Rushing to 5G

I am spending most of the week at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Summit in Maui where 5G is headlining this important event. Qualcomm has set up a 5G network in their demo rooms and showed us various devices using this ultra high-speed network for everything from high-speed downloads of movie and content to applications ranging from AR, VR and even autonomous vehicles and smart cities.

These demos are very impressive, and Qualcomm’s new 855 mobile processor tied to a 5G radio will make it the most powerful mobile processor available today to power the next generation of wireless communications.

A day before the event, Samsung and Verizon announced that they would introduce a 5G smartphone by mid-2019 and other smartphone vendors, except Apple who reportedly will not do their 5G smartphone until at least 2020, are sure to follow Samsung’s path and introduce different 5G handsets by the end of 2019. We hear that 5G will be at the center of next year’s Mobile World Congress in Late February and many 5G smartphones could be launched there.

If you look at the chart below that shows any serious adoption of 5G worldwide is well beyond 2023, some are wondering why anyone would even introduce a 5G smartphone this early in the 5G adoption cycle?

Adding 5G to a smartphone will be costly at first, and most smartphone vendors will not be able to ride the costs down for these handsets until at least 2021-2022. That suggests only very early adopters would buy the 5 G smartphones at first. But there is a seminal event taking place in 2020 that could drive the first wave of 5 G smartphone demand, and that is the Olympics in Tokyo. Japan is committed to making these Olympics the highest tech event in history.

They are working with all of their local telecom vendors to deploy 5G networks throughout the Olympic site to offer visitors the fastest network they can have to stream competitive events as well as make all forms of voice and data communications as fast as possible.

While the first crop of 5G smartphones will work in certain cities in the US and Europe that will get an early rollout of these networks, one thing these companies are aiming for is providing 5G phones for those going to the Tokyo Olympics. While the 5G smartphone vendors will market these phones to buyers now as smartphones that are future-proofed and ready for 5G today and in the future, they know full well that products released now and even in early 2020 will have a small market of buyers at first but could trend upward just before the Tokyo Olympics.

Also, it turns out that the new 5G chips and radios are so powerful and updated that these 5G smartphones will also deliver even better performance to current 4G networks that most smartphones use today.

If the first real bump on 5G smartphones takes place before the next Olympics, Apple’s position of not releasing their 5G smartphone until perhaps the fall of 2020 will force them to miss a substantial market opportunity for Tokyo Olympic smartphone users. It would pretty much give the Android phone makers the upper hand in getting 5G smartphones too early adopters and tourists going to the Olympics.

I base this analysis on Apple’s past iPhone release dates. The Olympics will take place in July and early August, but Apple does not historically release new iPhones until at least the second week of Sept.
If they introduce 5 G iPhones in Sept of 2020, they will miss the market for new 5G smartphones that could take full advantage of Tokyo’s 5G network that will be up and running by the time the Olympics start.

I did see one interesting way to add 5G to a smartphone without it being integrated into the smartphone itself. At the Qualcomm event, Motorola showed one of their “pods” that can be snapped onto their phones to add a better camera, music player and other functions. But they showed a new module that had a 5G radio inside, and when snapped onto the Motorola smartphone, it instantly adds a 5G radio experience.

I like Motorola’s approach and see it more like a simple way to make their current phones 5G enabled. But Motorola has a unique position because of their “pod’s” and to date I have seen no other smartphone vendor deliver a similar branded strategy to get 5 G into current or new designs by the end of 2019.

I do think Apple could be making a mistake by not introducing a 5 G smartphone in their 2019 line up. There will be various areas in the US, Europe and Asia that will have 5 G and those using Qualcomm’s 855 processor and 5G radios would be big hits for people going to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

While it may seem logical to not buy a 5G smartphone when they first come out in early 2019, there are some legitimate reasons to consider one of these new mobile smartphones that deliver on 5G connectivity if your city or region now has 5 G rollouts planned in 2019 or 2020, or you are going to the Tokyo Olympics. I fully expect early adopters to travel this path but, as the above chart states, real interest and growth in 5G handsets will not take off until after 2022.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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