MWC 2019: 5G smartphones are expensive, power hogs, and not interoperable!
MWC 2019 in Barcelona marked the debut of the first batch of 5G smartphones. Indeed, 5G was all anyone talked about at the mobile trade show. Except for Apple, every major handset maker plans to launch a 5G phone early this year. Here were the 5G smartphones at MWC 2019:
–Huawei Mate X
–LG V50 ThinQ 5G
–Samsung Galaxy Fold
–Samsung Galaxy S10
–Xiaomi Mi Mix 3
–ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G
OnePlus, which promised last year that it would be among the first to hop on the 5G train, didn’t have a handset to announce, but it did demo a prototype and announce an initiative for 5G app developers.
Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone vendor, unveiled its first 5G phone just days before MWC during its Unpacked event in San Francisco. Oppo on Saturday at MWC 2019 talked about its first, not-yet-named 5G phone. Samsung, which is on the other end of the spectrum with premium pricing, hasn’t said what it will charge for its Galaxy S10 5G or the version of its Galaxy Fold that runs on the faster network. The 4G versions of those devices start at $749 for the Galaxy S10E and $1,980 for the Galaxy Fold.
Huawei showed off its Mate X foldable on Sunday, while Xiaomi detailed its Mi Mix 3 5G that same day. mwc 2019 also marked the debut of LG’s V50 and ZTE’s Axon 10 Pro, while Sony and OnePlus showed off prototypes for devices they’ll launch this year.
OnePlus wants to keep the cost of its first 5G phone “within $1,000,” CEO Pete Lau said during an interview on Monday. In December, he had said OnePlus’ first 5G phone could be $200 to $300 higher than the OnePlus 6T, which starts at $549 (about £499 or AU$774) for the 128GB model with 6GB of RAM. “From the perspective of OnePlus devices, the [higher] cost is [because] the cost of technology has also risen this year,” Lau said Monday. “From our perspective, there’s no better value proposition in the market than a OnePlus device.”
Device makers need to use pricier components like 5G radios/antennas and bigger batteries. Those higher costs will likely flow down to you through more expensive service and phones. The shift to 5G gives carriers and phone makers the chance to charge more for those top speeds at a time they’re not selling as many devices. Last year, smartphone shipments fell for the first time ever in history, according to Strategy Analytics. Globally, they dropped 5 percent to 376 million units, something the research firm called “a landmark event.”
Ultimately, more of the 5G phone price increase could come from the new features that are added. There are higher costs overall for the 5G devices, from the chipset to the antennas, batteries and other components.
“Initially, the price of 5G phones will be higher than 4G phones, that’s for sure,” said Yenchi Lee, senior director of product marketing for MediaTek’s wireless communications business, in an interview Monday. The company this week unveiled its first 5G modem, which will be in smartphones in early 2020.
“I do believe it should be priced at a small premium to 4G,” said Marc Allera, chief executve of UK carrier EE, during a 5G panel at MWC. “But not so much that it slows adoption down.”
None of these pre-standard 5G smart phones will work on any 5G network other than the one they are announced for. No interoperability and no roaming!
The pre-standard 5G carriers all use different frequencies while the smartphone vendors use different chip sets- all of which are variations of 3GPP release 15 New Radio (NR), Non Stand Alone (NSA). They use LTE siignaling/control plane and EPC rather than IMT 2020 control plane and mobile packet core, which has yet to be defined, let alone standardized by ITU-R WP 5D.
All the non radio IMT 2020 standards from ITU-T are works in progress. Hence, all the network slicing, virtualized RAN, software defined network and network virtualization for 5G are all proprietary and will be for at least the next 2 years! So eavery 5G smartphone must be matched with the 5G base station chosen by the network provider for its 5G network. There will be many variations in functionality until the IMT 2020 standards are completed and implemented. Until then, 5G smartphones and other 5G endpoints will only work on a single carrier’s 5G network and not any other!
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Soaring service plans?
Along with not knowing device prices, we also still don’t know what most mobile 5G plans will cost — or, in many cases, when service will actually be turned on.
