5G device outlook

With third-generation chipsets, it’s time for performance optimization.

Key findings

  • Although 5G device volumes will be impacted in the short and medium terms, COVID-19 has not stalled overall long-term development.
  • Following the volume deployment of 5G devices in 2020 based on second-generation chipsets, third-generation chipsets will enable performance-optimized 5G devices in 2021.
  • Devices based on these third-generation chipsets will reach the lower mid-tier, or perhaps even low-cost segments.
Figure 13: 5G device availability (3GPP)

Figure 13: 5G device availability (3GPP)

Despite the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the 5G device ecosystem is continuing to expand, as both standalone (SA) and non‑standalone (NSA) networks are rolled out and new frequency bands are utilized:

  • over 100 commercial 5G device models
  • increasing support for mmWave frequency bands
  • fixed wireless terminals (FWT), modules and connected PCs gaining traction
  • an additional chipset player in the commercial 5G ecosystem
  • retail prices of 5G devices as low as USD 300–400 expected in the second half of 2020, reaching mid- to low‑tier segments

While COVID-19 will impact device volumes in the short to medium term, at this point the pace of new developments appears to be intact.

From volume to performance optimization

Second-generation chipsets started the volume deployment of 5G devices, with vendors launching flagship models in the first quarter of 2020. Third-generation chipsets will reach the interoperability labs this year, enabling performance-optimized 5G devices in 2021. New manufacturing processes will improve power consumption and allow new features that focus on end‑user performance in the 5G SA domain. Based on the third-generation chipsets, devices will reach lower mid‑tier or even low‑cost segments.

Taking advantage of mmWave frequency support

Spectrum is available in the 24, 28 and 39GHz mmWave frequency bands. Currently, this spectrum enables devices capable of end-user bitrates of over 4Gbps. The US has led investments in mmWave spectrum and technology, and consequently other markets are expected to take advantage of developments in the high‑band device ecosystem. There are a growing number of device models supporting mmWave both in smartphone and customer premises equipment (CPE)/FWT form factors for use in markets across North America, South East Asia and South Korea.

Low-band also gaining momentum

The first networks using low-band spectrum for 5G are live and the number of compatible devices is increasing. This also includes support for spectrum sharing, starting with a few band combinations fitting the initial launches, and more expected over time.

5G SA is gaining momentum in China, with devices configured to support SA on service provider activation. In Europe, the demand for 5G SA devices for dedicated network applications is growing, driving requirements for form factors beyond smartphones.

In the US, the initial target is to introduce SA using low-bands for mobile broadband. During 2020, devices will be released with the capability to go between SA and NSA modes where both network architectures are deployed.