years, is hardly going away, as are Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, and advanced advertising.

With CES hoping to build on 2019’s 4,500 exhibitors, 2.75 million square feet of space and 180,000 attendees, no one can see it all. So pick and choose your spots wisely.