Dan Hays, a consultant for PWC, said he sees the potential for an 8 percent to 10 percent premium on 5G service, similar to early 4G deployments. But he doesn’t think carriers will be able to get away with higher increases because the initial deployments are so small.
Operators will first launch 5G in just a handful of cities, including Atlanta and Dallas, while a broader rollout across the US will likely take years.
“If you can only use it 10 percent of the time, would I pay for it?” Hays said.
“It’s fair to say that data plans of the future will be different,” AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch said in an interview on Tuesday. “It’ll be based on how that data is consumed.”
And 5G also could mean the end of throttling, the practice of slowing down our network speeds when we’ve hit our data caps.
“5G allows us to look at it different because we have more capacity,” Sprint Chief Technology Officer John Saw said Monday.
T-Mobile’s Ray agreed that throttling could go away with in a 5G world. His company has already vowed to freeze prices after completing its acquisition of Sprint. But Ray said the cost savings of running of a bigger network with more customers means potential savings for you.
“The level of performance, quality, capability is all a magnitude better,” he said.
Still, in the early days, there’s no doubt we’ll be paying more. Now we just have to wait for these phones and services to launch to find out if what we’re getting is worth the higher price.
3GPP Release 16, when completed (early 2020?), will have the ultra low latency included. It is NOT available in any so called “5G” networks till then! So don’t expect ultra low latency on any “5G” smartphone for several years. Note also that 1 way latency is the cumulative delay through: the access network, mobile packet core, and edge network at the service provider point of presence. It is NOT just the access network (e.g. 5G NR transmission).
Title: Study on physical layer enhancements for NR ultra-reliable and low latency case (URLLC)
Type: Technical specification (TS)
Initial planned Release: Release 16
The follow key use cases were identified to be considered:
– Release 15 enabled use case improvements
– Such as AR/VR (Entertainment industry)
– New Release 16 use cases with higher requirements
– Factory automation
– Transport Industry, including the remote driving use case
– Electrical Power Distribution
“5G radios and phones will be better in 2020,” said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester. “Consumers will continue to pay attention to the basics of price, screen size and cameras, with 5G an afterthought until it comes on more affordable phones and without a pricey monthly plan.”
In spite of their being among the first companies to unveil 5G devices at the show, most 5G phones are currently top-tier and at the more expensive end of the spectrum, meaning the potential customer base for them right now is proportionally quite small.
The likelihood is that the majority of people will wait until 5G phones are more affordable before diving in. Waiting may also mean that the technology is better-refined and able to work across more networks.
The companies that didn’t bring a 5G phone to MWC this year didn’t seem much concerned about lagging behind, either. They join Apple in the ranks of phone makers working toward 5G futures on a longer and fuzzier timeline.
“We believe that this year is literally the first introduction round, so we think probably early next year is a good time for a mass-market 5G rollout in the key markets where we see an opportunity, like Western Europe and the US,” HMD Chief Executive Florian Seiche said in an interview with CNET.
“The mass deployment to 5G customers will be the end of the year and 2020,” said Honor CEO George Zhao. The company will bring out its first 5G phone later in 2019.
Carriers in competition
In the lead-up to 5G actually going live, many carriers were climbing over each other be first. South Korean carrier KT in December claimed to be the first, offering a mobile 5G network and a robot for its first customer.
The competition has been particularly fierce in the US. Verizon launched its Verizon Home 5G service in October, but critics argued that it didn’t stick to industry standards, so technically didn’t count. AT&T launched its mobile service in a dozen markets in December, but the deployments are tiny.
“They’re small pockets,” AT&T Chief Technology Officer Andre Fuetsch said in an interview at MWC on Tuesday. The company hasn’t publicly said where the networks are, and noted that only small-business customers are using it.
On Monday, Sprint CEO Michel Combes said his company would have the first 5G network, but altered the definition. “We’re first in real mobile 5G in the US with real coverage, real devices, real proposition,” Combes said during a press conference at the show.
Use cases such as better AR/VR are also a tough sell given how weak consumer demand has generally been on those fronts (with the odd branded exception).
The bare bones reality is that commercial 5G networks are as rare as hen’s teeth right now, outside a few limited geographical locations in the U.S. and Asia. And 5G will remain a very patchy patchwork for the foreseeable future.
