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5G BlackBerry smartphones aren't coming in 2019

At CES 2019, the makers of the BlackBerry phones say they're opting out of the 5G revolution this year.


BlackBerry will stick with 4G this year.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's at least one company at CES 2019 not buying into the 5G hype. 

TCL, the Chinese company that makes BlackBerry Mobile and Alcatel smartphones, confirmed it won't release a phone running on the next-generation cellular network this year.

Francois Mahieu, general manager of BlackBerry Mobile, which, under TCL, licenses the name from the original BlackBerry Ltd., said that the company is looking into the technology but that it isn't on the road map.

"We won't be the first mover," Mahieu said in an interview at an MGM Grand conference room Sunday ahead of CES 2019. "It doesn't mean we won't do it."

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Stefan Streit, general manager of global market for Alcatel, said the cost of 5G didn't make sense for Alcatel smartphones, which are more budget friendly than other phones. He did note that Alcatel is working on non-smartphone devices like 5G hotspots or dongles.

TCL stands as one of the few players that isn't going all in on 5G -- a technology dominating this year's CES. The next generation of cellular technology is designed to bring a huge boost in speeds -- think downloading the entire Game of Thrones series in half an hour -- as well as handle connecting multiple devices. It's seen as foundational for other emerging technologies like telemedicine, self-driving cars and virtual reality streaming.

That kind of potential has folks at CES excited, even though the networks are still being built out and broad availability won't happen for months, or even years.

But TCL is approaching 5G with a bit more caution.

"You will always get the same pattern of new phones on new generations being more expensive," Mahieu said.

Both Alcatel and BlackBerry are making their bones on more affordable smartphones. TCL said Tuesday that Verizon will begin selling its BlackBerry KeyTwo LE for $399 to small and large business customers. Mahieu noted that businesses don't necessarily want to pay extra for technology that isn't proven yet.

5G fits better in the premium segment early on because price is less of an issue for high-end buyers who want the latest and greatest.

The cautious approach is a sobering reminder that with all the hype of 5G becoming reality, actually getting it into smartphones is complicated and requires a lot of resources.

"It's a real engineering challenge," Streit said.

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