Some "aggressive" original equipment manufacturers aren't content with the currently widely accepted 2019 launch timeframe for 5G-enabled smartphones and would like to bring such devices to the market by late 2018, Qualcomm Engineering SVP Durga Prasad Malladi told India-based ETTelecom. While the fifth generation of mobile services will already become available in limited areas in the second half of this year, the current plan is to commercialize it in conjunction with "pucks" or cutting-edge routers meant to serve as an alternative to broadband Internet access, whereas no real talk of 5G smartphones being available for purchase prior to 2019 has been heard so far.
Chinese ZTE is the only major OEM that previously confirmed it's exploring the idea of launching a 5G handset in late 2018 but after the U.S. Commerce Department hit it with a seven-year ban on purchasing American technologies over its violations of Iran trade sanctions last month, its overall future remains uncertain, with the firm recently ceasing all major operations and raising concerns over whether it will be able to produce any kind of phones at all moving forward, let alone 5G-ready ones. While the world's first 5G handsets are likely to be flagships, Mr. Malladi said Qualcomm will make sure OEMs have their options open from day one, so entry-level and mid-range offerings capable of communicating with such next-generation networks may not be far behind their premium counterparts, or at least won't be late due to technological limitations.
Qualcomm is also looking beyond smartphones in the context of 5G, the industry veteran said, having pointed to the company's recent laptop push as one natural avenue of growth for the firm that's recently been looking to power a variety of portable Windows ultrabooks with its Snapdragon chips. Tablets are also likely to receive 5G capabilities in the near future, Mr. Malladi indicated. The Qualcomm official confirmed there will "absolutely" be a 5G alternative to Voice over LTE (VoLTE) but it may be a while until such a solution becomes available even after 5G networks are commercialized. Regardless, the non-standalone nature of the specification used as a basis for early 5G means that devices will be simultaneously connected to both 4G LTE and the new standard, so VoLTE will remain just as available as before until a better technology comes along, Mr. Malladi concluded.