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5G device outlook

5G smartphones in all three spectrum bands are expected to be available in 2019.

Key findings

  • Over 10 million 5G subscriptions are projected worldwide by the end of 2019.
  • There is a strong commitment and increasing 5G focus from chipset and device vendors.
  • The first wave of 5G services and device launches will be based on Non-Standalone (NSA) architecture.
  • Suppliers are already working on the first chipsets supporting Standalone (SA) architecture and devices are expected in the second half of 2019.

There is a strong commitment and an increasing 5G focus from chipset and device vendors. The first 5G devices, launched in 2018, were pocket routers. The first 5G smartphones were launched in early Q2 2019 in line with the first commercial 5G service launches in Asia Pacific, North America and Europe. Despite challenging 5G timelines, device suppliers are expected to be ready with different band and architecture support in a range of devices during 2019. For example, due to increased interest in deploying 5G network-wide coverage, first devices in low-band (below 1GHz) are now expected at the end of this year. Given the device availability, over 10 million 5G subscriptions are projected worldwide by the end of 2019, and more substantial volumes of 5G devices in different bands are expected from 2020 onwards.

Chipsets for Standalone (SA) architecture expected in the second half of 2019

The first wave of 5G service and device launches will be based on Non-Standalone (NSA) architecture, which means 5G networks will be supported by existing 4G infrastructure. Due to initial limited 5G network coverage, fallback to 4G networks for service continuity will be important. Communications service providers in North America, Asia Pacific and Europe are launching NSA, which has influenced China to shift its focus to NSA deployments first, with SA to follow. Suppliers are already working on the first chipsets supporting SA architecture and devices are expected to be available in the second half of 2019.

Spectrum sharing can support faster 5G network coverage build-out

New spectrum assets available for 5G service providers include wide bandwidths in higher frequencies, allowing significant increases of capacity. However, this requires tighter network grids to build coverage, which is both time and resource-consuming. While this is happening, a fast way to build coverage is to utilize existing frequency bands used by today’s LTE networks. By implementing spectrum sharing, service providers can run LTE and 5G traffic on the same bands. This enables them to provide 5G network coverage quickly but requires device chipset support. Chipsets are currently in development and are anticipated to be in 5G commercial devices in late 2019.

5G device availability (3GPP)