China's top mobile manufacturers — including OnePlus, OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, and ZTE — are each working closely with Qualcomm to drive commercialization of next-generation networking in 2019, according to a recent announcement from the company. OnePlus expects to be among the earliest to launch a 5G compatible device, as one of the first companies to adopt the use of the latest Snapdragon SoC. That SoC is Qualcomm's first 5G compatible chipset and pairs with the company's X50 5G NR modem as well as its new QTM052 mmWave antenna modules. As revealed earlier this week, OnePlus will be among the first to make use of that equipment heading into next year. That will likely be presented as a third smartphone for 2019 and may be sold as a sister-device to the OnePlus 7 but no details about that have been provided. To the contrary, neither Vivo or OPPO pinned down any exact plans to release a 5G compatible consumer device. The former company will show a pre-commercial handset in 2019 but won't have a commercially available device until the following year. OPPO, in contradiction to recent leaks, made no such statements whatsoever.
Xiaomi revealed that its 5G signal, connection, and mmWave throughput tests have already been completed and that it is prepared to take the next steps to finalize a 5G smartphone at some point in the next 12 months. ZTE's is similarly in the process of finalizing testing and is "looking forward to" revealing a 5G commercial device during the first half of next year. For ZTE, the company had already been revealed to be working on the project and its timeline for release. Its text devices have been built out on a modified version of devices in its NEX lineup, which could indicate that ZTE will iterate on that family rather than inventing new branding or a new model line for 5G. Each of the respective companies is also attending the China Mobile Global Partner Conference, running from December 6 through December 8, and teaming up with the Qualcomm to tout their own 5G mobile demo devices.
Background: Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 855 SoC and 5G solutions have been in the works for some time now and were only just detailed this week at the company's Snapdragon Technology Summit. The processor scales down from its 10nm predecessor to 7nm and couples with an Adreno 640 GPU as well as dedicated AI components and a 2.84GHz maximum clock speed. Quick Charge 4+, support for LPDDR4X memory 4x16bit, and all of the latest video protocols are supported as part of the package too – up to and including 8K 360 video playback. That's setting aside support for multi-gigabit support with 5G NR and up to 2Gbps via 4G LTE. However, at least one of China's top OEMs, Huawei, was notably absent from Qualcomm's announcement. That's not entirely surprising since its own chip-making subsidiary HiSilicon is rumored to be working on an updated version of its Kirin 980 SoC for use with an in-house Balong 5000 5G modem. That will feature nearly identical specs to the Kirin 980 but be sold under the model name Kirin 990.
Impact: Chinese OEMs are, of course, not the only companies getting in on the 5G action with Qualcomm by any stretch of the imagination. The chipset manufacturer has been the de facto supplier of mobile silicon since nearly the beginning of Android's existence. As such, a combination of its Snapdragon 855 and X50 5G NR modem family are expected to be at or near the top in terms of adoption as the new technology goes mainstream. So news of handset manufacturers working closely with Qualcomm isn't necessarily surprising and the remaining question still to be answered comes down to which of those will be able to bring a 5G device to market first.