Samsung will be launching an Android smartphone compatible with Verizon’s 5G network in 2019, the two companies announced Monday. The device will debut in the first half of the next year and be powered by a Snapdragon-series system-on-chip from Qualcomm. The duo also revealed the SoC in question will utilize the Snapdragon X50 5G New Radio modem, meaning it will almost certainly be the Snapdragon 845 successor Qualcomm is expected to unveil later this week. Samsung and Verizon will be attending Qualcomm’s annual Snapdragon Technology Summit that’s kicking off in Maui, Hawaii, on Tuesday, with the two firms being set to demonstrate a prototype of a 5G-enabled handset at the event.
What’s currently unclear is whether the said prototype will serve as a basis for the upcoming consumer-grade device from a design perspective, i.e. whether it will look anything like the final product Samsung and Verizon will be launching in the coming months. The technology giants described the launch of the 5G smartphone as the next logical step in their collaboration meant to enable a new generation of mobile connectivity that’s been ongoing for several years now. While no firm release windows have yet been disclosed, Verizon said it’s currently aiming to have its mobile 5G service start rolling out in “early 2019,” adding that Samsung’s seminal device will become available to its customers simultaneously with the beginning of that commercial buildout. The Android handset will be compatible with Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network from day one, meaning it will be capable of achieving significantly higher speeds than smartphones connected to the carrier’s 4G LTE infrastructure, whereas other features of the next wireless revolution should be added to its portfolio over time.
Verizon also hinted that it’s already developing some exclusive services and capabilities for the early adopters of its 5G network, including games, though no additional details on the matter are currently available. The Monday announcement saw both Samsung and Verizon reiterate their high expectations of 5G connectivity, asserting that the upcoming Snapdragon-powered handset is bound to “fundamentally transform how people work and play,” as Samsung Electronics America SVP Justin Denison put it.
Background: Verizon claims it’s the first wireless carrier in the United States that has already launched a 5G network in the form of 5G Home which debuted in Houston, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Indianapolis in early October. However, the service in question is a fixed wireless access (FWA) solution rivaling broadband Internet access and not mobile networks, as many industry watchers repeatedly pointed out. It’s also not based on a proprietary solution that’s unlikely to be scalable, so while Verizon already promised to upgrade its 5G Home customers to “real” wireless 5G once that becomes an option next year, the two technologies are expected to be fundamentally different.
Samsung played a major role in Verizon’s recent efforts on the 5G front, with the South Korean company being one of the telecom giant’s main suppliers of equipment meant to support the fifth generation of mobile networks. While the two firms are now set to showcase a 5G phone prototype later this week, they already created several experimental devices communicating with the new wireless standard, one of which took the form of a tablet as part of some early 2018 tests. The Seoul-based manufacturer was also deeply involved in most of Verizon’s contemporary 5G tests, including those utilizing millimeter-wave spectrum, a frequency type that’s widely expected to be the backbone of the new mobile service standard.
This January, Samsung VP Magnus Ojert who’s in charge of the company’s collaboration with Verizon claimed the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. said Samsung’s 5G tech is already surpassing all expectations, particularly in regards to its ability to perform consistently across all weather conditions, something that mmWave signals generally struggle with. The very nature of high-frequency bands allows for significantly higher network speeds and capacities, as well as lower response times, but also makes such signals more volatile, i.e. prone to being absorbed by things like rain and foliage. Samsung is said to have developed a technology that makes mmWave-based telecommunications more consistent and much like rivaling solutions, its concept revolves around small cells, miniature radio stations that help bounce those signals and ensure they’re consistently reaching their destination.
Samsung is also a key partner in the 5G Home initiative and has made significant contributions to the 3GGP’s 5G NR project, together with the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei. While the South Korean juggernaut has been in the telecom game for a long time, it’s still a relatively small player in the Western wireless industry and sees 5G as a major growth opportunity that will offset its relatively small global footprint in the 4G LTE space. It has been committing significant resources toward that goal over the last several years and also became the first company whose commercial 5G products received certification from the Federal Communications Commission. Verizon previously pledged to reach nationwide 5G coverage by 2020, together with its main rivals – AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Recent rumors suggested Samsung is working on a 5G variant of its Galaxy S10+ flagship which is expected to debut in its home country, though today’s announcement indicates the same device might hit the U.S. as well.
Impact: The latest development gives more credence to theories that first 5G handsets to hit the U.S. market will be carrier exclusives which won’t be unlockable. While all implementations of the next generation of (mobile) connectivity will be based on the same specifications, it’s unlikely that the initial networks and products will have perfect interoperability. Due to that state of affairs, stateside carriers appear to be scrambling to secure partnerships with phone makers as quickly as possible so as to not risk a scenario wherein their expensive new networks go largely unused in the initial months following their deployment. After Sprint confirmed such a partnership with LG, Samsung has now joined forces with Verizon, though it remains unclear whether these and other collaborations will also be tied with some unpublicized exclusivity terms. In the meantime, American consumers can expect the first 5G smartphones available to them will be powered by Android and be unveiled near the end of the first quarter of 2019, most likely at Barcelona-based Mobile World Congress which is starting in late February.