The first 5G phones could be available next year

Deloitte Global predicts that 2019 will be the year in which fifth-generation (5G) wide-area wireless networks arrive in scale.

The most noticeable benefits of these first 5G networks for users will be faster speeds than today’s 4G technology – peak speeds of gigabits per second (Gbps), and sustainable speeds estimated to be in the hundreds of megabits per second (Mbps).

According to a new report released by the Deloitte’s insights team, there were 72 operators testing 5G in 2018, with around 25 operators expected to have launched 5G service in at least part of their territory (usually cities) by the end of 2019.

Deloitte also expects about 20 handset vendors to launch 5G-ready handsets in 2019 (with the first available in Q2), and about 1 million 5G handsets (out of a projected 1.5 billion smartphone handsets sold in 2019) to be shipped by year’s end.

The three main uses of 5G – in the short term

Deloitte predicts that in 2019 and 2020, 5G wireless technology will have three major applications.

“First, 5G will be used for truly mobile connectivity, mainly by devices such as smartphones,” it said.

“Second, 5G will be used to connect ‘less mobile’ devices, mainly 5G modems or hotspots: dedicated wireless access devices, small enough to be mobile, that will connect to the 5G network and then connect to other devices over Wi-Fi technology.

“Finally, there will be 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) devices, with antennas permanently mounted on buildings or in windows, providing a home or business with broadband in place of a wired connection,” it said.

Deloitte added that all of these 5G devices will operate over traditional and new cellular radio frequency bands in the low- (sub-1 GHz, such as 700 MHz), mid- (1–6 GHz, such as around 3.5-3.8 GHz), and millimetre-wave (mmWave, such as 28 GHz) ranges.

“While smartphones, modems, and hotspots will mostly use low- and mid-range frequencies, 5G FWA devices will often operate using mmWave technology, which offers the potential for higher bandwidth than sub-6 GHz frequencies,” it said.

“Because mmWave frequencies struggle to penetrate walls or pass through certain types of glass, many 5G FWA devices will require mounting antennas on windows or a building’s exterior wall.”

5G smartphones

Deloitte said that making a 5G-ready handset is more complicated than one might think due to differences in two critical components of a 5G versus a 4G phone – the radio modem and the antenna.

With a bundled 4G chip for a high-end phone costing an estimated $70 (R990) in 2019, Deloitte expects that the 5G version will almost certainly cost more.

“A leading modem/processor manufacturer has announced that its 5G chipset will be ready in 2019, although supply constraints suggest that wide availability will not occur until the second half of the year,” it said.

“The bigger challenge is designing an antenna for 5G.

“Since the new radio technology will launch both at frequencies around 28 GHz (which require narrow-beam, high-gain antenna systems made up of multiple combined radiators) and at frequencies below 6 GHz (for which single-element, low-gain, omnidirectional antennas can be used), the design of a 5G antenna is much more complicated than that for a 4G antenna.”

Deloitte said that the antennas and front-end of a leading 4G smartphone typically cost around $20 (R283) in 2018, and 5G solutions, expected to be available in 2019, will almost certainly carry a higher price – possibly much higher.

“Putting these factors together, a 5G-ready phone’s component costs in 2019 will likely be $40-50 (R566-R708) higher than for a comparable 4G phone – for a phone with relatively few networks worldwide to connect to, and likely with only narrow coverage even where available.”

“There’s one good piece of news,” Deloitte said.

“Battery life will likely be a smaller issue than it was when 4G was launched. Chipmakers have said that they expect battery life for the first 5G phones to be more or less in line with that of current 4G handsets.”

Read: These are the most popular South African apps in Apple’s app store

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The first 5G phones could be available next year