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

Verizon and Samsung will show off a proof of concept 5G device and eye an early 2019 launch. AT&T will also offer an early 2019 5G device. Is there an opportunity for Samsung to leapfrog Apple?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Samsung and Verizon are planning to launch one of the first commercial 5G smartphones in the first half of 2019 as Apple will reportedly hang back until 2020. AT&T will also launch a 5G device with Samsung.

The big question is whether the 5G upgrade will matter in the smartphone market.

In a statement, Verizon and Samsung outlined their 5G plans and said they will unveil a proof of concept device powered by Qualcomm's 5G components. This proof of concept device will be shown at the Qualcomm Snapdragon Technology Summit in Maui. Good gig if you can get it.

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AT&T followed up with a similar announcement. AT&T is also focusing its 5G efforts on business customers as well as consumers. AT&T has installed 5G infrastructure in 12 markets so far.

For Verizon and AT&T, being early with a 5G device is critical as is its early 2019 launch of services. 5G networks will be faster than 4G and be easier to manage for wireless carriers. Less latency and more speed offers a lot of options for new services, edge computing and Internet of things deployments. Simply put, it helps to have a flagship partner to highlight how 5G will boost the wireless experience.

Also: 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

As Samsung makes it clear it's going 5G early, Apple will reportedly take a different approach, according to a Bloomberg report. Historically, Apple has waited for standards, networks and efficiency gains to be ironed out. Apple's iPhone lagged in 3G and 4G services relative to the Android crowd. The delay didn't matter then, and it's unclear whether it matters now. CNET noted that details on 5G devices have been vague at best.

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The 5G push for 2019 will be led by Android devices makers. Huawei, Samsung and others are going to push 5G. Here's a look at the moving 5G parts and factors to consider when pondering the Samsung vs. Apple race.

  • Samsung has an opportunity for a leap frog. Keep in mind that Samsung is also making 5G equipment and has the opportunity to be a network player. It only makes sense to get ahead of 5G with an end point device that is premium and can serve as a show piece. And in the premium market, Samsung can drive profit margins. Perhaps Samsung can even steal some share from the iPhone ecosystem. Samsung still wants to be the first to launch foldable phone, says mobile boss
  • Apple is right to hold back. Yes, 5G service will be available in 2019, but it's unclear what the hit will be to wallets, battery life and overall experience. Standards are still being worked out and 2019 will set a lot of groundwork.
  • There are Android people and there are iOS people. With the Android community racing to 5G it's likely that the key players will just beat each other up instead of Apple. It's unlikely that 5G is going to entice Apple folks to switch to Android.
  • The smartphone upgrade cycle is long and getting longer. There's a reason Apple will stop reporting unit figures for its devices: We're at peak iPhone. However, peak iPhone isn't necessarily bad. As long as consumers stick with iOS then Apple can market services and collect recurring revenue.
  • 5G adoption may be impacted by costs. The devil in the 5G push by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile will be in the details. While 5G devices sound great, how customers are charged for these speedier services remains to be seen. Is that extra speed worth $20 a month more? The other wrinkle will be the cost for 5G devices overall. Samsung and Apple are already pushing the smartphone cost curve out. It's unclear how much more a tech buyer will be willing to spend on a device--even a 5G one.

Updated story Dec. 4 to reflect AT&T 5G plans with Samsung.

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