Indeed, it may take a very long time indeed to achieve nationwide coverage in many countries, if 5G even ends up stretching right to all those edges. (Alternative technologies do also exist which could help fill in gaps where the ROI just isn’t there for 5G.)
So again consumers buying phones with the puffed up idea of being able to tap into 5G right here, right now (Qualcomm claimed 2019 is going to be “the year of 5G!”) will find themselves limited to just a handful of urban locations around the world.
Analysts are clear that 5G rollouts, while coming, are going to be measured and targeted as carriers approach what’s touted as a multi-industry-transforming wireless technology cautiously, with an eye on their capex and while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to restructure their businesses to engage with all the partners they’ll need to forge business relations with, across industries, in order to successfully sell 5G’s transformative potential to all sorts of enterprises — and lock onto “the sweep spot where 5G makes sense”.
Enterprise rollouts therefore look likely to be prioritized over consumer 5G — as was the case for 5G launches in South Korea at the back end of last year.
“4G was a lot more driven by the consumer side and there was an understanding that you were going for national coverage that was never really a question and you were delivering on the data promise that 3G never really delivered… so there was a gap of technology that needed to be filled. With 5G it’s much less clear,” says Gartner’s Sylvain Fabre, discussing the tech’s hype and the reality with TechCrunch ahead of MWC.
“4G’s very good, you have multiple networks that are Gbps or more and that’s continuing to increase on the downlink with multiple carrier aggregation… and other densification schemes. So 5G doesn’t… have as gap as big to fill. It’s great but again it’s applicability of where it’s uniquely positioned is kind of like a very narrow niche at the moment.”
“It’s such a step change that the real power of 5G is actually in creating new business models using network slicing — allocation of particular aspects of the network to a particular use-case,” Forrester analyst Dan Bieler also tells us. “All of this requires some rethinking of what connectivity means for an enterprise customer or for the consumer.
“And telco sales people, the telco go-to-market approach is not based on selling use-cases, mostly — it’s selling technologies. So this is a significant shift for the average telco distribution channel to go through. And I would believe this will hold back a lot of the 5G ambitions for the medium term.”
To be clear, carriers are now actively kicking the tyres of 5G, after years of lead-in hype, and grappling with technical challenges around how best to upgrade their existing networks to add in and build out 5G.
Many are running pilots and testing what works and what doesn’t, such as where to place antennas to get the most reliable signal and so on. And a few have put a toe in the water with commercial launches (globally there are 23 networks with “some form of live 5G in their commercial networks” at this point, according to Fabre.)
But at the same time 5G network standards are yet to be fully finalized (AJW says this is a huge understatement: not even close as IMT 2020 RIT/SRITs won’t be selected till early 2020) so the core technology is not 100% fully baked. And with it being early days “there’s still a long way to go before we have a real significant impact of 5G type of services”, as Bieler puts it.
There’s also spectrum availability to factor in and the cost of acquiring the necessary spectrum. As well as the time required to clear and prepare it for commercial use. (On spectrum, government policy is critical to making things happen quickly (or not). So that’s yet another factor moderating how quickly 5G networks can be built out.)
And despite some wishful thinking industry noises at MWC this week — calling for governments to ‘support digitization at scale’ by handing out spectrum for free (uhhhh, yeah right) — that’s really just whistling into the wind.
Rolling out 5G networks is undoubtedly going to be very expensive, at a time when carriers’ businesses are already faced with rising costs (from increasing data consumption) and subdued revenue growth forecasts.
“The world now works on data” and telcos are “at core of this change”, as one carrier CEO — Singtel’s Chua Sock Koong — put it in an MWC keynote in which she delved into the opportunities and challenges for operators “as we go from traditional connectivity to a new age of intelligent connectivity”.
Chua argued it will be difficult for carriers to compete “on the basis of connectivity alone” — suggesting operators will have to pivot their businesses to build out standalone business offerings selling all sorts of b2b services to support the digital transformations of other industries as part of the 5G promise — and that’s clearly going to suck up a lot of their time and mind for the foreseeable future.
