As the weeks and months pass by, we are getting more encouraging and solid evidence regarding the progress being made toward widely anticipated launch of 5G smartphones in early 2019.Many smartphone OEMs such as LG have gone out of their usual practice of keeping their plans close to chest till last minute, and have publically announced their 5G smartphones. Vendors such as Xiaomi have gone even further and have teased their audience on social media by showing pictures of phones under test. As an analyst you always take such claims with some skepticism. You will only believe when the evidences of solid progress emerge or when you can hold the actual devices in your hand.
There have been quite a few significant events in last couple of months, which has evaporated any last lingering doubts about the feasibility of smartphones in 2019. Verizon launched their 5GTF (aka pre- 5G) residential fixed Wireless broadband service “5G Home” in October. The leading device solution providers, including Qualcomm, Intel and Huawei, have completed successful inter-op testing with infrastructure providers such as Ericsson, Nokia, Huawei and others.
Among the chipset vendors, Qualcomm has been pretty upbeat and has shown real progress, including sampling of antenna and RF modules, showing of smartphone form factor devices and so on. To that long list they added a couple more developments during their annual ecosystem event 4G 5G summit in Hong Kong this week. They announced addition of a new smaller member to their already announced mmW 5G-NR antenna modules, as well as announced successful completion of sub- 6GHz inter-op testing with Ericsson.
The new module is about 25% smaller in size and claimed to offer similar performance as the previously announced modules. The new module, as evident from the pictures, is narrower in width. This is important because it can fit on the sides of smartphone without compromising on the thickness or performance.
Another interesting thing is that it is available for 5G smartphones that will be shipped 2019. This shows that Qualcomm is pulling all the tabs to make 2019 5G smartphones a real deal and truly premium.
This is a stark contrast to how 4G devices were rolled out in 2010. The 1st generation 4G LTE devices were bulky with short battery life, and were only offered by one vendor, HTC. Whereas with 5G, the first wave will have more than 10 smartphones, from the who’s who of the Android ecosystem.
Apple will be sorely missed though! Read why in my earlier article here.
Qualcomm going this extra mile is warranted because, with those many devices hitting the market around the same time, the margin for error is very thin (pun intended!). And they are the only merchant chipset provider in town for 2019 5G smartphones.
So, with new and smaller modules available for 2019 smartphones, the natural question is: who and why would use the older ones? Although Qualcomm says that they want to provide flexibility and options to OEMs, I suspect that the 1st gen modules would be for devices where size and shape are relatively not critical. Not that they are ever not critical in mobile devices, but when you look at devices such as Mi-Fi or personal Wi-Fi hotspots, where the surfaces areas are wider when compared to smartphones, you have different considerations.
The timing of smaller modules now also supports the rumors going around that MI-Fi devices will be the first commercial 5G devices. There might be cost differences in play as well, but Qualcomm declined to provide those details.
The second announcement, made jointly with Ericsson, pertained to the completion of inter-op testing using sub-6GHz bands, another significant step. The mmWave bands, being the new kid on the block, get all the attention. However, the sub-6Hz bands are equally important in delivering on the promise of 5G to many people at more places. While mmWave bands help fortify capacity and provide speed boost in dense urban and high traffic areas of the network, sub-6GHz will provide ubiquitous 5G coverage everywhere. So, suburbia and the rural parts of the network will probably only see sub-6GHz 5G. It is comforting to see that the industry is giving the needed attention to these bands and supporting them in the first versions of commercial devices and networks. – EE Times