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The path to affordable 5G devices uses system on chips
by Blogs & Opinions
With new 5G technology coming out, network operators face hurdle after hurdle in a race to get their networks set up, running, and tuned so that new devices can provide the high-speed services that their marketing teams are promoting.
Consumers appear ready to upgrade their devices, according to industry analysts. Recent 4G models from the key handset vendors lacked innovations that justified the premium price tags, especially since rumors about a "new G" was in the mill. The belief is that consumers held on to their 4G devices with the view of a bigger/better/faster network that offers magnitudes of speed faster set to arrive very soon. Survey results indicate that connectivity speed is one of the top issues that affect a consumer's decision to upgrade (GlobalWebIndex December, 2018).
With the 5G network delivering device-to-network speeds in single-digit milliseconds, new real-time services that leverage these low-latency connections are in the works. Devices with faster connection speeds appear to be paving the way for new, more engaging and immersive applications, as they will also provide better predictability of their mobile entertainment. The promises may seem cool, but consumers are more likely to buy a new device – and the "essential" accessories – on the 5G network if the device fits in their budgets.
5G SoC – Geared to solve the device affordability challenge
One of the barriers to upgrading to 5G smartphones is the high price of the device coupled with the available coverage of the new technology. This high-price component is likely here for a while, but chip manufacturers are building plans to move their 5G technology on to chips (called 5G System on Chip (SoC)) for use in mid-level devices targeted to price-conscious consumers. Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 8 is powering many of the first 5G devices, and they recently announced plans to make 5G capabilities in other chips like Snapdragon 6 and 7 series, which can reduce the overall cost of the device. In addition to the broader range of chips, Qualcomm also says its chips will support the full spectrum range in which 5G will operate, from the sub-6GHz spectrum up to the millimeter-wave spectrum. Providing this broad range of spectrum on a single chip reduces the device production costs for handset manufacturers. With those reduced costs, it becomes possible for 5G devices – across all deployment bands – to have affordable prices.
Other manufacturers are stepping into the starting blocks with different ideas. While Samsung's new Exynos 980 system-on-chip (SoC) delivers high processing speeds for connections running in the sub 6GHz bands, it also includes next-generation Wi-Fi (802.11ax) to provide connectivity that is complementary to 5G mobility connections on mid-price devices.
Huaweialso has a new SoC that aligns 5G capabilities with advanced processors that promise to augment AI-enabled smartphone duties.
Though the current geopolitical climate makes it challenging to find Huawei devices in the US, it is clear that chipmakers are moving quickly to create processors for use across all price points for 5G devices.
While the launch of faster 5G networks will sound the starting gun for many consumers to upgrade their phones, the limited deployments on 5G spectrum mean that those buying 5G devices now are doing so with an eye to the future. 5G for the everyday consumer truly arrives when 5G deployments occur in the sub 6 GHz bands, which may not be too far away, as some network operators are ready – they have the spectrum available to make 5G happen quickly in these lower frequency bands. Other providers will need devices and network technology, like dynamic shared spectrum, to support 4G and 5G during their transitions. It becomes clear that the success path relies on the device community to facilitate that growth, as low to mid-priced devices will drive the consumer portion of the 5G eMBB use case.
These plans certainly show promise, and we will keep an eye on how and when operators expand their 5G coverage, and when devices get the "SoCs" they need that will make them affordable for all.