In Europe alone estimates for the cost of rolling out 5G range between €300BN and €500BN (~$340BN-$570BN), according to Bieler. Figures that underline why 5G is going to grow slowly, and networks be built out thoughtfully; in the b2b space this means essentially on a case-by-case basis.
Simply put carriers must make the economics stack up. Which means no “huge enormous gambles with 5G”. And omnipresent ROI pressure pushing them to try to eke out a premium.
“A lot of the network equipment vendors have turned down the hype quite a bit,” Bieler continues. “If you compare this to the hype around 3G many years ago or 4G a couple of years ago 5G definitely comes across as a soft launch. Sort of an evolutionary type of technology. I have not come across a network equipment vendors these days who will say there will be a complete change in everything by 2020.”
On the consumer pricing front, carriers have also only just started to grapple with 5G business models. One early example is TC parent Verizon’s 5G home service — which positions the next-gen wireless tech as an alternative to fixed line broadband with discounts if you opt for a wireless smartphone data plan as well as 5G broadband.
From the consumer point of view, the carrier 5G business model conundrum boils down to: What is my carrier going to charge me for 5G? And early adopters of any technology tend to get stung on that front.
Although, in mobile, price premiums rarely stick around for long as carriers inexorably find they must ditch premiums to unlock scale — via consumer-friendly ‘all you can eat’ price plans.
Still, in the short term, carriers look likely to experiment with 5G pricing and bundles — basically seeing what they can make early adopters pay. But it’s still far from clear that people will pay a premium for better connectivity alone. And that again necessitates caution.
5G bundled with exclusive content might be one way carriers try to extract a premium from consumers. But without huge and/or compelling branded content inventory that risks being a too niche proposition too. And the more carriers split their 5G offers the more consumers might feel they don’t need to bother, and end up sticking with 4G for longer.
It’ll also clearly take time for a 5G ‘killer app’ to emerge in the consumer space. And such an app would likely need to still be able to fallback on 4G, again to ensure scale. So the 5G experience will really need to be compellingly different in order for the tech to sell itself.
On the handset side, 5G chipset hardware is also still in its first wave. At MWC this week Qualcomm announced a next-gen 5G modem, stepping up from last year’s Snapdragon 855 chipset — which it heavily touted as architected for 5G (though it doesn’t natively support 5G).
If you’re intending to buy and hold on to a 5G handset for a few years there’s thus a risk of early adopter burn at the chipset level — i.e. if you end up with a device with a suckier battery life vs later iterations of 5G hardware where more performance kinks have been ironed out.
Intel has warned its 5G modems won’t be in phones until next year — so, again, that suggests no 5G iPhones before 2020. And Apple is of course a great bellwether for mainstream consumer tech; the company only jumps in when it believes a technology is ready for prime time, rarely sooner. And if Cupertino feels 5G can wait, that’s going to be equally true for most consumers.
Zooming out, the specter of network security (and potential regulation) now looms very large indeed where 5G is concerned, thanks to East-West trade tensions injecting a strange new world of geopolitical uncertainty into an industry that’s never really had to grapple with this kind of business risk before.
Chinese kit maker Huawei’s rotating chairman, Guo Ping, used the opportunity of an MWC keynote to defend the company and its 5G solutions against U.S. claims its network tech could be repurposed by the Chinese state as a high tech conduit to spy on the West — literally telling delegates: “We don’t do bad things” and appealing to them to plainly to: “Please choose Huawei!”
When established technology vendors are having to use a high profile industry conference to plead for trust it’s strange and uncertain times indeed.
In Europe it’s possible carriers’ 5G network kit choices could soon be regulated as a result of security concerns attached to Chinese suppliers. The European Commission suggested as much this week, saying in another MWC keynote that it’s preparing to step in try to prevent security concerns at the EU Member State level from fragmenting 5G rollouts across the bloc.
In an on stage Q&A Orange’s chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, couched the risk of destabilization of the 5G global supply chain as a “big concern”, adding: “It’s the first time we have such an important risk in our industry.”
Geopolitical security is thus another issue carriers are having to factor in as they make decisions about how quickly to make the leap to 5G. And holding off on upgrades, while regulators and other standards bodies try to figure out a trusted way forward, might seem the more sensible thing to do — potentially stalling 5G upgrades in the meanwhile.
