The promise that we'll see the first 5G phones by 2019 has now become even more of a sure thing.
Eighteen global carriers will start 5G speed trials in 2018, using a new Qualcomm modem that's built to handle huge amounts of data at almost instantaneous speeds -- at least theoretically.
What's more, 18 global device makers have also thrown their weight behind Qualcomm's X50 5G modem, including LG, HTC, Oppo (which owns OnePlus), Vivo, Xiaomi and the startup behind Nokia-branded phones. This partnership expands on a previous pact with Chinese phone makers in January. Scroll to the end for the full roster.
The 5G technology is expected to radically transform our world
The commitment by so many carriers and handset makers underscores the reality that 5G -- after years of hype -- is finally upon us. The technology, which promises faster and more responsive wireless networks, is expected to radically transform our world and power other burgeoning tech like self-driving cars and the vast universe of connected devices that make up the Internet of Things.
Modems are the part of a phone that does the heavy lifting to connect to the internet. Slow speeds mean that it'll take you longer to upload photos to Instagram and stream music over your carrier's network. But 5G speeds promise to stream videos and fire off texts up to 10 times faster than today's average 4G network.
The public backing of these carriers and device makers comes at a time when Qualcomm is biting and clawing to maintain its identity and profits.
Hostility between Qualcomm and Apple, which uses Qualcomm's radio in some of its phones and licenses its technology, is palpable. Late last month, antitrust regulators in the EU fined Qualcomm $1.23 billion for violating competition laws. Qualcomm faces similar, ongoing litigation with Apple in the US, and was slapped with hefty fines in China and South Korea for forcing a chipset monopoly.
The world's largest mobile chipmaker is also attempting to dance its way out of an unwanted takeover by Broadcom for $105 billion. Qualcomm snubbed the acquisition offer for low-balling its value. Broadcom, which makes chips for a dizzying array of devices from set-top boxes to cable modems, says it'll continue to pursue forming a mega-chip supplier with Qualcomm under its fold.
Samsung, Apple and Huawei, three of the world's largest phone makers, are conspicuously absent from this Qualcomm roundup. Samsung just amended its partnership with Qualcomm, making support of this particular X50 modem likely, but still unverified.
As for Huawei, "[it's] is going down the path of vertical integration," said Sherif Hanna, Qualcomm's director of 5G product marketing. "They have their own mobile processors and cellular modems."
Does Qualcomm fear Apple will ditch Qualcomm chips on future iPhones in favor of Intel's wares, as recently rumored?
"We want everybody's business," Hanna said, "Including Apple's."
Device makers committed to 5G in 2019
- Oppo (OnePlus, Oppo phones)
- HMD (Nokia phones)
- Sierra Wireless
- NetComm Wireless
Carriers starting 5G trials with Qualcomm's modem in 2018
- China Telecom
- China Mobile
- China Unicom
- Deutsche Telekom
- LG U+
- NTT Docomo
- SK Telecom
- Vodafone Group