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Like Las Vegas itself, CES isn’t known for its subtlety. Inside Central Hall, you’ll weave between quasi-sentient refrigerators and roll-up OLED televisions. North Hall is a carpeted parking lot filled with concept cars straight out of Tron -- some of which can actually fly. Human showgoers still outnumber the robots in attendance, but the gap is shrinking.

Every year, those kinds of wow-factor showpieces understandably grab a lot of attention at the show. But this year more than ever, some pragmatic concepts will share the limelight with CES’s usual slate of spectacles.

2019 Tech Trends Report

Things like cellular networks, security and privacy don’t have the same Instagram appeal as 8K TVs, aero-cars and robots. However, all of them will be major themes at this year’s CES and in the year to come. They’ll also be increasingly important as technology burrows deeper and deeper into our lives.

The (pre-)dawn of 5G networks

Right now, most people associate cellular networks with phones. In the coming years, that idea may seem quaint.

 5G networks will reportedly offer download speeds up to 20 times faster than current 4G LTE networks. That’s certainly beneficial when live-streaming or downloading movies and music to your phone, but 5G’s big impact will extend beyond your mobile device.

That’s because 5G is expected to become the connectivity conduit for nearly everything. Thanks to incredibly low latency, wireless interactions with web applications will be more like running installed software. That makes it a great fit for mission-critical connectivity in self-driving cars, industrial IoT systems, cloud-based AI applications and smart cities. Even in-home internet may rely on 5G. It’s expected to allow the growing universe of connected devices to seamlessly communicate with one another.

5G will be a reality in 2019 in some shape or form, as all the major carriers are expected to launch 5G networks this year. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chip will bring 5G capabilities to a few 2019 smartphones, as well. However, first impressions of 5G may be underwhelming, so early adopters beware. The first 5G devices and service plans will be pricey, coverage in many areas will be nonexistent, and the real promise of 5G won’t be achieved until the coverage and devices are ubiquitous.

Still, that won’t stop 5G from becoming the buzzword of CES 2019. From here on in, every “smart” device is likely to offer 5G connectivity.

Security and privacy become marquee features

The past few years have seen a proliferation of connected devices, from smart TVs to smart speakers to smart light bulbs to smart forks. Unfortunately, this has flooded the market -- and perhaps your home -- with devices that weren’t built with security in mind. As a result, IoT devices have become a primary target for cyberattacks.

We’ve already seen significant attempts to batten down the IoT hatches. Late last year, California passed a law that mandates basic security features for all IoT devices. And by 2025, the fast-growing IoT security market is expected to reach nearly $10 billion, up from $1.24 billion in 2017.

Meanwhile, the past year of Facebook scandals has made data privacy a mainstream concern. Again, California has taken the lead in passing legislation designed to protect personal data, and increased regulation is likely to be a hot-button topic at CES 2019. We can also expect a slew of devices and services that give consumers more control and visibility when it comes to keeping data private.

Long story short, in-home IoT in 2019 will be less about the smart devices themselves. Consumers will begin to care more about what these devices are doing to safeguard your network and your data.

Self-driving cars take a back seat

Make no mistake about it: Self-driving cars will be everywhere at CES. However, that’s been the case for the past few years, and we’re still years away from fully autonomous vehicles hitting the road en masse.

With that in mind, some of the more-compelling (and imminent) car trends at CES will be tangential to the evolution of self-driving cars. We will see mind-boggling in-car entertainment systems, streamlined components that will make self-driving cars look less like science experiments, and wildly reimagined form factors. (Shuttle buses are getting a much-needed makeover.)

We are also on the verge of explosive growth in electric-vehicle sales, and established car companies and start-ups alike will be planning accordingly. Electrification will be a huge trend, especially in the luxury market: Tesla’s Model 3 was the best-selling luxury car of 2018, and everyone from Mercedes to Porsche to Audi to Jaguar will take aim at that crown in 2019.

So yeah, self-driving cars are coming. They just won’t be pulling into your driveway anytime soon, and there are plenty of evolutionary automotive steps to keep us entertained in the meantime.

Follow our CES coverage live from Las Vegas

Don’t worry, we’ll be covering CES 2019’s biggest and craziest announcements in addition to all this pragmatic stuff. Head on over to Airfoil’s CES 2019 insights page to get up-to-the-minute news, photos, and videos from the show floor in Las Vegas!

Airfoil at CES