Qualcomm: 5G Android flagship phones will storm the 2019 holidays

Apple may stand as the only major phone maker to miss out on 5G next year.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
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Get ready for lots of 5G phones in time for the holidays next year.

The first devices for the fast, next-generation network will hit the market in early 2019. Samsung, for one, said it will have a phone for Verizon, AT&T and other networks in the first half of the year. By the holidays next year, every flagship handset -- at least when it comes to those running Google's Android software and using Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor -- will tap into 5G, said Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon.

"When we get to exactly this time of year one year from now … we will see every [handset maker] on the Android ecosystem, their flagship across all US carriers will be a 5G device," he told CNET in an interview Tuesday at Qualcomm's Snapdragon Technology Summit in Hawaii. "Every Android vendor is working on 5G right now."

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

That stands in contrast to Apple, which reportedly won't offer a 5G iPhone until 2020. The company previously relied on Qualcomm for the wireless chips for its devices, but it's worked with Intel over the past couple of years because of a patent licensing battle with Qualcomm. Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

Apple continues to sell tens of millions of iPhones every quarter, but there've been worries its growth could stall. Last month, Apple said it didn't sell as many iPhones as analysts expected in the quarter that ended Sept. 29, and it projected lackluster revenue results for the December quarter. Apple also said it would no longer detail unit sales of its iPhone and other major devices, a reversal from its strategy since first introducing the products.

In the second quarter that ended in June, Apple ceded its position as the world's second-biggest handset maker to Huawei. Samsung remains the largest. 

Offering 5G could give Samsung, OnePlus and other Android vendors an edge over Apple. The technology promises to significantly boost the speed, coverage and responsiveness of wireless networks. It can run between 10 and 100 times faster than your typical cellular connection today, and even quicker than anything you can get with a physical fiber-optic cable going into your house. It'll also boost how fast a device will connect to the network with speeds as quick as a millisecond to start your download or upload.

Experts expect the technology to change the way we live and even create new industries, much like how 4G LTE enabled the rise of apps like Uber, Instagram and AirBNB.

"Having 5G will make for a differentiated marketing [strategy]," Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said. "I am sure Samsung will use that against the iPhone as they have done before with other features where they were first."

A 5G boom

Qualcomm this week is hosting its annual technology conference in Maui. The company has gathered about 350 reporters and analysts, as well as partners like Samsung, Verizon and AT&T, to unveil its newest technologies and talk up the forthcoming 5G networks and devices. Qualcomm and Samsung on Tuesday displayed prototype 5G devices running on "live" 5G networks from Verizon and AT&T at the conference. And the chipmaker unveiled some details about its upcoming phone processor, the Snapdragon 855.

The Snapdragon 855 will contain the company's fourth-gen AI engine that lets the technology tap into the multiple cores of the chip to process information faster than before. The Snapdragon 855 also contains a "computer vision ISP" that can recognize who and what the camera is capturing.

A slide Amon showed during his keynote earlier Tuesday provided a list of hardware companies working with Qualcomm on 5G devices. It listed Asus, Fujitsu, Google, HMD, HTC, InSeeGo, LG, Motorola, Netgear, NetComm Wireless, OnePlus, Oppo, Samsung, Sharp, Sierra Wireless, Sony, Telit, Vivo, WingTech, WNC, Mi and ZTE.


Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon talked up partnerships with electronics makers during a keynote Tuesday at the Snapdragon Technology Summit. 

Shara Tibken/CNET

Amon also highlighted carrier partners around the globe who are pushing 5G, including AT&T, Verizon and Sprint in the US and China Mobile and various others in Asia and Europe.

Kevin Petersen, senior vice president of device and network experiences at AT&T, said Tuesday during a roundtable with reporters at the Snapdragon Technology Summit that the percentage of phones that will be 5G enabled in 2019 in the US will be in the "low single digits."

Nicki Palmer, Verizon chief network engineering officer and head of wireless networks, told CNET in an interview Tuesday that "that's fair" to believe all Android phone makers will have 5G devices for the holidays next year. She didn't say what percentage of all smartphones will have 5G in 2019 or what percentage of Verizon customers will be using the technology at that time.

"Like any new technology, it's our intent to make this exciting enough and at the right value proposition where customers will want the latest device with the best network and the 5G ultrawide-band network we're providing," Palmer said Tuesday. "We're deploying as fast as we can."

As for the impact of Apple not providing a 5G phone next year, Palmer said she doesn't know. Her boss, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, earlier Tuesday brushed off worries about Apple holding off on 5G and said he's focused on the 5G smartphones that are coming out next year.

"Apple's got a following," Palmer said. "We're here to serve customers with the devices they want. We'll continue to do that."

CNET's Jessica Dolcourt contributed to this report.

The story originally published at 6:30 p.m. PT on Dec. 4.
Update, 5 a.m. PT on Dec. 5:To include an analyst quote and additional information on the Snapdragon 855 processor.

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