Given all the uncertainties there’s certainly no reason for consumers to rush in.
Smartphone upgrade cycles have slowed globally for a reason. Mobile hardware is mature because it’s serving consumers very well. Handsets are both powerful and capable enough to last for years.
And while there’s no doubt 5G will change things radically in future, including for consumers — enabling many more devices to be connected and feeding back data, with the potential to deliver on the (much hyped but also still pretty nascent) ‘smart home’ concept — the early 5G sales pitch for consumers essentially boils down to more of the same.
“Over the next ten years 4G will phase out. The question is how fast that happens in the meantime and again I think that will happen slower than in early times because [with 5G] you don’t come into a vacuum, you don’t fill a big gap,” suggests Gartner’s Fabre. “4G’s great, it’s getting better, wi’fi’s getting better… The story of let’s build a big national network to do 5G at scale [for all] that’s just not happening.”
“I think we’ll start very, very simple,” he adds of the 5G consumer proposition. “Things like caching data or simply doing more broadband faster. So more of the same.
“It’ll be great though. But you’ll still be watching Netflix and maybe there’ll be a couple of apps that come up… Maybe some more interactive collaboration or what have you. But we know these things are being used today by enterprises and consumers and they’ll continue to be used.”
So — in sum — the 5G mantra for the sensible consumer is really ‘wait and see’.
Chipmaker Qualcomm, which is embroiled in a bitter patent battle with Apple, was also on stage in Barcelona to support Xiaomi’s 5G phone launch — loudly claiming the next-gen tech is coming fast and will enhance “everything”.
“We like to work with companies like Xiaomi to take risks,” lavished Qualcomm’s president Cristiano Amon upon his hosts, using 5G uptake to jibe at Apple by implication. “When we look at the opportunity ahead of us for 5G we see an opportunity to create winners.”
Despite the heavy hype, Xiaomi’s on stage demo — which it claimed was the first live 5G video call outside China — seemed oddly staged and was not exactly lacking in latency.
“Real 5G — not fake 5G!” finished Donovan Sung, the Chinese OEM’s director of product management. As a 5G sales pitch it was all very underwhelming. Much more ‘so what’ than ‘must have’.
Whether 5G marketing hype alone will convince consumers it’s past time to upgrade seems highly unlikely.
Phones sell on features rather than connectivity per se, and — whatever Qualcomm claims — 5G is being soft-launched into the market by cash-constrained carriers whose boom times lie behind them, i.e. before over-the-top players had gobbled their messaging revenues and monopolized consumer eyeballs.
All of which makes 5G an incremental consumer upgrade proposition in the near to medium term.
Use-cases for the next-gen network tech, which is touted as able to support speeds up to 100x faster than LTE and deliver latency of just a few milliseconds (as well as connecting many more devices per cell site), are also still being formulated, let alone apps and services created to leverage 5G.
But selling a network upgrade to consumers by claiming the killer apps are going to be amazing but you just can’t show them any yet is as tough as trying to make theatre out of a marginally less janky video call.
“5G could potentially help [spark smartphone growth] in a couple of years as price points lower, and availability expands, but even that might not see growth rates similar to the transition to 3G and 4G,” suggests Carolina Milanesi, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, writing in a blog post discussing Samsung’s strategy with its latest device launches.
“This is not because 5G is not important, but because it is incremental when it comes to phones and it will be other devices that will deliver on experiences, we did not even think were possible. Consumers might end up, therefore, sharing their budget more than they did during the rise of smartphones.”
The ‘problem’ for 5G — if we can call it that — is that 4G/LTE networks are capably delivering all the stuff consumers love right now: Games, apps and video. Which means that for the vast majority of consumers there’s simply no reason to rush to shell out for a ‘5G-ready’ handset. Not if 5G is all the innovation it’s got going for it.
Not all 5G smartphones are created equal:
There are still plenty of unknowns about how 5G devices will perform and whether or not they’ll be worth the premium. The price tags, tariff costs, and battery life are all unknown quantities at this point. But perhaps a bigger issue is just how good a 5G experience these phones will offer. Companies are quick to hype the theoretical download speeds, but the real world will be quite different.
