The enthusiasm about 5G is flowing out of earnings conference calls. The big question is whether it is justified.
Aside from carriers touting their 5G build out, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf said 5G will be deployed and with devices faster than expected. He said:
We now have over one hundred fifty 5G designs launched or in-development using our 5G chipsets. In addition to core chipsets, virtually all our 5G design wins are powered by our complete RF Front-End solutions for 5G Sub6 and / or millimeter wave.
By the first calendar quarter of 2020, we anticipate reaching the inflection point as our financial results begin to reflect the benefits of our substantial efforts over the years in to bring 5G to the market worldwide.
Qualcomm's take revolves around China ramping 5G commercial service and US carriers all on track with nationwide 5G coverage by mid-2020. There will be more operators and devices launching with 5G relative to 4G in the same time frame, according Qualcomm.
Samsung's conference call was also bullish on 5G. Samsung has multiple ways to play 5G with smartphones, networking gear, memory and chips that'll benefit. Jong Min Lee, vice president of Samsung's mobile communications unit, said Korea started commercial 5G service last April and has more than 1.8 million 5G service subscribers.
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Lee added that Samsung has been seeing "very good strong performance with our S10 5G model" with plans to roll it out to Europe and Australia in expansion beyond Korea and the US. The Note 10 will also have a 5G model.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere said that his company will continue to build out its nationwide 5G network. Verizon had similar comments about its 5G expansion.
In the end, the 5G euphoria is just starting even though there are real questions among tech buyers. For instance, does 5G really enable much more than 4G does? Is 5G a legit broadband replacement? And when we will get smartphones that have 5G capabilities without paying a hefty premium?
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The only relative sour puss about 5G was Apple CEO Tim Cook. He was asked about the iPhone, 5G and competitive worries given a bevy of 5G smartphones are on deck. Cook said:
We don't comment on future products. With respect to 5G, it's -- I think most people would tell you it's -- we're in sort of the extremely early, early innings of it and even more so on a global basis. So we couldn't be more proud of what our lineup is and we're excited about the great pipeline of both hardware and software, and we won't trade our position for anyone's.
Cook's version of the 5G rollout may be closer to the truth than not. Research firm Gartner said global smartphone sales in 2019 are likely to decline 2.5% with Japan, Western Europe and North America recording the biggest drops.
Gartner's guesstimate is based on the reality that smartphone upgrade cycles are now longer and there's a pause ahead of 5G. Gartner expects that smartphone sales will grow in 2020 due to 5G service and devices. Apple's first 5G iPhone is also likely to land in 2020 and spur upgrades.
Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann noted:
Although leading mobile manufacturers have started positioning their first 5G smartphones (such as the LG V50 ThinQ, OPPO Reno 5G, Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Xiaomi Mi MIX 3 5G), and CSPs have started to offer some aggressively priced 5G service packages, 5G smartphone sales are set to remain small in 2019. Sales will start to ramp up in the second half of 2020 as the coverage and availability of 5G hardware services improve.