The change in Superfast 5G mobile broadband will also necessitate a change in phones, literally
When will it be safe to buy a device rocking the technology and will it be worth it?
To use the technology, we will all need to buy new phones and it’s only expected the first ones won’t be cheap. You might want to think twice before you spend on that new 4G device now.
Why is a new device necessary though?
The next generation of phones will need a much more complex antenna, a whole new chipset or brain, and a way of managing the extra energy richer 5G services will gobble up.
Much of the base engineering is solved, says Scott Petty, Vodafone UK’s chief technology officer. Now engineers are working on miniaturisation and how to scale up manufacturing to keep costs down, he says.
But with 5G-compatible phones likely to start selling from ‘around $600-$700 (£458-£534),’ according to David McQueen from ABI Research – Samsung, Apple and Huawei prices will be ‘much higher,’ he says – will we bother to fork out the extra cash?
This depends on how impressed we are with the new generation of services, says Mr. Petty.
‘We think 5G will kick off another wave of innovation that we haven’t seen in the last three or four years,’ he says, something akin to the shift from clunky physical keyboard-based models to those with high-definition touchscreens.
‘The smartphone will be acting as a communication hub for wearables,’ he predicts, with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) benefiting most from the faster streaming speeds and lower latency (delay).
This should reduce the feeling of nausea many people feel experiencing VR on slower phones, he says.
But while handset makers are racing to be first to market, they also don’t want to launch 5G handsets before the new networks have been rolled out – a mistake they made with 4G much to consumers’ annoyance.
US mobile maker Motorola is coming out with a 5G add-on for its modular Moto Z3 smartphone in early 2019.
‘We wanted to be first to market, and we wanted to learn a little about 5G frequencies,’ says Doug Michau, Motorola’s director of production operations in North America.
The challenge, he says, ‘has re-energised our engineering base here at Motorola.’
But the 5G module is slightly bigger than the smartphone itself, housing a 5G-only modem, several antennae, and extra battery capacity to power them, says Ian Cutress, who writes for hardware review website AnandTech.
And it will be available only to customers of the Verizon network in the US, he adds.
‘My guess for the first smartphone launch – after the Motorola add-on – would be from either OnePlus or Sony,’ says ABI Research’s Mr McQueen.
Qualcomm is developing a 5G antenna, but the new smartphones will need new chipsets as well
And the largest vendors will take longest, he says.
Samsung, he suspects, will launch its first 5G smartphone ‘around August 2019 in its Note series’, and Chinese manufacturer Huawei ‘sometime in mid-2019, possibly in its Mate rather than P series.’
‘[For Apple] we anticipate it will probably take another two generations, so probably 2020 earliest until 5G is seen in any of its iPhone devices,’ he says.
The researcher forecasts 5G smartphone sales will reach 15.8 million in 2019, rising to 77.5 million in 2020. While subscriptions ‘will ramp up quickly from 2020, reaching over 200 million by 2022.’
But there’s one problem
The tech will be available in two formats depending on location; sub-6GHz (gigahertz) and ‘millimetre wave’ (mmWave), higher frequency version designed for densely populated areas.
Thus, your phone may be unable to access 5G if you move into a location where your phone is incompatible.
‘Each one is essentially a new technology in its own right,’ says Mr Cutress. ‘And the world will be split into regions where mmWave is the technology, and regions where sub-6GHz is the technology,’ he says.
So you may not always be able to use your flash new smartphone’s 5G powers when you travel.
The first 5G smartphones are likely to have two modems: a standalone 5G modem, and one that works on 4G and older networks ‘to fall back on when 5G isn’t available,’ says Mr. Cutress.
In time, though, smartphones will probably have one modem that can switch between 3G, 4G, and 5G when necessary.
Experts believe while manufacturers may initially release pricey 5G phones, phones with the tech will progressively by 2020-21 become cheaper, with even low-end handsets becoming compatible.
The industry is hoping on technophiles to hype the tech enough to make people want to adopt it quicker.