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5G device outlook

The state of the device market is always a good indicator of the expectations for a new technology generation.


Key findings

  • Indoor customer-provided equipment and pocket routers for mid-band are expected to be available by the end of 2018, and a strong lineup is forecast for smartphones for Q2 2019.
  • Devices for mmWave, mid and low frequency bands are now continuously being announced: more than 20 devices were announced in October 2018 alone.
  • Second-generation chipsets are expected by the end of 2019, enabling 5G devices with enhanced architectures and lower power consumption.

The third quarter of 2018 has been remarkable: a number of device vendors revealed their 5G ambitions, capturing the attention of the tech-savvy with their 5G smartphone designs. Recently, it has become apparent that 5G anticipation is much greater than that experienced in the lead-up to LTE. Key suppliers of cellular chipsets are spending significant resources on developing their 5G offerings.

Clearly 5G is at the front of everyone’s mind – but it should also be remembered that this is just the beginning of a major technology shift, with many challenges ahead.

Frequency diversity

Not every market has the same access to spectrum. While millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum bands are an important topic in North America, other markets will concentrate on sub-6GHz spectrum in different forms and variants. This means chipset and infrastructure vendors need to work on three non-standalone 5G variants almost concurrently: TDD for mmWave, TDD for mid-band and FDD for low band. Standalone 5G is also starting to emerge. Compared to the introduction of LTE, the scope of 5G technical variants is much wider.

Despite the complexities, device and infrastructure vendors are now continuously announcing products for mmWave, mid-band and low-band variants. More than 20 devices were announced in October 2018 alone. The figure below illustrates our projected timing for commercial 5G device offerings.

There are strong indications that indoor customer-provided equipment (CPE) and pocket routers for mid-band will be available by the end of the year. For smartphones we forecast a strong lineup for Q2 2019. At this point it is difficult to accurately predict release timing or number of vendors, but second-generation chipsets are expected by the end of 2019, which will enable more 5G-capable devices with enhanced architectures and lower power consumption. Modules for laptops and industrial applications are expected within the same time frame.

The situation for mmWave looks very similar to that for mid-band, with the caveat that mmWave can be seen as more challenging as this frequency domain has not been used in small form-factor cellular devices before. Power consumption, antenna technology and Additional Maximum Power Reduction (A-MPR) are all more challenging for mmWave compared to mid- and low-band devices.

In summary, 5G will take off in 2019 and 2020 will be the year in which 5G enters the mass market. At this point in time, third-generation chipsets will have been introduced and a large number of devices will be available.

Accumulated 5G device release forecast