2019 To Be A 'Slow 5G Year' With Android Brands Playing It Safe

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Android phone makers are going to spearhead the adoption of 5G, although the impact of that support will be limited in the early stages.

The information on this comes from a new TrendForce report which looks to predict how 2019 is likely to play out.

The report suggests that even though a number of well-known smartphone brands will release 5G smartphones in 2019, only as many as five million units will be produced throughout the year.

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Five million 5G phones will equate to a 0.4-percent penetration rate, according to Trendforce. A percentage, which if proven right, will mean 5G remains almost non-existent when compared to the overall number of smartphones produced and sold in 2019.

Huawei, OnePlus, OPPO, Samsung, Vivo, and Xiaomi are all expected to release 5G phones in 2019.

One of the main reasons given for this ultra-low penetration rate is the infrastructure itself. Mobile 5G is not really here yet, and while it is expected proper 5G networks will be launched in various markets in the coming weeks and months, how widespread those networks are at launch remains to be seen.

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The other major issue is the smartphones themselves. As to be expected, 5G networks will arrive before 5G phones, and with major brands unsure of how much consumer demand there will be during the opening 5G stages, it's expected these companies will be cautious in delivering 5G products.

Arguably, the biggest impact may come from Samsung. Reports have suggested the company will launch at least two 5G smartphones in 2019 and one of them is expected to arrive as a variant of the Galaxy S10.

While the Galaxy S10 is high profile enough to generate significant sales and contribute further to the penetration rate, the fact only a variant of the Galaxy S10 will be 5G-enabled highlights the cautious approach now in effect. As well as how even big-name phones, from big-name brands, alone won't help as much with penetration as expected.

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TrendForce also picks up on the associated costs of launching a new 5G phone as another one of the main issues facing companies in 2019. According to the report, bringing a 5G phone to market will result in a 20-to-30-percent increase in costs compared to a non-5G phone.

This higher bill of materials cost also does not take into account the R&D costs, as makers will need to make sure the added components and technologies do not adversely result in uncontrollable levels of heat, increased battery drain, or impact on the quality of the connections made by these devices.

Another negative from launching a 5G smartphone is likely to be the design. As while makers are looking to bring to market thinner and slimmer phones, the inclusion of 5G-needed components is expected to make phones larger and more bulkier.

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The combination of a less appealing design with higher costs is likely to be playing into the decision-making process for manufacturers at the moment and especially, if those higher costs are likely to be passed on to the consumer.

One of the companies not mentioned here is Motorola. While it remains to be seen whether Motorola does release a dedicated 5G phone in 2019, comments attributed to Verizon's CEO recently indicated Verizon's first 5G phone will be the Moto Z3.

The Moto Z3 is technically a 4G phone although it can be 'upgraded to 5G' when used with a dedicated Moto Mod. Sales of this phone therefore will likely contribute to the 'other' category when generating penetration numbers, instead of the 5G rate.

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This report adds to the growing literature that although 2019 is when 5G will officially arrive, 2020 is much more likely to be the year when 5G makes its mark. Although it could even be later than that, with the report suggesting it could be 2022 by the time the 5G infrastructure needed to make a 5G-enabled phone a worthwhile purchase is complete.