OnePlus: Our first 5G phone won't bring in the big bucks

The phone, which is not the OnePlus 7, should arrive by the end of May.

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OnePlus isn't making a 5G phone for the money, the company told CNET in an interview last week. Instead, its first phone to access blazing 5G network speeds is part of the cult brand's strategy to get a foot in the door as 5G develops over the next few years. OnePlus wants to be ready, alongside heavy-hitters like Samsung and Huawei, the world's two largest phone-makers.

"The 5G product is not expected to equate to huge sales," CEO Pete Lau said through an interpreter. "It's still early stage. But by 2020 it could already be very different." Lau added that the company plans to launch its first 5G phone "before the end of May." 

5G, the next-generation wireless technology, isn't even live yet, but  OnePlus  already announced its 5G phone will be the first in Europe to use the Snapdragon 855 chipset. The Chinese brand will offer its inaugural 5G phone through UK carrier EE before making the device available through other wireless networks around the world.

Watch this: Qualcomm gives us a glimpse of our future in 5G

Part of the reason for the conservative sales approach: the 5G OnePlus phone won't be cheap. Lau predicts that the handset could cost $200 to $300 more than the OnePlus 6T, which sells in the US for $550. OnePlus is still deciding if the 5G phone will have other unique characteristics to help justify the price jump. Why the hike? Lau says that the 5G phone will become more expensive as a result of pricier 5G components than 4G phones.

But making a 5G phone early is still very much part of OnePlus' plans. "With a focus on being one of the first companies to deliver a 5G phone, our engineers and product development team can receive an early start on how to best develop a premium 5G phone without compromise to design and user experience," Lau said in an email.

The phone-maker also confirmed that the first OnePlus 5G phone isn't going to be the OnePlus 7, the expected follow-up device to the OnePlus 6T , a CNET Editors' Choice pick. As CNET previously reported, OnePlus will spin up a second line of 5G phones that exists outside its current family of  phones  (the  OnePlus 3T , 5, 6 and so on). This will mark only the second time that OnePlus has created a distinct second line, following the  OnePlus X  in 2015.

OnePlus 6T shrinks the notch for added screen

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Although it'll exist apart from OnePlus' main line, the brand's 5G phone will look a lot like its 4G brethren externally. Internally, however, will be a 5G antenna that uses the portion of wireless spectrum known as sub-6, which OnePlus says is relatively easier to deploy compared to the mmWave (millimeter wave) portion of the spectrum responsible for the highest 5G speeds over shorter range than sub-6.

EE's 5G network will span 16 UK cities in 2019, starting with London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Later, 5G speeds will roll out to Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol.

Along with Samsung and Motorola , OnePlus is eager to announce its early attachment to a 5G carrier. 5G will gradually replace 4G LTE data speeds with an even faster connection that promises to upload and download whole movies, large photo files, games and music at a fraction of the time as your current phone.

Although the first 5G networks and phones aren't expected until mid-2019, phone brands like OnePlus are banking on customers' willingness to switch to a "future-proofed" 5G-ready device as a way to get ahead of competitors that are slower to adopt 5G.

Watch this: OnePlus 6T's in-screen fingerprint reader looks to the future

By proactively announcing its future 5G phone, the statistically small OnePlus brand is also broadcasting to carriers and buyers all over the world that it's serious about growth. OnePlus is the top phone brand in India and recently cracked the notoriously difficult US carrier market when it began selling the OnePlus 6T with T-Mobile in November.

OnePlus declined to comment on the name of its future 5G phone, but given its straightforward naming conventions over the years, "OnePlus 5G" wouldn't be a far-fetched guess.

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First published Dec. 5, 11:26 a.m. PT.
Update, 6:33 p.m.: Adds clarification that this will be the first 5G phone in Europe, not the world (OnePlus originally said it would have the world's first Snapdragon chip, then revised the statement).
Update, 7:42 p.m.: Adds quotes and more details.
Update, Dec. 11, 10:47am PT: Adds quote.

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