Qualcomm recommends that smartphones make use of three or four of its mmWave antennas placed around the device for this exact reason. However, I have been informed that different 5G smartphones are using very different numbers of antennas.
Unofficial information passed to me indicates that the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G uses four antennas. When asked, Samsung wouldn’t confirm the exact number, instead stating that it has “multiple” antennas inside. The Sony 5G prototype on display at the event apparently features six antennas, one on each edge and two additional modules in the corners. The LG V50 ThinQ 5G, allegedly, only features two – both at the sides.
LG refused to confirm or deny the report. The company did mention that the V50’s antenna arrangement depends on a mmWave or sub-6GHz implementation and is also carrier dependent. LG said it couldn’t provide further comment without knowing the model in question. This raises the worrying prospect of multiple 5G models sporting different networking technologies. If true, this could reduce 5G performance when roaming or importing phones to work with different network designs and carriers.
There’s a balancing act to be found between power consumption and ensuring a reliable mmWave connection. Although smartphone vendors will have undertaken plenty of research and testing while developing their first products, the sweet spot might take a while to perfect.
5G, much like 4G, will undergo its own pain points and improvements. 5G modems and other technologies will certainly improve over the next two years and manufacturers will get a better handle on their designs and trade-offs. Some differences between devices are inevitable, but I certainly hope we don’t see early 5G smartphones charging a premium for a second-rate experience.
Indian ICT, business consulting and outsourcing company Tech Mahindra has entered a collaboration with US-based smartphone and tablet manufacture Orbic to produce a range of 5G devices for global markets.
Under the agreement, announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the companies will jointly develop a 5G device portfolio that will include a smartphone, tablet, hotspot and home router.
The devices will be jointly created and designed in India and the US, and will be launched in the US and other global markets in 2020.
Tech Mahindra global head of engineering for IoT and enterprise mobility Karthikeyan Natarajan said the collaboration is being pursued as part of the company’s TechMNxt digital transformation program.
“Our collaboration with Orbic is a significant stepping stone to the 5G world as we develop a cutting edge 5G devices portfolio together. This will be first of its kind 5G device portfolio in the marketplace,” he said.
“AT MWC Barcelona, we are excited to enter the 5G Race in partnership with a powerhouse like Tech Mahindra and feel proud for Orbic to introduce India’s first 5G devices to the global markets,” added Orbic CEO Mike Narula.
By Wayne Lam, principal analyst, mobile devices and networks, IHS Markit
MWC is where companies go to showcase brand new 5G smartphone designs, and this year’s MWC2019 conference did not disappoint. Even before the show officially started, the following six new smartphone designs, all with 5G modems, were announced:
Two smartphones from Samsung were announced the week before the conference – the Galaxy S10 5G and the Galaxy Fold 5G
One new design from Oppo was announced at a pre-show event
Similarly at another pre-show event, Xiaomi presented a 5G version of their Mi MIX3
Huawei trotted out not only their first 5G smartphone, the Mate X, but also a ground-breaking foldable design
LG announced the V50 5G, which is designed to run on Sprint’s unique Sub-6GHz TDD (N41) 5G network
During the show, Chinese manufacturers ZTE and Nubia debuted their first 5G designs: the ZTE Axon 10 Pro 5G and the Nubia Mini 5G. Not to be overlooked, Sony and OnePlus reiterated their intent to release 5G smartphones later this year, while opting to demonstrate 5G design prototypes at their conference booths.
On the component side, Qualcomm’s first-generation Snapdragon X50 won the majority of modem sockets in these very first 5G phones, with the exception of HiSilicon Balong 5000 in the Huawei Mate X. The San Diego mobile chipset juggernaut had just announced its second-generation 5G chipset prior to MWC19, the 7 nanometer (nm) Snapdragon X55, which extended their industry leadership in 5G modems.
Altogether, there are now six competitive 5G modems available to the market, including solutions from Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel, Mediatek, HiSilicon and UNISoC.
