The launch of 5G will be significantly different than previous generations. With the inclusion of several wireless technologies like sub-6GHz, mmWave, and NB-IoT, the applications for 5G are much broader than previous generations, offering new opportunities not just for device OEMs, but also for enterprises and operators. In addition, 5G is becoming a competitive race, not just among carriers within a region, but also between countries. As a result, 5G will be launching by carriers in almost every region in a single year. Like previous generations, it will still be rolled out to major cities first and it will take some time before there’s full national and global coverage, but TIRIAS Research believes that the coverage rollout will be twice as fast as 4G, which took about a decade to reach near-global coverage.
The rapid launch of 5G is a testament to the ability of the industry to come together through the 3GPP to pull in the 5G New Radio (NR) specification into 2017, the 5G Standalone specification into 2018, and the rollout of networks and products into 2019. This is amazing given the challenges of moving a worldwide industry that has been fragmented by competing and incompatible technologies and slow to roll out new networks in previous generations. Even though 5G is based on the same OFDM technology as 4G LTE, the combination of even more license and unlicensed frequency bands is increasing the complexity exponentially. Qualcomm indicated that the potential number of frequency bands exceeds 10,000, 10x more than 4G. However, the industry is ready with support from all the major telecommunications equipment vendors, including DT Mobile, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, Samsung, and ZTE.
The rollout of 5G is also a testament to Qualcomm’s investment and wireless technology leadership to overcome many of the challenges associated with the new wireless technologies. Qualcomm is not only making many of the critical technologies required to implement 5G available, it is also leading the industry in the silicon technology that is being used for testing and certifying all the global networks, as well as the basis for all the first-generation of devices. In fact, to be in the first wave of 5G smartphones, we (TIRIAS Research) believe that most of the OEMs are all using a complete Qualcomm platform, that includes the Snapdragon SoCs, Snapdragon 5G modems, and Qualcomm’s RF360 complete RF front-end solution. Solutions from other vendors will follow, but it may be a year or longer after the Qualcomm-based platforms (this likely means Apple’s iPhone will not get 5G in 2019). It should be noted that all the Qualcomm-based smartphones will also be on Android. Considering that all of the Always-Connected PCs (ACPCs) are based on Qualcomm products, you may see 5G ACPCs by the end of 2019 as well.
5G is a milestone for the technology industry as a whole. With more wireless connectivity options, higher bandwidth, lower latency, and other enhancements, 5G will enable not only new ways to connect but also new applications. 5G will enable more hybrid and cloud applications ranging from machine learning to cloud-based graphics rendering for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and gaming. With gigabit speeds, 5G will also eliminate the need for wires as the last mile of connectivity and even within the home and enterprise. 5G is one of those core enabling technologies that we will look back on 10 years from now and say “5G was a significant step in the history of technology innovation”.
Right now, we are in the calm before the storm. The storm is building and it will be unleashed in the coming months with waves of 5G announcements throughout 2019. Personally, I’m looking forward to both testing out the new networks and the new devices, and seeing the new products, applications, and business models that emerge as a result of 5G.
The author and members of the TIRIAS Research staff do not hold equity positions in any of the companies mentioned. TIRIAS Research tracks and consults for companies throughout the electronics ecosystem from semiconductors to systems and sensors to the cloud. Members of the TIRIAS Research team have consulted for many of the companies mentioned in this article.