Qualcomm has announced that 19 phone/device makers (OEMs) have selected the next-generation Qualcomm X50 5G NR modem for “Mobile Device Launches in 2019”. This development confirms that 5G will make its consumer debut in 2019 and that Qualcomm will be a major player when it does. This was discussed at the Qualcomm 5G Day event in San Diego, CA, where Qualcomm invited ~100 journalists and analysts, including Ubergizmo.

5G NR stands for 5G “New Radio,” a freshly ratified 3GPP standard in December 2017 (3GPP news and video interview). 3GPP is the body in charge of organizing and ratifying global communications standards, including 4G and 3G. Members are composed of leading companies, and nearly all major telecom players contribute. It looks like “NR” will stick to describe 5G, just like 4G LTE (long-term evolution) ended up being how “4G” was named.

The list of OEM names includes Asus, Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Connected Technologies Limited, HMD Global (Nokia phones), HTC, Inseego/Novatel Wireless, LG, NetComm Wireless, NETGEAR, OPPO, Sharp Corporation, Sierra Wireless, Sony Mobile, Telit, vivo, Wingtech, WNC, Xiaomi, and ZTE. Many of the world’s largest carriers are also on-board.

At the moment, a few names are not on the list, but it does not mean (yet) that they will not end up using Qualcomm’s technology in their 2019 products. Apple has been trying to get away from Qualcomm’s modems by using Intel’s 4G modems with mixed success. At the same time, Samsung has been a major Qualcomm customer for the current generation of Galaxy S and Note phones. Samsung sometimes uses its own 4G modems in specific markets.

We have followed the Qualcomm X50 since 2016, and it looks like Qualcomm’s investment is now turning into sales as phone makers and carriers start pushing the next-generation mobile technology. Interestingly, the carriers have serious incentives to switch to 5G fast because the new protocol is supposed to be more cost-efficient to run, and more future-proof than current LTE networks.

5G has many benefits for many use cases. From a consumer standpoint, 5G opens the path to multi-gigabit wireless networks and will raise the average speed while drastically lowering the latency at the same time. Rarely talked about, latency is a major issue when it comes to perceived web performance. An order of magnitude latency reduction will have very noticeable positive effects on the user experience.

Because 5G deployments will take time, 4G will serve as fallback connectivity. This is why 4G LTE will continue to evolve. At the moment, the fastest commercial LTE stands at 1.2Gbps, but it should go even faster going forward. 5G technologies can operate under drastically different radio frequencies, going from 600MHz to 71 GHz. The complexity and all the possible combinations are mind-boggling. To handle that, Qualcomm has worked for several years on better radio Front-End hardware. This is the reason why Qualcomm-powered phones can support more and more bands configurations.

It will be interesting to see how competitors will react to this announcement. In theory, device makers try to hedge their bets, but it is not a secret that Qualcomm has enjoyed a very strong position for a long time with a combination of Modem Performance and/or Processor Integration. It is expected that the X50 5G NR modem will debut as a standalone modem that works alongside an integrated modem (into the main processor) that handles 4G communications. The battery should not be impacted significantly because only one radio needs to be running at full power at any given time. Hopefully, this will be different from the first generation of 4G LTE phones, and chances are, it will.

It is likely that the current leaders in 4G LTE will continue to do well, if not better, with 5G NR because 4G LTE remains a fallback connectivity model while 5G is being deployed. 4G challengers will need to fight a two-front battle to compete.

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