In fact, 5G smartphones weren’t originally expected until 2020. The development of 5G smartphones occurred one year sooner than expected, due to a coordinated effort among key industry stakeholders to accelerate 5G deployments.
Unlike 4G, where the industry had to bet on either WiMAX or LTE standards, the 5G transition avoided industry confusion. The entire industry is converging on one 5G standard, via the 3GPP, giving everyone in the mobile ecosystem certainty about what lies ahead. The overall mobile industry has prepared for faster 5G rollouts, by making devices readily available.
The only unknown is the business model behind the new 5G service. In other words, the supply side of the 5G ecosystem is ready, but there are still doubts about the demand side.
If the new 5G technology is to be truly accessible by the masses, the complexities of 4G/5G radios must become available at prices that can be designed into affordable smartphone platform. In that sense, the industry is still years away from that adoption curve. Affordable modem design is a key ingredient in our 5G future, and the component supplier ecosystem appears to be in front of the adoption curve, which bodes well for the availability of truly mainstream and affordable 5G devices in the not-too-distant future.
Best in Show: Huawei Mate X
There was no doubt about the the “best in show” smartphone. The Huawei Mate X foldable 5G smartphone is an out-folding smartphone that unfurls into a contiguous eight-inch tablet.
Foldable smartphones are the first significant change in mobile form factors in nearly a decade. Not since capacitive multi-touch technology, which allowed device makers to simplify user interactions onto a single piece of glass, has there been a more ground-breaking mobile design.
It was no secret in the industry that both Huawei and Samsung were locked in a race to be the first to release a new foldable form factor, and just one week prior to MWC, Samsung announced its own Galaxy Fold device. The technology, which has been under development for many years, has finally matured enough to be included in products.
At first glance, the new foldable form factor can seem overly complex, with moving parts and flexing displays that may ultimately be prone to damage or failure. With prices starting at $2,000, the value proposition of these early devices is questionable, even though they are obviously targeted at the ultra-premium, luxury segment of the market.
The mobile industry still has a long way to go, until the technology can be cost effective to adopt for the general public. However, given the stagnant growth of the mobile devices market, the foldable design could not have arrived at a better time to reinvigorate the sagging smartphone market.
The Russian network RT America aired the segment, titled “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats. U.S. intelligence agencies identified the network as a principal meddler in the 2016 presidential election. Now, it is linking 5G signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease — claims that lack scientific support.
Yet even as RT America, the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been doing its best to stoke the fears of American viewers, Mr. Putin, on Feb. 20, ordered the launch of Russian 5G networks in a tone evoking optimism rather than doom.
“We need to look forward,” he said, according to Tass, the Russian news agency. “The challenge for the upcoming years is to organize universal access to high-speed internet, to start operation of the fifth-generation communication systems.”
China 5G rollout to drive first smartphone shipment rise in 4 years – IDC:
The global smartphone market is set to return to growth for the first time in 4 years in 2020 on the back of China’s huge investment in 5G technology, according to the latest report from IDC. Worldwide shipments are expected to grow 1.5 percent year on year in 2020 to just over 1.4 billion following falls of 0.3 percent in 2017, 4.3 percent in 2018 and an expected 1.4 percent this year. The 2020 figure is set to include 190 million 5G smartphones, accounting for 14 percent of the total, driven by recent developments in the China market along with anticipation of aggressive activity from the smartphone supply chain and OEMs, said IDC.
The report expressed the hope that 5G smartphone prices will quickly come down quickly to boost the growth of this market segment. “Following three straight years of declining smartphone volumes there leaves little room for 5G to raise smartphone ASPs,” said IDC, adding that Android vendors are expected to drive down the cost of 5G smartphones starting with a host of first quarter announcements at both CES and MWC. Apple is expected to enter the 5G smartphone market in September 2020, with the real focus around pricing and market availability.
In contrast to the expected rapid 5G growth in China, demand in other markets such as Australia, Japan, and Korea in Asia/Pacific as well as some European countries is set to be slower than predicted, added IDC. The report said shipments so far in the second half of 2019 have come in much lower than expected, with accelerated 5G adoption globally depending on factors such as the arrival of 5G networks, operator support, as well as substantial price reductions.
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