The newest generation of cellular technology, also known as 5G, is nearly here. The biggest initial wave of 5G deployment will likely take place in 2019 and 2020, and carriers everywhere are laying the groundwork to roll out a faster and more expansive wireless network.
While it’s true that many industries will benefit from faster connectivity — self-driving cars, drones, virtual reality and the internet of things, to name a few — the way most people will see the benefits of a robust 5G network is with a 5G-enabled phone. After all, the grand promises carriers are making with 5G coverage doesn’t mean much if you can’t access the network with your own device.
Some companies, such as Lenovo, have already released a 5G-capable device before 2019. US carrier AT&T, for example, will sell a 5G hotspot router later this month. Meanwhile, other companies have announced specific 5G goals.
To help you keep tabs on when we can expect 5G phones, here’s what the major phone-makers have announced, and not announced, about their 5G phone plans so far.
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Apple is in no rush to launch a 5G iPhone — don’t expect one in 2019 or maybe even 2020. Save for abandoning the headphone jack (the iPhone 7 was one of the first phone to lack one), Apple usually isn’t the first with mobile trends, preferring instead to perfect an emerging technology before committing to it. Remember that it was behind its competitors in making phones with 3G and 4G LTE connectivity.
So while we could see a flurry of Android 5G phones in 2019, don’t expect Apple to embrace it so quickly.
Apple did not respond for a request to comment.
In August, Samsung said that it’s working with South Korean telecommunication companies to release its first 5G phone, adding that this device won’t be the Galaxy S10. Instead, rumors indicate the device may be the Galaxy S10 Plus, the anticipated larger counterpart of the S10.
Meanwhile, South Korea is expected to deploy its 5G network around March 2019, and since Samsung usually launches its Galaxy S phones in February or March, we might see this 5G phone around then. In addition, Samsung will most likely sell the phone in South Korea first, with other markets waiting longer, but there’s no info as to when.
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Google’s hasn’t revealed its plans for 5G, and the company declined to reply for a request to comment. What we do know is that Verizon said it’s planning to roll out its 5G network in early 2019, similar to other carriers.
What does that have to do with Google exactly? For the past few years, Google has tapped Verizon as its exclusive carrier partner for its Pixel phones, including the latest Pixel 3, though the company also sells the phone unlocked or on its Wi-Fi-first network, Google Fi.
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This could mean that Google’s next flagship, presumably called the Pixel 4, could be a 5G phone. (The company declined a request to comment.) If it sticks with its usual phone-launch schedule, the Pixel 4 would debut around October 2019 — well after the first half of the year.
In August, LG confirmed that its first US 5G phone will debut on Sprint “in the first half of 2019,” just as Sprint launches its 5G network. (FYI, Sprint is expected to merge with T-Mobile very soon — a move that carrier speed analyst Ookla said “could result in an unmatched network in the face of 5G.”)
John Tudhope, director of product portfolio for Sprint, has only said the device will be a premium phone. More recently, however, the Vice President of 5G development at Sprint Business, Mishka Dehghan, said that the phone will have a distinct look and that “you will know it’s a 5G device.”
In August, Lenovo unveiled the Motorola Moto Z3, a phone that has 5G — kind of. It only connects to 5G with a Moto Mod modular accessory, which attaches to the back of the phone using magnetic pins. With the Mod, Motorola says the phone will deliver data 10 times faster than other 4G LTE devices. Unfortunately, the Mod is supposed to come out early next year, and we don’t know how much it will cost.
As for a Motorola phone that wouldn’t need an accessory to connect to 5G, the company is working on making such a device, but you’ll have to wait much longer. Doug Michau, Motorola Mobility’s director of technical sales and operations, said that phone would come much later than early 2019. More specifically, Michau said it would launch in “definitely less than three years, but no time frame yet.”
During Mobile World Congress Shanghai in June, Huawei promised that its first 5G phone will go on sale “before the end of June 2019,” after it releases its first 5G Kirin modem and processor in March 2019.
It’s unlikely that the phone will come to the US. Calling them a security threat to the Department of Defense, the US government banned the sale of Huawei phones on US military bases and in March, retail giant Best Buy stopped selling them.
That doesn’t exactly spell the end of Huawei and its 5G ambitions though. “Our products and solutions are used by major carriers, Fortune 500 companies and hundreds of millions of consumers in more than 170 countries around the world,” a Huawei spokesman said earlier this year. “We have earned the trust of our partners across the global value chain.”
When chipmaker Qualcomm unveiled its 5G partnerships earlier this January, it included OnePlus as one of the many Chinese phone-makers it was working with to make the first batch of 5G phones for 2019. Afterward, OnePlus released the OnePlus 6 flagship, which supports gigabit LTE speeds.
The upcoming 6T should have the same feature, and OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei confirmed that it’s continually working with 5G technology. “Our teams work very closely with Qualcomm’s teams in terms of tech and we’re involved early on in the R&D process,” said Pei in a May interview with CNET. “[But] I don’t want to commit to a timeline right now.”
Though Nokia isn’t the phone giant that it was 15 years ago, it’s still taking steps towards a 5G future. In July, it announced a $3.5 billion partnership with T-Mobile, which includes taking advantage of T-Mobile’s 600MHz spectrum to back its 5G network. 5G phones from this partnership are expected in 2019.
Nokia also stands to benefit from 5G in other ways. In addition to Qualcomm and Ericsson, the company has patent rights to 5G technology, and stands to make up to $3.50 for every 5G smartphone sold.
In February 2017, the company demoed its Gigabit phone, which was capable of getting a 1 gigabit per second wireless connection (about 50 times faster than the average cellular speed in the US). But the phone was brought to the MWC tradeshow that year as a way to tout ZTE’s 5G readiness — a proof of concept, it wasn’t an actual phone.
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