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MediaTek brings 5G to less-expensive phones with Dimensity 800 chips

The processors from the Taiwanese company will be in phones the first half of this year.

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5G will become more mainstream in 2020, thanks to chips for cheaper phones.

Angela Lang/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Cheaper 5G smartphones are getting another boost: new processors from MediaTek. The Taiwan-based chipmaker unveiled its Dimensity 800 series chips Tuesday, saying they'll "bring flagship features, power and performance" to midrange smartphones

The processors include integrated 5G modems that can tap into the slower but more reliable variant of 5G, known as sub-6GHz. They're capable of up to 3.5Gbps download speeds, Erwin Wang, product marketing manager of MediaTek's wireless communication business, said in an interview ahead of the news.

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Though Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile first launched superfast millimeter wave 5G networks in the US, most of the rest of the world has started with sub-6GHz. And the broader networks turned on by AT&T and T-Mobile at the end of 2019 take advantage of the lower airwaves.

The Dimensity 800 family can leverage several wireless advancements, including the ability to aggregate multiple wireless signals into one and go straight to a 5G network (something called standalone) instead of needing to make an initial handshake with 4G (known as nonstandalone).

5G promises to significantly boost the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can run 10 to 100 times faster than a typical cellular connection today. It'll also boost how fast a device connects to the network, with times as quick as a millisecond to start your download or upload. It's unclear what the killer app will be for 5G, but the technology is expected to transform gaming, multimedia and other industries

MediaTek's new processor joins a couple of similar chips from rival Qualcomm. The San Diego-based competitor last month unveiled its new Snapdragon 765 and 765G chips.

The first 5G devices in the market have been expensive. Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G phone costs $1,300, while the regular S10 starts at $900. The Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G retails for $1,300, while the 4G model starts at $1,100. By expanding 5G phones across their product lines, Qualcomm and MediaTek will make the wireless tech available to more consumers who can't afford to spend more than $1,000 on a 5G phone.

Along with tapping into fast wireless speeds, the Dimensity 800 chips support up to four concurrent smartphone cameras and feature advanced artificial intelligence shooting capabilities, including AI-autofocus, auto exposure, auto white balance, noise reduction and dedicated facial detection hardware. They also let users shoot 4K HDR video.

The first phones using the Dimensity 800 chips should hit the market in the first half of 2020.