Industry Voices—Blaber: New 5G phones unleashed despite MWC cancellation

Geoff Blaber

MWC may be on an enforced hiatus this year but there's no shortage of device announcements that still need to go ahead as 5G momentum gathers pace. This week Qualcomm confirmed a long list of partners that have announced Snapdragon 865 powered 5G devices including ASUS, Black Shark, Fujitsu, iQOO, Lenovo, Nubia, OPPO, realme, Redmi, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, vivo, Xiaomi and ZTE.

Concern was widespread that the cancellation of MWC would threaten product launches, but the simple reality is that business goes on. Manufacturers have commercial timelines and announcements must happen regardless. The broader impact of the coronavirus outbreak on supply chains, manufacturing and consumer demand is a different question and one that varies from company to company.

This is the second wave of 5G devices and as such they overcome several teething problems of the first crop of 5G hardware. Chief of these was a lack of support for sub-6 GHz frequency-division duplex (FDD) connectivity, a challenge for carriers with an abundance of FDD spectrum. The latest set of devices reflects widespread support for a full range of technologies, including millimeter wave, sub-6 GHz FDD and time division duplex frequency bands, dynamic spectrum sharing to enable the use of 4G and 5G in the same band, along with support for standalone 5G. This makes it a defining moment for 5G.

CCS Insight stated in 2019 that price would not be a barrier to adoption and the imminent arrival of $500 devices was a core assumption in our forecasts. This threshold has already been crossed, with devices appearing well under the $500 mark. We forecast 5G smartphone shipments of 230 million in 2020.

The devices announced this month serve a broad range of market segments, from premium devices to competitively priced mid-tier offerings. The speed at which 5G is going from an isolated high-end option to ubiquity in mid- to high tiers is consistent with the speed of 5G network deployments; 45 carriers in more than 20 countries have launched sub-6 GHz or millimeter-wave 5G networks.

It's also notable that network deployment and device availability are closer together in the 5G era than in previous generational transitions. We fully expect 5G adoption to outpace that of 4G, thanks largely to the impact of the Chinese market. Our forecast expects 5G connections will reach 1 billion in early 2022.

A significant factor here is the joint development of infrastructure and chipsets. As complexity increases, both must be closely defined in standards, tested, improved, tuned and deployed. The relationship between the two has become considerably closer. This is a leading reason why Qualcomm is enjoying such momentum with broad design wins in the first and second generation of 5G, along with its technology prowess in delivering powerful AI, camera and gaming experiences on device. The company has been central to the development of standards and tests alongside carriers and infrastructure partners.

Moreover, Qualcomm's investment to create a fully integrated modem-RF system addresses much of the 5G complexity on behalf of manufacturing partners. Manufacturers can choose a chipset platform and supporting RF components such as filters, power amplifiers, multiplexers and antenna tuners, knowing they're fully compatible and highly optimized.

To date, the following devices have been announced or will arrive soon based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 865: ASUS ROG Phone 3 and Zenfone 7, Black Shark 3, FCNT arrows 5G, iQOO 3, Legion Gaming Phone, Nubia Red Magic 5G, OPPO Find X2, realme X50 Pro, Redmi K30 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+, and S20 Ultra, Sharp AQUOS R5G, Sony Xperia 1 II, vivo APEX 2020 Concept Phone, Xiaomi Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro, ZTE Axon 10s Pro.

Qualcomm is the clear leader in 5G, even though MediaTek has no shortage of design wins and Samsung and Huawei have several of their own products using internally designed silicon. Competition will inevitably intensify. Nonetheless, Qualcomm's focus on system-level design, leadership in integration and optimization, coupled with a commitment to bringing 5G to a wide range of prices at scale means it is a leading factor in the growth and adoption of 5G in 2020.

Geoff Blaber is vice president of research for the Americas at CCS Insight. Based in California, Blaber heads CCS Insight’s Americas business and supports the range of clients located in this territory. Blaber's research focus spans a broad spectrum of mobility and technology, including the lead role in semiconductors. He is a well-known member of the analyst community and provides regular commentary to leading news organizations such as Reuters, the Financial Times and The Economist. You can follow him on Twitter @geoffblaber.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.