5G smartphones coming soon to a store near you: will consumers take the bait?

Opinion: Qualcomm is betting that 5G devices will have a competitive edge in the near future, but consumer demand remains to be seen.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

MAUI, HAWAII: 5G networking has been described as the next major transition in mobile networking.

According to Qualcomm executives speaking at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Tech Summit in Maui, Hawaii on Tuesday, 5G will become as 'basic' a requirement in future cities as electricity is today.

Qualcomm representatives beamed as they discuss the notion of beamforming, in which 5G antenna switch beams to compensate for obstructions in coverage when using mmWave spectrum, and together with the announcement of the Snapdragon 855 platform and the reveal of a prototype design, you can see that Qualcomm is betting big on the future of 5G and hardware which will support fifth-generation wireless.

Cristiano Amon, president of Qualcomm, told attendees at the summit that 5G will provide the "foundation for virtually every other electronic device to become connected," and despite the reservations of some that 5G is not yet ready for prime time, the US chip giant prides itself on "making the impossible, inevitable."

While 5G promises Gigabit speeds, low latency, and the means to rapidly stream content and take advantage of machine learning and augmented reality (AR) applications, the average consumer might not be particularly interested in such lofty goals -- unless it relates to their own use cases.

It was back in August when the US chip maker said Motorola's Moto Z3 smartphone became the first smartphone on the market which would be granted access to Verizon's upcoming mobile 5G network.

This is due to the 5G moto mod, a plugin accessory powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon X50 5G and X24 LTE modems, alongside the QTM052 mmWave antenna modules.

Tech vendors were enthusiastic enough pertaining to the promise of 5G to sell a device based on future speeds and capabilities. Now that we are talking about the next-generation networking technology in the present tense, will consumers be interested enough to adopt new devices solely for 5G?

It is not just the speed and latency promises of 5G which need to be taken into account when considering the potential future adoptability of the networking technology and consumer reactions -- coverage itself plays a role.

There is a demand for improved mobile coverage in both major cities and more rural areas, as well as in our homes themselves due to the increased use of Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices.


Qualcomm's partnerships include Sprint, AT&T, EE, China Mobile, China Telecom, SingTel, Vodafone, and T-Mobile, among others, which are working to increase the coverage of cities and areas approved for the first rollouts of 5G next year.

In Europe, EE intends to launch 5G networks in major UK cities including London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, and Leeds through 2019.

From a personal viewpoint, where I live -- roughly an hour outside of London -- I am lucky to secure as much as 3G while on the move until I reach the city. 4G connectivity is a rarity and I doubt that despite the historical importance and tourist attraction my city has been for many years, that 5G will be deployed where I live anytime soon.

In the same way that 4G made me shrug at the first point of the rollout in the UK, I picked up an Android smartphone based on the device's capabilities rather than the network since I knew that mobile networks close to home were relatively pointless. They remain so to this day.

I can see this mental objection to the 5G upgrade playing out again once more at home, but I would potentially be keener should I live in one of the major cities selected for the initial stages of the global 5G rollout.

Despite the enthusiasm of tech vendors and carriers alike, 5G is likely to be a limited resource for consumers in the near future, and it remains to be seen whether or not customers will snap up 5G-ready devices in their droves during next year's holiday season.

See also: Samsung plans to be early with 5G support: Will it matter if Apple hangs back?

Mobile device makers and 5G pundits have another challenge to overcome if they wish to encourage the early adoption of 5G-ready devices: the price point.

The mobile device market is saturated with offerings from companies including Apple, Samsung, Google, and Huawei. The cost of a device together with a service plan can add up and become a high monthly expense, and despite smartphones becoming a daily necessity for many of us, 5G might appear as a luxury addition which is not required.

5G plans are likely to be on the higher end, given how new the standard is and the speeds the network will offer (on the assumption your local area is covered in the first place.)

When the issue of price points was brought up at the keynote, no price plans or speculative notions on how the cost of service plans may change were discussed; instead, the concept of 5G and its apparent transformative abilities were focused on and the question of pricing was snuffed out.

Read on: What is 5G? Everything you need to know about the new wireless revolution | Wiring for wireless: 5G and the tower in your backyard | Palo Alto Networks to launch next-gen firewall for 5G networks | On a roof, inside London's 5G mobile trial

However, Fotis Karonis, executive advisor for 5G at BT Group, did say that as the 5G rollout begins in the UK, consumers will be in the position to pay a "little bit more" in recognition of the differences between current networks and what 5G offers.

Kevin Petersen, senior vice president, wireless product marketing at AT&T, added that AT&T expects the enterprise to become the first adopters of 5G, with use cases and interest by typical consumers to follow.

5G devices are expected to become commercially available roughly by the time next year's holiday season starts -- and this is approximately the same time frame in which 5G deployments will be switched on in specific areas.

Apple is reportedly not going to offer a 5G-ready iPhone until 2020, and so Android devices may have a competitive edge. However, in a saturated mobile market, it is up to device makers and carriers alike to properly present attractive use cases -- alongside an appealing price point -- if they want to create interest in 5G during its initial stages where availability of 5G networks are limited.

Disclaimer: Attendance at the conference was sponsored by Qualcomm.

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