ZTE is planning to release a 5G-enabled Android smartphone in the United States by early 2019, Bloomberg reported Friday, citing the CEO of the company’s stateside division Lixin Cheng whom it interviewed at CES in Las Vegas. The Chinese original equipment manufacturer is presently in the process of developing such devices and may even be able to commercialize a 5G handset in the final quarter of 2018, though it isn’t prepared to make any official commitments to do so due to a number of uncertainties, most of which pertain to the actual availability of the fifth generation of mobile networks in the U.S.
The Shenzhen-based company is now focused on delivering at least one smartphone compatible with the upcoming wireless technology approximately 12 months from now but may also explore its options in the tablet space, Mr. Cheng said, adding that ZTE could release a 5G-enabled smart home hub meant to control Internet of Things devices in the same period. The executive didn’t elaborate whether ZTE will continue its partnership with Verizon or AT&T in order to launch its first 5G device, though that seems like a probable scenario, especially as both of the largest carriers in the country are set to start commercializing new mobile service technologies late this year, though only AT&T claims it will deliver a true wireless service to select cities, whereas Verizon’s 2018 deployment efforts will only see the introduction of a more limited, router-reliant 5G Fixed Wireless Access solution. AT&T also promised to launch a 5G-enabled device that will be able to take advantage of its new service in late 2018 but didn’t name its manufacturer.
The Chinese phone maker has a minor presence in the U.S. that’s mostly sustained through smartphones sold with prepaid plans from Verizon and AT&T such as the Blade Vantage and Cymbal LTE. The company also has a history of chasing industry-first solutions, having recently proclaimed itself to be the first OEM that commercialized a foldable smartphone while announcing the Axon M, so rushing a 5G phone to the market would be in line with its M.O. even though the next generation of wireless networks isn’t likely to be available in the majority of the U.S. until late 2019 and is only expected to be commercialized on a national level more than two years from now.